Standing by Words

Fearnside: For me, as for many people, being a writer means getting up early in the morning — sometimes when it’s dark — writing as much as possible, and then going out and working a full-time job. I’m content with this, knowing that I’m doing my best under the circumstances, and I define myself as a writer even though I’m not writing full time or earning my living from it.

Berry: That’s good, but you need to realize something else: that you can lead a perfectly good and satisfactory life even if you’re not a writer.When I figured out that I could be perfectly happy and not be a writer, I became a better writer.

Fearnside: But you never gave up writing.

Berry: No, but I don’t think you ought to let your happiness depend on writing. There are a lot of worthwhile things you can do. The unhappiest people in the world may be the ones who think their happiness depends on artistic success of some kind.

Fearnside: In your essay “Standing by Words” you note that love is not abstract and cannot lead to abstract action. Love is the catalyst for concrete action, which is taking responsibility for what we do here and now. It seems to me that in some ways this kind of love is the salvation of the world.

Berry: That’s true. But like religion, love has to be practiced. It has to find something to do. Love isn’t just a feeling. It’s an instruction: Love one another. That’s hard to do. It doesn’t mean to sit at home and have fond feelings. You’ve got to treat people as if you love them, whether you do or not.

Fearnside: The Buddhists try to follow a path of “right livelihood,” which means that a person should not engage in work that brings harm to others, either directly or indirectly.

Berry: Right livelihood would prohibit strip mining and building warplanes. And so would “Love one another,” if anybody took it seriously.

— Jeff Fearnside interviews Wendell Berry for The Sun


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