Thursday, January 18, 2007

Chasing the wind

I've been having an "Ecclesiastes" week.

It's not really a category; I just made it up. It's one or two steps above a "Jonah day," a term I like from Anne of Green Gables. At least in an Ecclesiastes week no one gets swallowed whole.

Ecclesiastes is the book of the Bible that begins:

"Meaningless! Utterly meaningless! What do people get for all their hard work? ....Everything is so weary and tiresome! ....And in future generations, no one will remember what we are doing now."

My work is sporadic: either I have three stories due all at once or nothing at all. I always go through a little slump of gloom once the frenzied panic is over. I've come to the place where I can give myself permission.

Usually I have the sense of accomplishment to keep me going. I've helped support my family, I've created something beautiful, and I've added to a legacy of stories that will survive me.

But this time I'm wondering if it's really all that. My Burma story was supposed to be a quick call to a missionary, write up the facts, hit "send" and you're done. Instead it was hours interviewing refugees, phone calls to pastors and foreign affairs representatives, emails for clarification, looking up news articles online, and presto: I've earned myself a whopping $1.50 an hour. How's that for supporting my family?

And leaving a legacy? I've learned it's okay for editors to change your words without running the changes by the writer, because "you know the material but they know their reader." I find it difficult when my stories come out; sometimes I'm afraid to look. They have my name on them, but they aren't really mine anymore.

It all feels a little meaningless. Like trying to catch the wind.

As I was typing out the verses from Ecclesiastes I had a funny thought: the writer says that future generations won't know what he's done, and yet here I am thousands of years later, wearing polyester and sitting in my Lazyboy, reading his words! The poor guy had no idea his writing would end up on gold leaf and bound in leather or send through fibre-optic cables from my nifty little laptop to yours!

They say writing is something you do for love, not for fame or money. Some days I pray for God to give me a passion for delivering flyers, because I think I'd be ahead financially.

But I know, even when the work is hard and the editors are chop happy (or like to smother everything in cheese), I won't stop writing. Because there are so many stories that need to be told.

That's where the love comes in. It's not just love for the act of writing (which many days I must admit involves more blood and sweat than drool). It's love for the stories: from the displaced people of Burma to the homeless individuals in Harry Lehotsky's neighbourhood - when I tell their stories they become my friends. And when you read them, my hope is that they become your friends too.

"The wise are often poor and the skillful are not necessarily wealthy. Whatever you do, do well." Ecclesiastes 9.

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