I’ve been reading a book called 100 Days of Solitude by Daphne Kapsali. Yesterday, at the end of the chapter for Day 42 (this coincidence will not be lost on Hitchhiker’s Guide fans), I read this (emphasis mine):
I like a clandestine seat in the first class lounge and a suitcase that’s impossible to carry. I like a bit of roughness in my seas; if it’s all plain sailing, I might not even notice that I’m going anywhere.
Perhaps we’re all like that, and we need the adversity to remind us that we’re entitled to a comfortable seat and to spending 5 euro on a two minute cab ride because we just don’t want to carry that heavy suitcase anymore. And that we are, each of us, doing the best we can…
The part I bolded struck me – if all is easy and goes well, can we tell how far we’ve come and appreciate the things we have?
Last year, my family and I took a vacation to Hawaii (not a sign of great adversity, I know. Bear with me.) The trip started with a 15-hour flight delay. We were so late we missed the first night in our condo on the Big Island. Instead, we spent most of the night in the L.A. airport.
Condo on the Big Island > L.A. airport. Just saying.
So that sucked, but you know what? In the few flights I’ve taken since then, I really appreciate when a flight leaves on time. Or even only and hour or two delayed. But the best part of that experience was what I learned about my sons, who were 7 and 10 years old at the time.
I learned they can keep cool under pressure and frustration. They coped better than I did, admittedly. I had access to the airport’s wine bar and I still complained more. They took the whole thing in stride (though they had never been to Hawaii, so maybe they didn’t know what they were missing), sleeping on gross cots under fluorescent lights while I stayed awake to make sure no one stole our stuff. We were all unwashed and exhausted by the time we landed on the island, but they didn’t care. And frankly, by then, neither did I. Once we were past the rough patch, simply reaching our destination felt like Heaven, and I had a new reason to be abundantly proud of my kids.
The same principle applies in writing. I don’t know any writer who hasn’t struggled in some way during the process. Writers get writer’s block, mess up a character, lose track of the plot, get an extensive editing letter, receive some harsh feedback from a critique partner, have to write a query, decide on agents to send to, maybe figure out how to self publish, try to ignore that crappy review, send review copies to bloggers…
The list is quite extensive. And I think that’s a good thing.
What if by some miracle we were able to put the perfect words down on paper the first time, our editor says, “I can suggest nothing that will improve this,” we land an agent with the first query or produce a flawless independently published work, and become critically acclaimed international bestsellers all within a year?
While those outcomes may ultimately be what we want, having it come that easy would take away something valuable, I think: that sense of “That was effing hard, and I did it. Take that, world.”
There’s satisfaction in overcoming adversity. In conquering. It’s why we write our heroes to rise above the crap, whatever that looks like. We root for the underdogs and cheer the last-second victories. If adversity was faced and beaten, victory is that much sweeter and we can clearly see what we did to achieve it.
But it sucks when you’re in the middle of it, doesn’t it? When you’re in the thick of the crap, hearing someone say it’s better on the other side, even if you know that, is little comfort. Not every adversity is one you’ll be glad you had. That doesn’t mean you can’t rejoice when you make it through.
Do you have an overcoming adversity anecdote that seasons your story? Feel free to share in the comments!