The military jeep bounced over ruts as it approached the town. The walls in front of us were cratered with bombs; everything was covered in dust, abandoned, destroyed. It was enough to thoroughly distract me from the misery in my own life. I’d all but given up on writing altogether, for all the usual reasons — endless rejections, seeing my ideas done with more skill by someone else, meeting a writer whose first book is a masterpiece — plus the numerous additional demands on my life, plus the fact that writing was not making any money, which we needed, and I was getting older and tireder. I really believed I could manage to give up my writing habit, if I focused hard on, for instance, making music whenever I felt like writing. And when that old sorrow came, the sense of loss I felt when memories of my unrealized story worlds – well, then, I could just accept that life has sorrows, and deal with it. So, here I was, in a war zone, witnessing some of the world’s very real sorrows.
My assignment was to interview the character of the Seven of Wands, and I was warned, by Headquarters, that I was going into an active zone. All was quiet at the moment, though. My driver stopped at a crossroads, where we all had to get out, to help move rubble from the road. As I worked, I saw something out of the corner of my eye. A sparkling thing, a small bit of bright color in this sad world. I discreetly pocketed it.
When we reached the western wall of the city, some of the soldiers were resting, quiet, but my subject stood atop the wall. It wasn’t the size or strength of his body but the expression on his face that told me of his power. I clambered up to sit beside him.
“The enemy grows,” he said.
“Why don’t you give up?”
He looked at me in astonishment. “Because giving up is the only failure.” He gazed at me for a long moment. “Why did you come here? Why accept this dangerous assignment?”
I don’t know, I tell him. I don’t fully understand it.
He nodded. “You don’t always need to have a reason.”
He looked at my hand, then, and his eyes focused on the shiny item I’d found on the ground. I didn’t know what it was, but he did, and he took it from me in wonder. He held it to his lips and blew. The sound of a bird, unfamiliar to me, filled the air. Delight covered his face.
“Wait, and watch,” he told me.
When the enemy charged, he lifted the whistle, and blew. Above the hordes, a cloud of something dark rose on the horizon. It grew. He continued to blow the whistle, all the while parrying the growing number of staffs swept at him to knock him down. The cloud covered the sky above us. A host of large raptors descended on his enemies. Their striped wings beat about the ears and eyes of his attackers. The enemy was driven back.
During the celebration on the ground that night, the soldier found me. “This is how I live my life,” he said. “I am compelled to defend my home. It is not rational; I could not win, according to military experts and politicians. But I fight anyway, and because of the beautiful coincidence of your arrival, I have won. Life is like this.
“So keep writing, no matter what. You don’t need reasons. Continue to write, though you receive a thousand rejections, and though it seems everyone in the world has more success and more talent than you do, and have written your own ideas better than you ever could have done yourself. You read the beautiful, breathtaking stories of others, and you think you have no business in this art. You write, and it seems pointless. And then, one day, a lonely book of yours is on a stranger’s coffee table somewhere. A guest picks it up at the right moment. They flip the pages, they see a phrase you’ve written, an expression of truth, and it changes their life. And then they go on to change the world.
Keep writing, and trust that your words will work magic in the world, even if you never see the magic done. To create because you are compelled to keep creating is to allow yourself to be the vehicle for all that is good in the world.”