Loki: How desperate are you, that you call on such lost creatures to defend you?
Nick Fury: How desperate am I? You threaten my world with war. You steal a force you can’t hope to control. You talk about peace and you kill ’cause it’s fun. You have made me very desperate. You might not be glad that you did.—Conversation from The Avengers (2012)
If you’ve seen Marvel’s Avengers movie, you’ll know just the scene in which this conversation takes place. (Click on conversation above to get more of the context if you’re wondering what they’re talking about.) Fury’s words ran through my mind today as I drove home. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
While waiting for a meeting with the pastor at church, I picked up a magazine and read part of an article about a woman in Zimbabwe. With nine kids to feed and no money, this woman knew the meaning of the word desperate as she struggled to put food on the table. She developed innovative ways to grow crops and was soon able to feed not only her kids but others in a similar desperate situation. I wanted to jot down some of the quotes she used and other specifics, but my meeting began, and I had to put down the magazine. I didn’t get a chance to grab it afterward to finish reading the article. But during the half-hour drive home, I thought about how often I’ve felt the ragged edge of desperation.
Looking back, I can see a trail of desperate situations like bad breadcrumbs. Were any of these situations a matter of life or death like that of the woman in Zimbabwe? No. But desperation has many faces. Here are some of them:
My undergraduate years at Northwestern University, A.D. some year (I’m not saying which year): Having partied way too heartily, my GPA plummeted. One afternoon, the dean of my program called me into her office and demanded to know why the school should allow me to remain. Academic probation was a possibility, but that was the dean’s decision, based on how persuasive I could be at that moment and how willing I was to prove myself from then on. How desperate was I to get my act together and avoid expulsion? Very.
First apartment: My roommate and I weren’t getting along and I had just been dumped by my boyfriend, even after we talked about getting married. I came home one night around midnight to find my boyfriend with my roommate. They were just talking, I was told. But when I said, “I’m outta here” and grabbed a suitcase, neither tried to stop me. In fact my boyfriend asked if I needed help getting my stuff to the car! I spent the night at my old home—with my parents. How desperate was I to move out of that apartment though I lacked the money to do so? Very.
Grad school, Vermont College of Fine Arts, 2011: I’d been failing miserably at my essay writing (keep in mind that my master’s program is a writing program) and barely squeaked out 14 pages of fiction, though I was supposed to turn in about 30 every month. My advisor at the time wrote a letter to me stating, “You might feel that the wrath of God has hit you, and it has.” She proceeded to tell me what I needed to do to remain in the program, which included scenes to write (which would total about 60 pages—double the amount I usually needed to turn in) along with new essays to make up for the crap essays I’d handed in the last couple of months. How desperate was I to once again get my act together academically? Very.
October 2012: At the company I worked for, the bosses called a meeting. The news was bad: the whole staff would be laid off before Thanksgiving—the start of the holiday season. No severance pay. How desperate was I to find a job to meet my monthly obligations? Very.
Last year: I submitted a novel to agents for representation and faced rejection not once but 16 times. (And no those were not my only rejections. I’ve acquired many over the years.) Some agents did not offer feedback. How desperate was I to write a novel with a sound structure and a marketable concept? Very.
As the old saying goes, “Desperate times call for desperate measures.” (And this saying might have derived from something Hippocrates said. See here for details.) In each case, I had to overcome my natural reticence, fear of failure, or inertia and get creative about finding a solution.
Desperation still pushes me down the path of creativity. But what about you? When was the last time you felt very desperate? What did desperation drive you to do?
I would’ve stopped this post at those questions, but a discussion in the last post about Bumble the Abominable Snowman from Rankin/Bass’s Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer prompted me to show a photo I took of Bumble on top of my wardrobe.