I’ve been struggling a bit with my emerging writer’s identity. I realized that, while I have many clear ideas for children’s books that I could be pitching and selling quite readily, that’s not my primary motivation right now. I’m so full of secrets that I need to tell. This is very scary. What if they get me in trouble? What if no one cares?
In this mood, I think about Bobby McFerrin, the musician who got famous for his song, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” He is one of the bravest artists I have ever encountered. I remember the first time I saw him in performance, online in a video recorded after he’d repudiated “Don’t Worry.” He stood before a huge audience on an empty stage with nothing but his self and a mike, and brought the universe of human music down to earth. Every person in that dark audience, including me, was persuaded to enter his dream with dancing hearts.
And in this video, look at how he rejects the efforts of the people behind him to turn what he is doing into mere amusement, that old shuckin’ and jivin’ for the Man. The audience, after that first spontaneous tonal jump, is 100% with him, learning what he has learned, delighting as he delights. The men in the chairs — you feel sorry for them. They’re trapped in a nervous, tittering hell of their own making, while McFerrin and his happy flock are playing in Paradise.
Earlier in my life I turned my talents to making a living. Now, with the wolf farther from the door, I have space to make art. Dark stage, invisible audience, just my mind and my words. Cue the spotlight. Here we go.
One’s commitment to a series (books, shows) and other repeated experiences rests on two things, surprise and satisfaction. Either one or the other, depending; when it comes to book and TV series, I prefer surprise. When the thing offers no more surprises, no twists that I didn’t predict, then I’m out. Others look for satisfaction: “Package delivered, just as expected.” These two aren’t warring; they’re equal companions, in different measures, in all persons. One holds you up and one carries you forward.
Sometimes life feels like a bad series. Nothing satisfies, and the only surprises are blows. Your little ship is cracked and breaking and your sails are torn. In this state, your limited energy is spent on just not sinking, never mind catching wind, and getting out of the doldrums seems impossible. But you’re a ship and meant for going places. You have to fix your sail. How?
Ask for help. Pray for a windfall, to God or the universe — just enough blessing to make the extra effort worthwhile. Then, cast a line into your future — some interest that a slightly-stronger you might pursue. Let that pull you forward while you fix all the holes. And then, one day, your sail will lift, then swell. And you’ll be ready to put your hand to the tiller and your eyes on the horizon and go.
ATheologians, philosophers, mystics and writers have been wrestling with this question in its various forms for as long as we know. They’ve come up with some interesting answers and their work is still in print or available no further away than an internet query. So, why are you asking me?
QBecause I want to hear your answer.
AI just gave it to you.
Q I want to know what you think.
Q About God and suffering.
ADo you, though? Do you really?
AWell, you’ll have to shadow me for the rest of my life, then. Because I’m thinking all the time. Even in my sleep — that’s called dreaming.
Look, let me put it this way for you. If someone really needs an answer to that question—if their faith or their refusal of faith depends on it—then they should engage with those theologians and philosophers and mystics and writers. And not just ask any old person who believes in God. That’s like handing your nest egg to a passing acquaintance to take care of. Instead of doing some research and finding an actual money manager you can trust.