For years I noticed a certain pattern in myself. Something would happen that would disappoint me—an agent or a publisher would pass on my work, say—and I would feel the slump of despair. I would wonder what is wrong with me, wonder if things would ever turn around. For a day or two I would carry a duffle bag full of doubt and hopelessness with me wherever I went. This bag was so heavy it made everything I did difficult, and often the best solution was to do nothing at all, for what was the point?
Eventually I would wake up and forget to take the bag with me when I left the house. There was always a moment, as I put on my shoes or reached for the car door, that I would realize I had forgotten the bag. Yet instead of feeling relief, I would reach for the bag again, because it was always close at hand. I reached for the bag not out of habit, however, but out of loyalty.
To give up on the despair, it seemed to me, was to also to give up on something holy bound inexorably to it. The despair walked hand-in-hand with what I wanted, and if I said good-bye to the despair, I would have to say good-bye to his beloved twin as well. That was the arrangement; that was my duty. You must be unhappy if you are deprived of what you want, or else you must surely not have wanted that thing in the first place. And if I didn’t want an agent, if I didn’t want to be published, then why exactly was I writing at all?
Then one day I remembered when I was eleven and my New England Patriots had just been trounced in their first playoff game. I remember sitting on the couch afterwards and actually thinking, “Well, I guess I should be sad now.” Because I wasn’t. I had been a loyal fan, I had followed every game, but the fact that the Patriots’ season was over didn’t actually mean anything to me.
The Patriots would play the next year, and the year after that, and the year after that. And I would continue writing after every rejection. To view despair as an act of loyalty is like viewing suicide as an act of life. Despair is in fact disloyal, it is the betrayal of the mind, the soldier leaving the field at the first sign of conflict. Loyalty to something is expressed only in continuance, in showing up for the game—everything else is an empty prelude to admitting that life can do nothing but carry on.
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