What Doesn’t Kill You

A writer died, but upon arriving at the pearly gates, St. Peter told her she could decide if she wanted to go to hell or to heaven.  He offered to give her a tour of each destination to help with her decision, so they went to hell first.

There in the fiery pits she saw rows of writers chained to their desks in a steamy sweatshop.  Demons repeatedly whipped them with thorny lashes as they worked.

“Oh my,” she said, “let me see heaven.”

So they ascended, and there she saw rows of writers chained to their desks in a steamy sweatshop.  Angels repeatedly whipped them with thorny lashes as they worked.

“Hold on,” she said.  “This is no different from hell.”

“Oh yes, it is,” St. Peter replied.  “Here, your work gets published.”

Although it’s too late for the protagonist in the above anecdote, this past week I was reminded of the saying “What doesn’t kill you will only make you stronger.”  That’s a good theme for a story full of danger and intrigue, but the philosophy can also apply to writing – and the life it mirrors.

My browser and cell phone decided to synchronize going kaput.  Luckily I don’t experience anxiety when separated from the virtual world, but it did put a hitch in my get-along.  The pain and suffering was caused by the processes of fixing/replacing those problems.  Nothing was life threatening, of course, but it was still an annoyance that managed to trigger some inspiration.

That’s one of the ironies about suffering:  If we lived in a world where dismemberment and broken bones never happened, stubbing your toe would send you collapsing to the floor and wailing, “Oh, Lord, why me?”

And our own suffering makes us more empathetic to the suffering of others.  When we see others suffer, we want to help them, which is a good.  Even in a fictional setting, you wouldn’t care if the hero of the story gets out of the dilemma he’s in if you’ve never faced a dilemma of your own.

Sure, we agree we’d rather avoid suffering.  But since there’s no avoiding it, we might as well try to take some comfort in believing good could come of it.

Just think of those writers who are going to get published….


Artificial Reality

There is a seed of truth in all stories.  Even in fantastical tales of flying dragons and slurping aliens, an element of reality gives readers something to identify with.

We snuggle into books, and the more we are immersed in a world other than our own, the happier it makes us.  Seeking out pleasure is not a bad aspect of human nature:  It inspires us to invent, stimulates social interaction, and encourages food that makes you want to go back for seconds.

But when pleasure takes precedence, we have a problem.

A saying I’ve heard also sounds like a plot outline in a (not so) futuristic story:  Bad times make good people; good people make good times; good times make bad people; bad people make bad times.

The term affluenza was coined to explain a malaise inflicting the culture over the last few decades.  Materialism led to a form of short-sightedness, a failure to understand consequences of actions and resulting in poor judgment.  And what has that led to?

There seems to be a rebellion against reality.  Humanity has grown so comfortable that it’s developed an aversion to anything that causes discomfort.  Heck, there’s talk of how some day people will be able to plug into virtual reality devices and spend their whole “interacting” with others through avatars.  They can create a comfortable world and hide from this one, where, quite frankly, reality bites.

Well, that’s the thing about reality:  In the end, it will always win.  And if it does so by biting, that’s because folks tried to deny it for too long.  There’s a lot that seems kind of bleak these days, that feels like we’re in the depths of some dystopian novel, but it can give us something to look forward to.

After all, bad times make good people.

And that seems to be part of the joy of reading a good book.  We get caught up in all the terrible things happening on those pages, and invest ourselves in the lives of people who don’t really exist.  But we reach the final page with satisfaction and close the book.  And then we return to reality … and hopefully bring with us that seed of truth.

Because it is in reality that seed can grow.