I’ve been worried by the news lately. As someone who cares about the environment, women’s rights, and social justice, I see the policies coming out of Washington and become both alarmed and angry. I’m taking action: calling my representatives, marching in the Women’s March, speaking out. It often feels like a futile effort. Many of my friends are concerned too. Several of them, after sharing a news story on Facebook, have said, “It’s hard not to lose hope.”
I feel that way, too. But, as I responded to a friend on Facebook, I’m a writer, a calling that is full of disappointment and rejection. I’ve learned that sometimes all that keeps you going is habit, not hope.
Action, Not Results
I sometimes hear of writers setting goals to publish a book with a major publisher or to be featured in a high-profile literary magazine. I never set goals like that because they are beyond my control. Instead, I give myself actions: I will edit a chapter, write four pages, send out five submissions. I can’t control whether the magazines accept my work. All I can control is my part of it—sending my work to the journals. But sending work to journals means persisting despite rejections. Keep sending. Maintain the habit. Some of my most high-profile publications came after stories were rejected 50 times.
I’ve learned to commit myself to action and divorce myself as much as possible from results. Do rejections disappoint me? Of course. However, my most inspirational writing quote is not from a famous writer, but from hockey player Wayne Gretzky: “You miss 100 percent of the shots you don't take.” Even rejection may not be the end: an editor might remember you and publish the next story you submit.
When it comes to social activism, I’m aiming for the same method, the idea that habit will see me through when hope will not. Can I control how Congress votes? No. But I can let my representatives in Congress know my position on issues. I can set a goal for how often to contact them and follow through. I can attend town halls. I can send emails. Can I control what the president does? No. But I can show up at protests. I can send postcards. I can voice my concerns in person and on social media and perhaps sway someone to reconsider his or her position.
Given the current political climate, I’m sure I’ll see many failures. In fact, I may not see any successes. I will say this, though: it’s hard to gauge the impact of even a failed effort. Even if DAPL is built, the Standing Rock protesters have raised awareness of the dangers of oil transportation. They’ve set an inspiring example for activism. I think of them camping out in the Dakota snow and realize that if they can do that, I should be able to speak at a county Board of Supervisors meeting to support a marine sanctuary to protect against offshore oil drilling.
And despite what I’ve said about habit being more important than hope, I still have hope. As long as you are trying, as long as you are fighting, hope exists. You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take, but as long as you are still shooting, a puck may yet go in the net.
Ann Hillesland writes fiction and essays. Her work has appeared in many literary journals, including Fourth Genre, Bayou, The Laurel Review, and Sou’wester.
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