I’m working away on my third novel these days, trying to create a world on the page that, on occasion, strikes me as too small and unimportant to be worth the effort in light of the events taking place on the US political stage (and thus the entire globe) right now. In short, along with the many questions I have about how one is to live one’s life under a leader who doesn’t understand the fundamental principles on which his country is based, I also grapple with questions about my work including why I write about the things I do and whether they are worth exploring during such fraught times.
I’m not the kind of novelist whose work is meant to provide escapism or entertainment so I don’t have that to fall back on. I continue to want my work to provoke thought and even argument. At the same time, I do continue to think that can be accomplished without writing only about what in grade school we called current events. I do continue to see value–extraordinary value–in the small, quotidian things we do, whether as individuals, as friends, as partners, or as members of families. After all, isn’t it a desire to be our true selves (and to grant that same privilege to others) that motivates us to fight for liberty and strive to achieve and perfect our idealistic vision of how life should be?
I came across this blog post today that, interestingly, combines the damaged and cynical outlook expressed by Delph Alter, a character in A Reunion of Ghosts, with the blogger’s much more optimistic outlook about her own life. I found the post’s gentle chiding of Delph’s point of view uplifting and restorative. It’s always important to remember that a novelist does not necessarily share or endorse the world view of her characters, and in real life I, too, love long walks through parks with people who make me laugh. At the same time, I certainly do take comfort in dogs and cats and horses.
In fact, here’s my dog Josie (the little white one) in one of Dane County’s glorious dog parks, trotting along with a friend she made that day:
And here’s the blog post by Andi Diehn, which you can also find here at One Small Sentence. It begins with the quote from Reunion and then comes Andi’s observations:
A REUNION OF GHOSTS BY JUDITH CLAIRE MITCHELL
People are her third favorite species, she says. First cats. Then dogs. Or, no, wait–fourth favorite species. The Central Park horses are number three.
Last Sunday we went on a family hike, or “forced march into the woods,” as I like to call it.
The thing is, I’m probably the happiest person I know, but something about, I don’t know, the entire fucking world was kind of getting me down last weekend, and so when plans to go see a play fell through at the last minute (literally, the last minute. We were at the door but there were no more seats.), I took my friend up on her suggestion for a walk and forced the rest of the family to attend.
And I don’t think I’ve laughed that much since the inauguration. You know, the one attended by millions and millions of people. Yes it was. Was so! WAS SO! NO I’M NOT, YOU ARE!
On our walk I laughed at all of us (well, most of us) shimmying down hills on bellies and bums atop that frozen crust that’s passing for snow this winter. And I laughed at my boys, unable to keep their legs under themselves. I laughed at my dear husband’s expression as he watched this family he’d managed to assemble, all of us limbs akimbo in the forest, the incredulousness that this was how we were behaving.
I even laughed as my youngest slid over the edge of a ravine and barreled toward the rushing river below. Aw, relax, it was a short ravine. The river was more of a stream. He was fine. He survived.
Thing is, I laughed. It felt weird. And good. It’s easy, it’s always easy, to get caught up in how hard life can be. The disagreements, the worry, the bills, the weirdness, and not good weirdness, the bad weirdness. It can be so hard.
And then comes a day. The sky brightish, the woods welcomingish. We say yes to a walk. We find comfort in the cold, the ice, the endless gray and brown that marks a woods in winter.
And we laugh. And we are better for it.