Monday, December 17, 2012

A Season of Hope

~ All hope abandon, ye who enter in.
Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy: Inferno, Canto III: The Gate of Hell, line 9.

I’m on a deadline and I don’t have “writers block”.  Frankly, ‘writers block’ would be an upgrade.  I’m standing at the gates of deadline hell and I’ve got… I’ve got… nothing.  Nada.  Not a single idea.  I’ve gone out for runs waiting for the ideas to sally forth and ring the doorbell in my mind.  But the stress of work, a son applying to college, a presidential election, and leaves that fall uncollected on my yard like unmelting lake-effect snow  has crowded out any space for creative thought.   I’m hanging on a single thread of something that propels me out of bed every morning: Hope.   However, I’m not in the Divine Comedy: I’m in the longest checkout line in the longest circle in hell.  And it’s not moving.   I need to find inspiration.

~ But what is Hope? Nothing but the paint on the face of Existence. The least touch of truth rubs it off, and then we see what a hollow-cheeked harlot we have got hold of.
Lord Byron, letter to Thomas Moore

Clearly, this isn’t it.  Lord Byron was in the mother-of-all foul moods when he wrote Thomas Moore, who – rumor had it – owed him money.  Hope is supposed to inspire us, to provide us a life raft when all else is lost.  If Lord Byron hadn’t become dust a long time ago, I’d give him the following advice: Get a prescription for Prozac, then promptly double up on it.  ‘Paint on the face of existence’…  ‘hollow-cheeked harlot’ … Can’t imagine what special brand of crazy cheer his Christmas cards must have contained.  Byron is not inspiring me. 

~ Hope is a good breakfast, but it is a bad supper.
Sir Francis Bacon, Apophthegms (1624), No. 36.

Are we at all surprised that a guy named BACON would be the head cheerleader for hope as a breakfast food?  These Brits are completely transparent.  I need some help:  I’ve got nothing on the page but a bitter Italian, a depressed poet, and the English version of Jimmy Dean. 

~ He that lives upon hope will die fasting.
                                                            Benjamin Franklin

I’m pretty sure Ben Franklin never had a deadline.  Trying to coax creative thought from behind the locked vault in my head has been a mighty task.  Usually I go for a run and the ideas fall into place during the course of the course, but this month there haven’t been enough miles in the road.  I hope against hope and rage against these ‘slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’, and wonder if William Shakespeare ever had writers block.   My muse has abandoned me.

~ Hope is a waking dream.

I find hope takes so many forms.  When doing the math to fund another college education, I hope I can afford it.  I hope the economy turns around.  When I go for a run in the morning, I hope I feel good.   When my dishwasher broke the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, I had hope I could get an appointment before Thursday, which is frankly daft.  When I stood in line to vote in the recent election, hope took the form of a line that snaked out the polling place and down the sidewalk.  There was so much collective hope, but half that line woke up the next day without it, while the other half was living the dream: as good an example of a zero-sum game as ever. When I proof-read an email a colleague has written I hope I don’t see the word “hope” because – as we’ve all learned – “Hope” is not an appropriate business strategy.  It is – however – perfectly sound for writing an article.  At least that’s what I’ve told my editor.  I feel hope at the start of every football season – which is a mighty thing for a lifelong fan of the Buffalo Bills.  After decades, to still believe, that truly is a waking dream.  Or lunacy; I’m still deciding which. 

~ Hope is patience with the lamp lit.

I have no idea who Tertullian was, but I love the sentiment.  It’s like he’s describing Hope as the “Motel 6” of the philosophical realm, but with better decorating and a much better breakfast (see: Bacon, Sir Francis.)  I don’t know about hope – what it really is.  Is it a waking dream, a thing with feathers,  springs eternal, or the only universal liar who never loses its reputation for veracity?  Nietzsche, never the eternal optimist, thought  “In reality, hope is the worst of all evils, because it prolongs man's torments.”  But some unknown author countered “When the world says, ‘Give up,’ Hope whispers, ‘Try it one more time.’”  Hope is like the run: One more time, one more line, one more step, one more mile. 

Hope runs on.