I remember sitting in an empty classroom at Washington and Lee late into the night, working on a poem instead of studying for an exam on international trade. I had spent three years as an economics major: endless afternoons in dead-aired classrooms from which I can’t remember a thing in the world except that I wanted, wanted, wanted something so vague it might as well be money. By the time of my last class in the “C-School” I was so hungry for meaning that everything was instantly allegorical—the blind professor who taught international trade, the desk he clung to like a life raft, the random dog that sauntered into that third-floor classroom one afternoon as if he owned the place. He stopped right in front of my desk, turned around twice before taking a disconcertingly deliberate shit, then trotted lightly out like an ironic angel.
Not that the true path was by any means clear. I still had twenty years to writhe on the high hook I knew only as Ambition. It’s almost the definition of a calling that there is strong inner resistance to it. The resistance is not practical—how will I make money, can I live with the straitened circumstances, etc.—but existential: Can I navigate this strong current, and can I remain myself while losing myself within it? Reluctant writers, reluctant ministers, reluctant teachers—these are the ones whose lives and works can be examples. Nothing kills credibility like excessive enthusiasm. Nothing poisons truth so quickly as an assurance that one has found it. “The impeded stream is the one that sings.” (Wendell Berry)