|Dani Shapiro (via)|
John Updike once called fiction “nothing less than the subtlest instrument for self-examination and self-display that mankind has invented.” Engagement with this most subtle of instruments requires daily summoning of stamina, optimism, discipline, and hope. We are in the ocean, yes. We are constructing the very thing that holds us. We have nothing to latch on to. If beginnings and ends are shorelines, middles are where we dive deep, where we patch holes, where we risk drowning. This is no time for half measures. We must meet the page with everything we’ve got. We must lay every last bit of ourselves on the line, to, in the words of Annie Dillard, “spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time.”
You might think this requires fearlessness. I used to think so, too, which was a problem because I am anything but fearless. Shellfish, bees, thunderstorms, airplanes, snakes, bears, random allergic reactions, black ice are only a few of my phobias. I am not a risk taker, not in the physical sense. You won’t catch me hang gliding, or even waterskiing. But when I’m alone in a room—say, on the chaise lounge, for which I haven’t budged since my first cup of coffee, the sky an overcast gray, the house empty—I am compelled to take risks. Because there’s no point, really, in spending one’s life alone in a room, out of rhythm with the rest of humanity, unless the stakes are high. What will today bring? I hold my breath, dive down. Come to the surface, gasping, empty-handed. I catch my breath, then dive again. Maybe this time. I reach for treasures in this underwater landscape. Ones that only I can see. Ones that, should I discover them, will be mine and mine alone. I suppose this requires a certain kind of courage. But courage and fearlessness are not the same thing. Courage is all about feeling the fear and doing it anyway.