I was reminded once again this week (for the millionth or so time) of the power of stories—their power to transport us elsewhere, to evoke emotions, to soothe and comfort us.
Let me start with the most amazing book I’ve read in a long time, Alix E. Harrow’s The Ten Thousand Doors of January. It was a tale of magic and longing and secrets and adventure and love. It reminded me a bit of The Night Circus in that it transported me to a place that was our world, reflecting a common human experience, and simultaneously took me to an utterly imaginative, unique other-world. I was carried away, pulled further and further into this realm with every turn of the page. It’s a story about stories—where they come from and what they bring and how important they are—and I loved it. I was literally sitting on my couch smiling as I read, that’s how much I enjoyed reading this novel. (As an aside, which doesn’t actually fit with this blog, but which I couldn’t leave out…I only came to this book because of a real, true, actual bookstore. I found it on a display end-cap at Powell’s Books in Portland, among staff recommendations for other books I’ve loved. I’d never heard of this book and would never have known it existed if I hadn’t been browsing a bookstore and flipped through its paper pages. And missing out on this book would have been a tragedy! So that’s my PSA for bookstores for today!)
The next story that impacted me this week was Little Women. I’ve been sad lately about a variety of truly sad things going on around me, but unable to cry about them for some reason, a bit emotionally constipated. Little Women cured that. I cried for at least half of the movie (ask my nephew, who went with me and laughed at my tears many times!). I knew what was coming, so each touching scene brought tears to my eyes, both for the beauty and love in them and for the tragedy on its way. I walked out of the movie and learned of Kobe Bryant’s death, which made me sob in the theatre bathroom stall, everything overcoming me at once. There is sadness all around—loss, longing, regret—suffering in the world even if it isn’t quite my suffering. What to do with all of that? For me, I have to cry. I want to cry, and a great emotional story helps immensely.
Yet after a good cry, I also want to be comforted. I have my go-to movies that fit the bill for soothing my soul, and the one I chose last night was the latest iteration of Disney’s Cinderella. Don’t judge me! It is cheesy and non-PC and trite, but in moments like these, I just need a fairy tale. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t actually believe in happily-ever-after’s, but I like to watch it happen on a screen. I like to pretend that it can happen, especially when I am surrounded by so many sad endings, so many recent experiences of the opposite of that. It’s like a warm, soft blanket for me to experience a story I know by heart, to watch beautiful people (Lily James and Richard Madden…c’mon!), to know that everything is going to end up perfectly fine, when in real life I have no idea if that’s true or not. Cinderella was exactly what I needed.
I’ve still been crying on and off, and it’s fine, necessary even. I’d rather cry than ignore the pain, burying it in a hole that only grows anger, cynicism and coldness. The world is a complicated place, and stories help us make sense of it all. Always have. Always will.