It’s the most contagious of human virtues. When we see someone acting with courage, it inspires us, expands our menu of the possible. We are reminded that we can act courageously.
In 2018, I’d like to write—and to live—with more courage.
Which will take some stretching.
I used to think—incorrectly, it turns out—that I was brave. I did stand-up comedy in my twenties, took up downhill ski racing in my forties, left a successful career as a lawyer to reinvent myself as a novelist in my fifties, and took up Aikido just last year.
Unfortunately, a little self-knowledge is a discouraging thing. Over years of therapy, I learned that my way of dealing with some PTSD is through a counter-phobic defense mechanism. That counter-phobic mechanism makes me move toward experiences that are frightening, to avoid feeling vulnerable when things especially scare me.
First, that insight means I can’t even give myself bravery credit for the challenging stuff I’ve done. Second, it’s complicated baggage to drag on a writer’s journey, which is, at its best, a movement toward vulnerability and putting it all on the page.
I think what that means to me this year is writing deeper, getting closer to the emotional heart of the stories I tell.
I’m working on a difficult novel, and I’ve written the raisins already—the parts I enjoy—leaving me with the oatmeal to fill in: The wrenching, emotionally difficult part. (The teenage protagonist’s mother is drinking herself to death. As my mother did.)
For me, the other part about writing courageously this year is that I want to try some new things. Write some short stories. Finish my other, more fun novel, about a teen who (like me) has a counter-phobic mechanism. Start a new project that excites me, that’s even further from my current wheelhouse, although I don’t have a handle on the complete story yet or even the best point of view/format for telling it.
That means uncertainty, some travel outside my comfort zone as a writer. Which is good.
As writer and teacher Anne Lamott advises,
“Write straight into the emotional center of things. Write toward vulnerability. Risk being unliked. Tell the truth as you understand it. If you’re a writer you have a moral obligation to do this. And it is a revolutionary act—truth is always subversive.”
I type this in 2018 in the United States, a country where we could use more courage—a willingness to stand up to misused power, to protect the vulnerable, to take principled stands to preserve our surprisingly fragile institutions of the rule of law, independence of the justice department, and bastion of a free press willing to hold our government accountable.
As any writer can tell you, difficult situations get more difficult before they finally come to a crisis, and that crisis will often test our values, including whether we have the courage to get to a better place.
So, friends, good luck to us all in 2018.
And, of course, courage.
Dean Gloster got an MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts in July 2017. He is a former stand-up comedian and a former law clerk at the U.S. Supreme Court. His debut YA novel DESSERT FIRST is out now from Merit Press/Simon Pulse. School Library Journal called it “a sweet, sorrowful, and simply divine debut novel that teens will be sinking their teeth into. This wonderful story…will be a hit with fans of John Green's and Jesse Andrews's .”
The novel Dean is currently working on involves a high school student’s summer internship with Death herself.