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.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Morning Thanks--hope

"People without hope," Flannery O'Connor once said, "don't write novels."

No kidding. 

Most everything O'Connor said had some kind of spiritual or religious intent because, by her own profession nothing mattered to her as greatly as the Lord and Savior who, by way of his death and resurrection, had engineered her salvation. Spiritually, I think she meant to say that the only reason people write novels is to make sense of the world they live in, to draw some kind of order from chaos, to take a mess and make it sing. People without spiritual hope don't write novels.

I may be wrong. O'Connor was afflicted with lupus that eventually took her at an age when we couldn't afford to lose her. Maybe she meant that line physically, because writing a novel, as much a joy as it can be, is a grueling physical test, a mental marathon. Short stories, essays, blog posts are all sprints, exciting but short-term. Novels require years; and years, saith this retired old gent, are something we aren't afforded a lot of.

Maybe she meant will, emotional wherewithal. Because no one I know simply whips them out (some do, I'm sure), a novel requires caveman-like stick-to-it-iveness, maybe especially for a born-and-reared Calvinist who could be doing so many other more worthwhile things with his or her time. People without hope that they'll actually finish the dumb thing don't write novels either. 

Maybe all of that is ethereal. Maybe what she meant by hope was simply the courage to believe that what it would take her months and months, even years to write, actually had a future. The average published book these days sells less than 100 copies and has only a slim chance of ever getting a real cover and spine, unless the author forks over the bucks himself. People without hope--no matter how flimsy--don't write novels these days simply because the chances of publication are, as they say, slim and none.

All these interpretations fit, I guess, every context. 

Yesterday was a red-letter day because I finished the first draft of a novel, which wasn't actually a first draft but at least a third revision of a novel I started scribbling a decade ago. Think of it this way--the novel I finished yesterday has been with me through the thick-and-thin of at least three computers (all Dells, all refurbished). Six months ago or so the two of us resumed a failed relationship when I determined that I honestly didn't have that manuscript finished even though twice upon a time I tried to tell myself I did. 

That novel--I once named it Something Broken--wasn't finished because there was still something broken. I told myself I had to live long enough to understand what was there in the story I'd been creating. I kick-started yet another really major revision because something told me that a spark still glowed therein, that the whole mess wasn't as gray and ashen as a Dutch sky. A new ending literally "came to me," and re-purposed a revision. What still animates the story is the old narrative, but the whole thing is newly fashioned. It begins like it did but ends twenty miles of ranchland away and and thereby much closer to the reservation.

Ten years ago I'd finished a year-long thanksgiving notebook, something I'd begun on the basis of the Garrison Keillor line that still festoons this blog (see it up top there). I'd just kept a kind of thanksgiving diary for a year and thought I'd try blogging. Knew nothing about it really, but figured I could do what I already had been doing on my own. 

This morning I'm going back to original purposes with this blog post and giving morning thanks. This morning the thanks I'm offering is that a first draft of a novel that's been with me for years is finished. There's still months to go, but, hey, this time around I'm retired.

Will this new novel ever see the light of day? Will it ever be anything but some electronic blips on this particular desktop (refurbished) Dell?

God only knows, and I certainly can hope he cares. 

But I have the words of Flannery O'Connor, a God-haunted Roman Catholic just as much in love with words as she was the Southern culture that had created and sustained her. She's the one who said, famously, "People without hope don't write novels."

And she's right.

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