Hope is the mind-killer


The last few days of ZOMG BOOK! have been crazy, but pretty soon I’m going to go back to griping about my WIP and posting links to mrsa cats, health care reform neepery, and DIY nerd coolness. But I’m still in a writing-post mood, so here goes:

This is going to sound weird, but I am anti-hope.

I don’t mean in some kind of “Don’t hope for it! Get out and grab it!” sort of way, in which hope is supposedly some kind of layabout’s daydream. I mean hope in that desire for something that is so strong you can taste it.

I hate hope.

A story: A few years ago, my wife was injured because a machine did not operate correctly. There was no question about who was liable, none at all, but the insurance company did everything they could to lowball us and drag their feet.

She was in constant pain and eventually needed surgery. The offer from the company wouldn’t even cover the cost of that, let alone all the rehab and whatever that went along with it. This was well before I’d found an agent–in fact, I was writing and revising Child of Fire at the time.

It was a long process, and I had the same sort of crap day job a lot of people have. What I made wasn’t enough for us to live on, not with her physical therapy and the bills from the doctor’s care (we had no health insurance). We were going down deeper into debt and we were eating food from the foodbank that my wife–with one arm in a wing brace–picked up with my three-yo son.

We had a lawyer helping us (and never will I dis lawyers as a group–this man saved us) and he worked damn hard to get us a settlement that was actually close to our expenses. At one point, near the point of reaching a settlement, my wife said that our lawyer thought we could get the money, plus a little extra for us–a little breathing room, financially-speaking.

I jumped out of my chair and stalked away from her, yelling that she shouldn’t tell me that. Yelling that she shouldn’t give me hope.

See, I could handle the poverty and the bills. I was working a job a did not like at all, and my wife needed as much help as I could give her. Every moment we had together was precious, and I was happy with them.

But I couldn’t look up into the future. I couldn’t look at the horizon. If I got to thinking about a happy time when we were out of the mess we were in, I would not be able to navigate our day to day misery. I couldn’t have born it. I didn’t even want to think about what life would be like when that fucking company finally covered the cost of their own error because hoping for a happy time in the future would be impossible.

Another story: We don’t own a car, and I don’t like accepting rides. You know what happens when you ride in a car after a long period of walking, biking and busing? You marvel at how easy it is. How convenient. You see a long, steep hill ahead, but you and your groceries breeze right up to the top just by moving your foot a little. Accept too many rides in a car, and pretty soon walking, biking and busing start to look like a burden. They become so inconvenient and exhausting. Then you end up deciding that you need a car. Maybe soon!

Okay. That wasn’t a story. Here’s something else that isn’t a story: Today I got an email from a friend of mine. He’s a terrific guy, and rather than list all the ways he’s cool, I’ll jump to the email. He’s reading Child of Fire and liking it, and he recommended it to someone he knows who works at a big-time production company. Of course, he dropped me a note to let me know.

And what’s the first and third things I do when I hear about it? (Second thing: I thank him.) I hope. I imagine what we’d do with a sudden influx of money. I think about getting a house before we’re too old for a mortgage. Or maybe a car. Not a fancy car, but a climate bubble to sit in and go up hills by pointing the toes of my right foot.

And then, of course, what if it goes really far. What if there’s a movie! With sequels! My son could attend any college he’d like! My wife would have hours to paint! Maybe we could–

No. I had to squelch those thoughts. I had to throw them away and shut the door on them. Because I can’t say what will happen down the line, but thinking about happier times that might someday come will kill me when I’m forced to deal with the difficult time of NOW.

Everyone looks up at the horizon now and again. I sure do it. I have my daydreams of writing success (not to mention parenting success, and no, I won’t be describing either of them). Everyone imagines what might be coming someday, with hard work and luck. But even a little of that is poison to me. I have to be a person who keeps his head down, focusing on what’s right in front of me. Tomorrow I’ll wake up and do some pages. I won’t be thinking about the future or about what good fortune might bring me. I’m going to do my damndest not to imagine–or hope for–a happy outcome.

Short term goals. Today’s work. That’s what keeps me sane.

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