Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Morning Thanks--passions and hope

This morning's Writer's Almanac quotes the poet Linda Pastan, who talks about her insane passion to write. "I often write poems in my head to distract myself during hard times," she wrote somewhere. "Years ago, after a car crash, while I lay waiting for the ambulance, I actually finished a poem I had been working on, determined not to die before I had it right."

Now that's insane, I think. But then again,it's not yet five in the morning, and while there are no flashing lights that I know of on their way to the basement here, most the world would say, I'm sure, that I'm just as crazy.

Last night I finished reading the manuscript of an ex-student, who decided, long after taking my class (where he did not necessarily distinguish himself), that he wanted to write a novel. I took up the job reluctantly--I've read enough student fiction in the last six months, as a matter of fact--but once I started, I had his novel finished in just two nights.

The truth is, it has more than its share of errors, but simply to read it was a blessing to me because I know only too well what kind of commitment it takes to sit down and write a 200-page novel, for better or for worse, and what kind of hope just doing it requires.

"People without hope don't write novels," Flannery O'Connor once famously wrote, and she's right. But then people without hope don't put on roofs or do root canals either. In a way, that line feels a bit presumptuous because people without hope don't plant tomatoes either or put out fires or even sweep the front porch.

I may be myopic about all of this, given the fact that I'm here and there isn't a bit of light yet outside my basement window, but I believe her nonetheless because I know Pastan's lunatic impulse--it's something about trying to make meaning, trying to make sense. That's what O'Connor is testifying, and it's why I'm here now.

This ex-student's first-draft novel has a brightly engaging plot line; it brings into question important issues, it's set securely in time and place, and it has memorable characters. But what thrills me as much as anything about holding it in my hands is just holding it in my hands. What he's trying to do is nothing more or less than make sense of what seems sometimes senseless.

Getting novels published is nearly an impossible task these days, and the mere fact that he wrote this whole story out is wonderful. Honestly, there are many reasons to love the work, but the real story of the novel, to me at least, is that he did it at all--and that's the great gift, the blessing of the manuscript that sits here beside me.

May he continue to work, to try to make sense, in the light of the Caribbean sun, where he lives, or in the early morning darkness, even in the fervent anticipation of flashing lights.

This morning I'm thankful for his gifts.

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