The word strive and I came together recently over the subject of fellowships. Fellowships, at least in the arena of writing, are wonderful opportunities for writers to grow and work on their craft in a rich and supportive academic atmosphere. There are many colleges that offer fellowship (usually involving a stipend and free board in their housing) to eligible candidates so that those candidates may complete or begin a work that would otherwise hang in limbo due to the demands of everyday life. However, within the wording of the benefits of a fellowship, several colleges used the term “strive” as something they wanted to help their artists do. This is where I frowned.
They want to HELP them to STRIVE.
When think of the word “strive” I think of sweat and struggle and pain and the stretch of a thousand tiny tendons in my neck. I imagine reaching for something, grabbing and pulling for something that is now and will always be out of my reach.To strive for something like art is depressing.
My thought process is this: when I want a work done, I work until it is done. No one has to encourage me to strive for it, there is no striving involved. Even though I may sweat, cuss, cry and over-exert myself, there is some cold persistent fire that takes the feeling of toil out of it. So the question is, why should an artist strive? If they are truly inspired, if they really want it, wouldn’t they be willing to overcome their obstacles and set their minds to their work without thinking it’s a struggle?
So I asked my mother.
At first, her reaction was the same as mine, but she quickly thought through the problem and provided me with an answer.
The only thing wrong with the word is that I associate it with failure, not with improvement or growth. I am comfortable with the desire to complete a work. I am comfortable with struggle when I still have the passion to overcome it. It is those moments when it seems my writing goal is unachievable or that my writing obstacle is too great that I feel that I am striving. The feeling of striving is a combination of fatigue and resignation experienced when I have stopped halfway up the very steep hill this is my writing. Striving, to me, is the last step before failure.
But, perception is not truth. Luckily, I have family that are willing to pick me up and give me a birds-eye view of my vertical hill. They’re willing to show me a way around it or a more acceptable way over it. Striving isn’t the last step before failure. It’s the last step before a new and unimagined success.
So, to strive or not to strive? There is a delicate balance between feeling the pain of a work that requires more of you and a work that is going to take you nowhere, at least not now. Something my mother taught me is never to throw away anything. It doesn’t matter if it’s a paragraph or a sentence, never throw away anything you have put down on paper, heaven knows when it will come in handy. Some writers begin a work, and after months of dead end writing, put it away for a decade or so. And when they rediscover it, that is when everything clicks into place. It wasn’t that their writing was wrong, it ‘s that it was the wrong time. Inspiration is funny like that.
So, yes, strive, but know when to take a break. Not every journey follows the straight line I hoped it would. Not every hill is immediately conquerable. If I’m too tired, if I don’t have the energy, but I do have the will, sometimes it’s good to remember that the hill isn’t going anywhere and there are more pieces of my artistic landscape to discover. Sometimes I need to go explore the valley instead. The important part is that I move.