I have had the hardest time trying to figure out what to write for this post.
Part of the problem is that so many other Unboxers have written so well, so honestly, and so inspiringly about the deep and troubling things that are on many of our minds.
Jael McHenry, Donald Maass, and Lisa Cron, in particular in just the past week or so have touched on politics, personal purpose, and story as a source of meaning, respectively. And those posts have invited such generous, insightful comments from all of you that it seemed a great deal of what was on my mind concerned ground already covered–not just well, but brilliantly, movingly.
Part of me wants to answer the bell and add my own rallying cry (How about a discussion of George Orwell’s “Why I Write?” Um, no.), while another wonders if we all aren’t now just a wee bit spent, and could use a moment of respite, or a palette cleanser, or just a decent joke.
For those hoping for Door #3:
Angela Merkel arrives by plane in Paris and walks up to Passport Control.
“Nationality?” asks the immigration officer.
“German,” she replies.
“No, just here for a few days.”
As a palette cleanser, I considered writing about the lost art of memorization, or some nerdy, specific element of craft, like how to handle Free Indirect Discourse. But I couldn’t convince myself anyone would really want to plow through any of that, especially given the general gestalt. And I couldn’t really rev myself up to write it, either. (Maybe in 2017, when the dust settles … Will the dust ever settle?)
A moment of respite isn’t really allowed. As much as I might like to hang up a sign reading “Closed for the Holidays,” I doubt Therese would humor me (which testifies to her wisdom).
Finally, I realized I was experiencing writer’s block, which is interesting because I’m finally hitting my stride with the new novel and the pages are coming much more easily and readily than before.
So why the logjam here?
Part of it is precisely because I’m following after such wonderful posts by others, with such marvelous comment threads, and am unsure about my ability to meet the challenge. (And how many of us have found ourselves sitting before a blank page stifled by exactly that fear of not measuring up?)
Part of it is because the general post-election angst has had a stifling effect on my oomph. (Though not with the novel, thankfully. Go figure.) This resonates with the wonderful recent post by Cathy Yardley (“How to Write When Life Sucks”).
Finally, I realized I only have one small thing to offer that I think you, fellow Unboxers of the Great Hive Mind, might have any call to sit through.
It concerns one of my favorite quotes, from a play by Archibald MacLeish titled J.B., based on the Book of Job. (Forgive me if I’ve brought this up before; I seem to be repeating myself a lot these days.)
The lines I love come at the end of the play, when J.B. and his wife, Sarah, are struggling to understand how to interpret the devastation they’ve suffered—and how to go on living.
Sarah says to J.B.:
Blow on the coal of the heart.
The candles in churches are out.
The stars have gone out in the sky.
Blow on the coal of the heart
And we’ll see by and by.
I included that quote in the pamphlet I handed out at my late wife’s funeral. I knew I would rely on those words as I swam upstream against my grief.
I offer them here as part solace, part inspiration. Despite all the fear and loathing in the air right now, I know I will find my way only by trusting the guidance of my heart: my humble belief in my own wildly imperfect worth; my honoring the example of those who inspire me to be a better person—more brave, more honest, more loving—one of whom, my father, is pictured at the top of this post; and my commitment to see the dignity in others, and to care for them.
It may well be that we are in for a culture war unlike anything we have ever known, and it may last a very long while. Maybe it’s been going on the whole time—well, natch—and hostilities are not beginning, they’re just amping up. (Henry Adams famously remarked that politics has always been “the systematic organization of hatreds.” And I’m reading a book right now titled Deer Hunting with Jesus, concerning the cultural chasm dividing America these days. It’s a real eye-opener, trust me, and a worthy follow-up to J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy.)
I don’t know when the particularly bitter pitch of this conflict will subside, or if it will, or how many lives will get blighted in the process.
As in all wars, the wind of hate will rake across the land, sparing few. Brothers will despise their sisters and neighbors will slam shut their doors. Fists will shake, tempers will boil, voices will grow shrill.
But after—assuming there can ever be an “after”—what then?
In the Russian film Alexander Nevsky, directed by the great Sergei Eisenstein, there is a scene titled “The Battle on the Ice,” in which the Russian forces drive the Teutonic crusaders onto the frozen River Neva, where the weight of their armor and their horses force the ice to break, and the menacing invaders drown in the freezing water.
A great triumph. Right?
The very next scene is titled “The Field of Death.” In it, a peasant girl hunts for her lover, kissing the eyes of the slain soldiers she encounters in her search.
The music, by Sergei Prokofiev, is one of the most hauntingly beautiful pieces you will ever hear. Though I know the mezzo-soprano is singing other words entirely, what I imagine her saying, in one form or another, is:
Blow on the coal of the heart…
What lines or passages from your favorite works are you returning to, relying upon lately to gin up your inspiration, your resolve, your hope?