Hope is not a feeling…

hope is not a feeling - original art by Duane Toops

When I write I do so with a blissful, and sometimes not so blissful, ignorance; a kind of sacred unknowing. I grasp at the ineffable aliveness that undulates underneath my experience of some aspect of the world and I try to give it words. It’s not an endeavor aimed at attaining ultimate truth but rather an attempt to garner some kind of understanding, even if it is only a tenuous and provisional kind of understanding at best.

Maybe that’s how it is for all writers. Even Neil Gaiman says that “All too often I write to find out what I think about a subject, not because I already know.” It seems I’m not the only one that has to prod at the mystery of my own thoughts and feelings. Perhaps, that’s part of what Chuck Palahniuk means when he says that “The writer might not be smarter than us but the writer is braver and more honest”. As writers we are not more privy to a depth understanding than anyone else, just more ostentatious in our willingness to probe into the depths of all that we don’t know and don’t understand.

I wrote a blog recently called “A crash, a hope, and book review“. The post was supposed to function as a final book review wrap-up for a book called Learning To Be by Juanita Campbell Rasmus. I suppose I accomplished that task in writing it, but I also went off on a slight tangent towards the end, a tangent about “hope” in which I wrote the following:

…hope is not a feeling. Hope is a series of motions and movements that we commit to making everyday. Hope is rarely grand or triumphant, when it is, it is usually a false hope. Hope is the seemingly uninspired monotony of showing up and doing the work. Inspiration is simply the name given to the glimmering whispers of a hope that faintly flickers in the cavernous aftermath of a crash. Hope is what happens each time paper succumbs to the pressure of a pen. Hope is what happens each time canvas finds the strength to stretch out across something solid and stable. Hope is the sound of a voice singing out from the endless expanse of night.

It’s the saddest and most depressing art that brings the most hope because it harbors the most hope. The fact that it exists means that an artist, in the depths of her despair, managed to summon the will to make something, and nothing gives me more hope than that.

Hope seems to be something that’s coming up a lot in my writing. Hope has made an appearance in at least two other published posts in less than a month (here and here), and that’s not to mention the unpublished writings and journal entries. I’m not entirely sure why. The past year and a half has been trying and troublesome for me personally, and hope has been difficult to have, hold, and maintain, much less understand. Somedays I’m not sure if I’ve lost all hope or if I stall have it, or if I’m at some precarious in between.

Maybe hope is at it’s best when it lives in the ambiguity between it’s absence and it’s abundance. Maybe it’s the unknown that harkens hope to emerge. Perhaps, its that unknowing that provokes me to write about it, and perhaps I’m still writing about it because I still don’t know.

But, as I reread the passage that I wrote above, I think of a passage from Austin Channing Brown‘s book, I’m Still Here:

I have learned not to fear the death of hope. In order for me to stay in this work hope must die. I do not enjoy tears that come from these great disappointments…I don’t really want to recount all the ways that hope has let me down, its damn painful. But all of this comes with living, with struggling, with believing in the possibility of change. The death of hope gives way to a sadness that heals, to anger that inspires, to a wisdom that empowers me the next time I get to work…The death of hope begins in fury, ferocious as a wild fire. It feels uncontrollable, disastrous at first, as if it will destroy everything in the vicinity, but in the midst of the fury I am forced to find my center. What is left when hope is gone? What is left when the source of my hope has failed? Each death of hope has been painful and costly, but in the morning there always rises a new clarity about the world…And in this there is new life, realignment, rediscovery, and on the really good days, renewal.


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