This past Tuesday was a day of depressing writing news all around, and by evening all I wanted was to lie on my bed, feel sorry for myself, and eat pasta. But I dragged myself up to go hear Azar Nafisi speak at a local university. She is the author of Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books and Things I’ve Been Silent About. She spoke of how books connect us to each other, to people who share our passions and our dreams. Writers and readers, she said, both have an urge to know, to go to strange terrains and become the others we have never met. In the republic of the imagination we learn empathy.

It’s good for me to be reminded of why we do what we do. When the royalty checks arrive with single digits, when the rejection letters or the remainder letters come, when I wonder what possesses me to think I have something worth saying in words, I will remember Nafisi telling us passionately that the most fundamental form of insubordination is curiosity. I will remember that we are citizens of that republic that transcends boundaries. And I will remember her answer to the question of how she finds hope. Hope, she said, is not undue optimism, it is the essence of life. Seeing life through the eyes of the imagination shows us how life could be or should be. Without hope, what is the point of life?

Although I didn’t know it until she spoke, Azar Nafisi was exactly the person I needed to hear. She made me proud to be a citizen of that republic of imagination, even on the days when I just want to lie on my bed, feel sorry for myself, and eat pasta.