We need both sunshine and rain to survive, all of us--all people, all animals, all plants, all life on Earth. And when we can learn to enjoy changeable weather and seasons with a flexible attitude and a readiness to take advantage of whatever comes along, we can weather the storms of life--metaphorically speaking.
Literature helps us to envision pleasures we've never experienced as well as terrors and hardships we've never faced--in the safe, pillowy world of our own imaginations. Reading literary fiction makes us more empathetic and resilient when we encounter situations we've read about in real life. Dark fiction inoculates us against shock and despair in the real world.
Writing fiction has therapeutic benefits as well. Way back when I used to participate in NaNoWriMo, I learned that a good author must behave like a fickle, brutal god of the ancients--setting up trials and tribulations for our beloved creations just to watch them fight their way through. My writing companions and I found that it is more difficult to write terrible things happening to sympathetic characters than to read about those written by others. It feels sadistic, almost, even though characters are, of course, our imaginary friends who don't really exist. But they are artistic expressions borne of our own souls, and it takes strength and faith to deliberately put them through misery, even if we know it's for their own literary good in the end.
When we grow in self-mastery and inner strength, we gain the power to write good stories full of bad things happening to complicated people--and meanwhile, we grow the psychological resources to handle challenges in real life. We learn that everything is temporary--the storms and the sun--and that all weather returns at some point. So we can weather the storms of life without panic, and we can also take pleasure in the sun's warmth without letting it distract us entirely from our work as in Aesop's fable of the grasshopper and the ant.
Reading and writing long fiction helps us to gain a larger perspective on life and ourselves and to become more skilled at putting everything into context--on the page and in life as well.
The following is a post I wrote in the 2000s, about balancing an autumn hurricane of furious fiction writing with the capacity to pause and take advantage, for just the right length of time, of a glorious day out in the world that would give me the inspiration, motivation, and sheer physiological oxygen boost to power through the rest of the month.
The Dark and Stormy Week Two
One reason NaNoWriMo takes place in November is that November is a gloomy, cool month when the outdoors is less likely to entice writers away from our desks. But when one of those sunny, warm days pops up in November, boy, it's impossible to ignore!
I'm sure glad I neglected my typing just long enough to take advantage of yesterday's incredible weather. I'd been having a cranky few days, and the sunshine, warm leafy-smelling breezes, and brilliant fall colors did wonders for my mood and creative inspiration.
Mr. G and I took a bike ride down where we used to roll, downtown Lansing. We stopped for awhile at a celebratory rally on the Capitol steps and called our representatives in da House to thank them for bringing our nation a little closer to social justice, health, wealth, and modernization with Sunday's passage of their health reform bill. Working families there and individuals of all ages were so happy to get closer to access to a healthy quality of life. People with good insurance already, like me and Mr. G, were happy for all of our friends and family not lucky enough to have decent coverage. Little by little, our country becomes more civilized, modern, and healthy. Writing a NaNo story about medieval Europe helps put things into perspective, too.
On the way home, we stopped at Reno's bar to have lunch out on the patio. They had some delicious specials--jalapeno-stuffed, toasted ravioli and a hot cider drink that tasted like liquid apple pie. We bought them just because they were delicious, but it turned out that a portion of the sale went to the Haven House, a homeless shelter in town that my church has supported before. Apparently Reno's raises money for a different charity every month. Who knew? How nice. It was just that kind of a day.
Now, filled up on sunshine and fresh air, I've got to buckle down and get up to 15,000 words before bed tonight. They say Week Two is the hardest. The "dark and stormy night" of NaNoWriMo. Time to stay inside and batten the hatches! It's going to be a busy week.
Jean Michelle Miernik is the author of Leirah and the Wild Man: A Tale of Obsession and Survival at the Edges of the Byzantine World, available through your local bookstore on October 23, 2021 and in ebook formats on November 11, 2021.