A Measure of Hope

What a day, and it’s only beginning. I wasn’t prepared for the emotion, welling up early as I caught myself in tears even as events were just ramping up. I’ll keep the Kleenex handy, right here by the laptop.

You can also catch me crying at the Alaska Flag Song. Corny, I know. And not very writerly. Aren’t we supposed to be the quintessential loners, locked away in our turrets or basements or wherever we write? But it matters to be part of something bigger, something that for all its faults offers a measure of hope. In happy coincidence we celebrate our state becoming part of America as we celebrate America becoming more of what we were meant to be.

Hope springs eternal for writers, in a measure at least. We walk a tightrope between self-efficacy – the belief that we can accomplish what we set out to do – and overconfidence, nicely summed up in agent Nathan Bransford’s post on The Perils of Overconfidence, in which he notes a harsh truth: “the people who are most unwilling to heed sound constructive criticism and the ones who most need to heed said constructive criticism are the ones who are most convinced of their own genius.”

We have good company in a new President who strikes a balance between humility and confidence. A writer himself, he understands what it means to have – and to give – a measure of hope.

9 thoughts on “A Measure of Hope”

  1. Andromeda Romano-Lax

    Just back from the inauguration festivities at UAA’s Wendy Williamson Auditorium (a wonderful turnout) and I’m moved, and also challenged. I find myself asking how I can work at needing less, doubting less, complaining less, and doing more. Deb, you’ve touched upon the artist’s balancing act — of needing to question while also needing to believe. I’ve spent too much of the last year questioning what we as writers — and what I, myself, as a struggling and sometimes self-doubting writer — can do. I’m ready for more belief AND more action.

    P.S. Yo-Yo Ma rocked! I love that man. He is the Obama of cello, with joy on his face and the ability to make it all look so easy.

  2. I thought of you when Yo-Yo Ma played, Andromeda. It’s the joy that really matters, for all of us.

  3. Kelly O'Neal Thompson

    I watched the inauguration from La Paz, Baja Sur, Mexico where we are visiting friends. I found myself in tears toward the end of Obama’s speech – that was about the time the live feed kicked in sufficiently to hear the ceremony.
    I was seven years old when JFK was elected, nine when he was assassinated, Lyndon Johnson took office. The Civil Rights movement kicked into full gear as I cut new molars on adolescence, burned my training bra, and got turned on to electric kool-aid. When I was fifteen, Martin and Bobby were gunned down. I knew today was important to me, but I didn’t expect the force with which Obama’s official swearing in hit me.
    You can read a bit more about it at KellyBlog – I’ll just say that my chest ached with grief, relief, hope, and belief. I’ve still got the tissues handy, sitting next to my bed now, Deb. I just wish I’d had my kids and grandkids here with me today, but I know they watched from elsewhere. And Yo-Yo Ma was awesome. So was the poet Alexander and hey! I really liked the black Reverend but didn’t catch his name. He was a cool dude:

    “…we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get back, when brown can stick around — (laughter) — when yellow will be mellow — (laughter) — when the red man can get ahead, man — (laughter) — and when white will embrace what is right.

    Believing never means not questioning to me – the more I believe, the more I must question as well as listen and follow my intuition.It never leads me astray.

    Having experienced the tragic deaths of our heros, JFK, MLK, and RFK as I grew up, I then experienced the travesty of Vietnam’s vets homecoming and the betrayal of Watergate…well, it gets better (I should say worse) from there…the hostage crisis in Iran and the timing of Ron Reagan’s inauguration (couldn’t have been worse for the cause of peace as we lost Jimmy)…after all this and then the last eight years, I offer up my heartfelt and full belief in this president’s ability to lead and I’ll raise that with some action upon my arrival home in Alaska. See ya soon!

  4. You captured that so well, Kelly. Our generation has watched many somber televised official events from DC. It was hard for me to wrap myself around the idea that this one was pure and good and hopeful and joyous.

  5. Kelly O'Neal Thompson

    Understandable, Deb. Like when I read a good book, I’m suspending disbelief for now. (smile)

  6. Not to rain on your parade, you all — but we still got our governor to put up with, and she’s hell-bent on doing damage.

    When I heard about her insipid musk oxen comment during the state of the state address, I became really incensed. How dare she???

