Give Up Hope

by Rachael on January 20, 2011

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:

  1. Keep your desk clean.
  2. Write every day.
  3. Keep a journal.
  4. Read poetry.
  5. Read about poetry.
  6. Write a shitty draft and trust the process that follows.
  7. Know what you’re after: the emotional core of the poem.
  8. Create a persona.
  9. Remember that nobody wants to hear you complain.
  10. 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.

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Seonaid January 20, 2011 at 1:47 PM

I couldn’t write until I didn’t want anything from it any more. I had to get to a place from which I could release the words, not from a hope that they would be loved, but in case they were needed. I think I get what you’re saying, but I agree. I’m not putting it above my desk.
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Seonaid January 21, 2011 at 3:18 AM

Even though, in one of those synchronicities, I just came across exactly the same instruction in my own reading.
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Rachael January 21, 2011 at 10:26 AM

You came across it in something you wrote yourself? Or elsewhere?

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Seonaid January 21, 2011 at 12:17 PM

Pema Chodron – so definitely coming from the same general storyline as everyday Zen.
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Rachael January 21, 2011 at 10:24 AM

I should confess that I still want happiness from my writing. Ah, well.

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Amber January 21, 2011 at 12:18 AM

I agree that giving up hope is probably tremendously liberating. When you’re not caught up in an outcome, you feel much more free to play and experiment and just enjoy the process.

But it really DOES sound awful. Awful and … hopeless.
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Rachael January 21, 2011 at 10:26 AM

I think it would sound more awful to me if it weren’t for the fact that the most emotionally desperate period of my life was also the period when I was most full of hope — for something to change. For a long time, though, nothing changed. And so my experience of hope at that time was very, very painful.

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mumsyjr January 21, 2011 at 9:21 PM

“giving up hope” in this context sounds a lot like practicing detachment
and that sounds like a good idea
maybe I will apply to my revision process…
thanks for another great post that made me think (and think specifically about creativity)
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Rachael February 7, 2011 at 4:25 PM

Detachment — yes, exactly!

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