It’s no secret that I have been having a mid-career slump for approximately the last thirteen years. That’s so long I’m not sure it can even be called a slump anymore and probably needs a new word. Slough, maybe? Anyway, because of the remarkable length of my slump–and I’m not exactly out of the marsh yet–I feel like I’m qualified to talk about this.
Here’s what I want to say to my discouraged mid-career slough-slogging comrades:
You have the power.
The system has a lot of stuff. The business side of things–the bookstores, publishers, media outlets, marketing system, all clumsily milking the collective will of the human organism for profit—those guys are loaded with stuff they can do. Judgements. Money. The lists, awards, mentions, invitations. The (free) lunches. All the apparatus of industry like a thicket of spears and you are but a morsel.
When these guys talk to you and tell you you’re finished or hint that maybe you should think about selling shoes instead of writing or make reassuring noises but don’t return your calls, you may be tempted to feel like the people in this system, being in control of things like they are, must therefore know something you don’t. It’s natural to cling to authority—any authority—when times are hard. And sure. ‘They’ may know something you don’t. Maybe. But they don’t know everything.
This ain’t Delphi. There are no oracles. Shit happens and a surprising amount of the time, people don’t know why. Hey, we don’t even know what dark matter is made of and it’s fundamental to the Universe but I digress.
I don’t know what’s possible for me or for you, for any of us who are good enough to get published but not able to break through for whatever reason. I don’t have any answers.
I know you have the power, though.
You have the power. You. Because you choose to make something out of nothing. You choose to let in the wind and the rain. Everybody else puts up an umbrella and you stand out in the weather and build sandcastles in it. That’s what we do.
And that madcap optimism is what the human spirit is about. Taking risks. Falling down. Refusing to accept the things our rational minds tell us we must accept; if we did, we may as well lie down and die. No. We make things even though we know it’s all sort of futile, because there’s a tiny chance that something good–we know not what–may come of it. And a tiny chance is better than no chance. A tiny chance is everything.
Creativity is a radical act because it claims the power that each of us has within ourselves to do something real. It means that for that moment, we don’t belong to anyone. To create is to be hopeful. And that is a huge high–you know it is because you’ve felt it.
There are really big forces at work in the world that don’t want people like us to have hope, much less express or share it or in so doing, free others to feel it. We are easier to control when depressed, miserable, defeated. Have you noticed this? I have. Fight back.
To create is to express freedom. To create is to express hope.
Hope is contagious.
Take some from me. And pass it on.