    I promptly fired this off to the Alaska Dispatch editor (thanks for the info)and to the ADN and News-Minor (typo intended):


    In her recent state of the state address, Governor Sarah Palin invoked the image of musk oxen that circle up to protect their young, as a reminder that Alaskans, and Americans in general, need to stand together in these dire times. This misleading and not at all “poetic” simile comes from the person who has appealed the polar bear’s listing as threatened and plans to do the same with regards to Cook Inlet’s beluga whales. It comes from the person who, though alledgedly “pro-life,” supports aerial predator control and the killing of wolf cubs in their dens. It comes from the very same person who seeks to reinstall wolf bounties and the drilling of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the “place where life begins.” Her naive comment resurrected from memory an experience I had while guiding wilderness tourists in the refuge a few years ago . . .

    Eyes watering in a breeze that snatched its sting from the pack ice, I scan the coastal plain for signs of life. My binoculars frame horizon segments blurred by the midsummer sun, a mindbender like Prudhoe Bay’s gas flares, which ripple above oilfields one hundred and fifty miles to the west. A liquid glare melds earth and sky. Distant “lakes” separate then coalesce, dissolving terra firma into quicksilver, a landscape of uncertainties. When polar fronts straddle warm ground, light flexes into mirages like this, supple and transient as tundra denizens.

    I focus on a boulder pair adrift amongst tussocks on this inland sea. Changing position ever so slightly, the mounds look too bulky to be grizzlies as well as the wrong shade of brown. Propelled by a “Forward, hard!” our blue rubber raft scrapes across gravel, its blunt snout nuzzling shore. Ravines downwind from two grazing musk oxen allow us to sneak up on them single file and hunched over in an effort to reduce our silhouettes, to appear non-threatening.

    One hundred yards. Fifty. The bulls raise their prizefighter heads, sampling the wind. We freeze. Catching sight of us, they step away, nimble as dancers, the hemlines on their wool skirts trim and swaying in sync with dainty, white-stockinged feet.

    A 2006 survey of traditional musk ox habitat in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge surprisingly came up short: pilots counted only a single animal within refuge boundaries. It is easy to imagine that loner as one of the two shag piles our boat crew approached on the Aichilik River, which unbeknownst to us then could have been the entire herd.

    What triggered this downward slide of a species sculpted by glaciers? Poaching? A mysterious disease? Toxins in the water or soil?

    Residents of Kaktovik, an Eskimo village nestled against the Arctic Ocean’s blue sweep, increasingly comment on erratic weather. Colder springs delay breakup season, preserving snow sumps deep enough to stop even nine-hundred-pound bulls. Untimely thaw-freeze episodes encase grasses and sedges under an ice crust too thick to be cracked by hooves. Malnourished cows may give birth to weak calves, or leave in search of greener pastures farther west or in Canada. Recently, thirteen musk oxen drowned in a flood on the Colville River west of the refuge; others got stranded on raw barrier islands where they pawed sand for sustenance and starved to death after the sea ice melted, mingling their bones with bleached driftwood.

    The last musk ox topples notions of ecosystem stability and raises questions that cut close to the bone. Is human-caused local extinction less lamentable than its global counterpart? Do we dare reassess our responses to environmental threats, or are we bull-headed enough to repeat destructive behavior ad finitum?

    Outlining a philosophy of sound land management, Aldo Leopold cautioned us to preserve every cog and wheel when tinkering. The realization that we don’t even hold all the blueprints or fully grasp the interlocking of parts can be as humbling as a face-to-face encounter with ice-age beasts.

    (I’m not trying to show off; just had to vent, and this was already mostly written. THE PEN WILL BE MIGHTIER THAN THE SWORD — or drill.)

  7. Well said, Michael! And what beautiful writing. Being in Canada, I can’t tell you how many Candians have come up and questioned me about what I thought of Sarah Palin (and how she ever got elected?!?!) and one woman said, “Palin is a dangerous woman in many of the same ways as George Bush. Not smart enough to see over their own ego, or to see the big picture.” And while Canadians are not huge fans of we Americans, we were at the Edmonton Symphony just after Obama was elected and when the conductor announced that he would be watching the inauguration the place errupted with applause. The coverage Canada had of the swearing in was incredible, and their enthusiam for our new President is heartening. I can’t help thinking that there is hope that we as a country can change under Obama’s leadership, and that we as world will benefit as well.

  8. Hi Betty,

    Thanks for your kind words. What can I say? Here in Alaska, even some Democrats are pro-drilling (Begich). It still is a hard place not to love. I’ve lived in Canada myself, and know how it feels to straddle the cultural fence. One good bookstore that comes to mind is in Whitehorse (I’ve forgotten the name). A bit of self-promo: you might want to check out my forthcoming anthology Wild Moments: Adventures with Animals of the North, with stories by Alaskan and Canadian writers. (There’ll be a post about this soon, courtesy of Andromeda and Deb.)

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