Futility and Preparation

Over the weekend, I put on my boots and went for a walk. My idea was to follow the deer paths through the bush to get a different perspective on the beautiful place I live.

Fairly quickly, I recognized that my legs are not like deer legs. My legs are shorter and, uh, stubbier. Where deer can step elegantly among fallen tree trunks, I crash around without grace, shoving branches aside (and perhaps swearing). (Perhaps.)

Not only that, the ground is mushier than it normally is at this time of the year. Holes in the dirt underfoot--openings to nut caches and muskrat tunnels--dotted the area, and I could feel spaces collapse with every step.

Sorry, squirrels--I think I made it impossible for you to find those nuts. And sorry, muskrats; I think I messed up your tunnel system. I didn't mean to, but I recognize that my thundering around on your turf destroyed your careful preparations for winter.

My inadvertent cruelty doesn't render their work futile. First, they needed to do it--it was their work to do, and they did it. And although I may have harmed some of their work, the square meter where I thrashed around wasn't the only place where they prepared for winter. I didn't completely trash the muskrat tunnel system nor hide too many nuts from the squirrels--their caches dot our front yard.

For the past week, it's been hard to resist thinking that my own work is trivial or futile. In fact, during the past couple of years, I've had lots of hopes dashed--writing consistently rejected, projects that fell through, work that turned out to be more administrative and less artistic than I anticipated.

On the other hand, I've also had work recognized and published. Generous, intelligent people have also given me thoughtful and honest feedback on my work, providing suggestions and support that have helped me push myself. I'm so grateful to them.

With their help, I've kept doing the work--storing up nuts and building new tunnels--because that's what there is to do. It's what I do.

Even this past week, when returning to the page was more difficult than it had been in some time, I knew I'd find my way back eventually. And I have. I may change where my tunnels lead. I may find different kinds of food to store for the long months ahead. But I know what my work is.

And so do you.

This afternoon, Twitter directed me to "Creating a Tolerable World," by Terri Windling. I highly recommend her consideration of why and how we can continue to create our work in very difficult times.