Thursdays at The Variegated Life: on the creative life and shipping the goodies …
So today, what I want to talk about is having no hope. Sounds terrible, doesn’t it? Actually, it’s not terrible at all.
— Charlotte Joko Beck, Everyday Zen
Perhaps you may remember this post from this time last year; more likely you do not. Anyway, I have some rules for writing poetry. Since posting them last year, I have revised them a bit, and so here they are again:
- Keep your desk clean.
- Write every day.
- Keep a journal.
- Read poetry.
- Read about poetry.
- Write a shitty draft and trust the process that follows.
- Know what you’re after: the emotional core of the poem.
- Create a persona.
- Remember that nobody wants to hear you complain.
- Don’t forget to ship!
I have typed up and printed out these rules and pinned them to the bulletin board above my desk. Since printing out this revised version of my rules, though, I have discovered an eleventh rule. Well, really a new rule number one; this one comes even before “Keep your desk clean”: “Give up hope.” I don’t think I’ll be adding it to the list posted above my desk, however, because it really does sound terrible, and I really don’t want to know what my shitbird might do with it if it had that rule to look at every day. Nevertheless, I do believe in giving up hope: that everyone will love the poem I’m working on now, that my poems will be published, that I’ll put together an award-winning manuscript, that writing poetry will somehow make me happy. To long for those things is to set myself up for disappointment — more often than not, anyway — and all of them are extrinsic to the work itself. And why shouldn’t the work itself be enough?
In the conclusion to her talk, “No Hope,” Joko Beck talks about the practice of zazen. But what she says could also apply to the practice of writing, or any other artistic practice:
So if we practice like this [just sitting, just writing, etc.], what reward will we get? If we really practice like this, it takes everything we have. What will we get out of it? The answer, of course, is nothing. So let’s not have hope. We won’t get anything. We’ll get our life, of course, but we’ve got that already.
What do you find yourself hoping to get out of your writing or creative practice? What do you think about the idea of giving up hope?
Next Thursday: on keeping your desk clean.