Monday, April 25, 2011

Hope is Both Specific and Ineffable

Making Monday

As an exercise, take a moment and try to define the taste of salt.

Wits in the audience might say, "Oh, that's easy: salt is salty." That answer, of course, simply begs the question. Besides, it's not a sporting answer because a definition describes something in terms of something else.

The more lyrical among you might say that by itself, the taste is sharp and a touch metalic (perhaps from the chlorine and sodium respectively). Where with food, it brings other flavors into focus and gives them a crisp edge.

Unfortunately, neither response would help someone who has never tasted salt understand a concept like salty. Part of the reason is that physiologists tell us salt is one of five basic tastes (the others are bitter, sour, sweet, and savory [umami]).

Salt is both specific and ineffable: we know when it's there (or not) and yet it defies expression or description.

The hope of the makers is like salt.

Makers express hope in the process of making and embody it in the thing made, but neither the process nor the product define that hope. Destroying the product doesn't destroy the hope (though it may frustrate the maker).

A novel can only come into being through consistent effort and clearly embodies a great many hopes. While rejection is painful, the fact that you've written one novel proves you can write another.

The hope of the makers transcends any single project because it is neither simplistic nor dismissive. Their hope is too expansive to be embodied by any one thing because there's always something else to make.

Image: Bill Longshaw /

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