Renew, anew: The Invictus Writers 2015

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.” — Henry David Thoreau, Walden: Or, Life in the Woods

Thoreau House SiteI’ve tried to write this re-introduction to The Invictus Writers project on several occasions, but I’ve come up woefully short with each endeavor. I sit in front of this infernal, hell-sent computer banging on the keys hoping to wretch some meaningful words out of this cursed machine, but invariably I am left with only bruised hands and a battered ego.

My gentle friend, The Project, has hibernated for the past year, sleeping alone while I both pursued my own writing projects and recalibrated after a disheartening turn with Vol. 3. in which we tried to operate as a traditional class. (The Cliffsnotes story: It doesn’t work!)

And yet…even as we are close to the launch of Invictus, Vol. 4, the words that once surged through me about this project have left without so much as a goodbye.

This isn’t a reflection upon my excitement for The Invictus Writers, nor is it a reflection upon the new crop of writers whom I’m still in the process of recruiting. Instead, it’s the general weariness of writing, the fatigue of the grind. I’ve just finished my own book, Dungeons & Dreamers: A story of how computer games created a global culture, and I’m now ready to really plow into my next book, So Far Appalachia.

The deluge of my own words seems never-ending. Yet words about Invictus, Vol. 4 escape me.

I know the words will eventually come back. I love this project too much for my mind to wander too far from home. I’ve pushed and prodded too many young writers to leave it rest too dormant for long. I’ve been too inspired by our group gatherings, our discussions, and ultimately our creations to let My Friend sit dormant and undiscussed.

I know all this, and yet I am daunted — as always — at the prospect of beginning anew…again.

This is the existential horror of teaching (and one supposes writing): each new year brings a fresh batch of writers who must climb the same mountain as the students the year before. It is new, exhilarating, and not just a little bit terrifying for the current crop; it is old hat to the teacher. I know the pitfalls, I know the crevices, and I know the danger points. I know the trajectory of the group, and I know the inevitable outcome of it all.

I know, I know, I know. Those are the words every writer fears, “I know,” because writing isn’t about knowing; writing is about exploring what you don’t know. It’s about starting in a place that is empty and slowly filling up that space with something new.

To know is to die a slow, wordless death.

Yet we find ourselves here, at the precipice of Vol. 4, staring into great dark void, searching, straining, and hoping to find that light at the end of the long tunnel far, far below.

I am not yet excited, but once we take those first steps together I know this lethargy will magically transform. It always does.

In fact, it must because when I reduce my life to its lowest terms, what is there never changes: stories and the people who create them.

This is what renews me.

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