In Good Spirits

In every romance worth the name, the author is duty bound to subject the main characters to a big black moment, or BBM in the parlance of the trade. This is the point in the book where He and She know they’re in love. They know the relationship they have has already changed them from the people they were in the beginning of the book, but as their regard for each other has grown, so too have the obstacles they face.

Somewhere past page 300, for a few pages at least, All Is Lost. True Love lies panting in the ditch, suffocated by doubt, misgivings, circumstances, and the author’s inventiveness run amok. This is where the reader (one fervently hopes) realizes it’s waaaaay past bedtime, and instead of rolling over and turning off the light, figures another 47 pages won’t take that long… thus jeopardizing their morning, their day at work, possibly even their career to see how the lovers triumph over all the dastardly odds conspiring against them.

As a prudent author, one who knows that the BBM can make or break the book, I’ve pondered how to wreck the human spirit. The day job has been very accommodating in this regard because child welfare court provides an endless parade of wrecked spirits.

In my experience, people give up on their happily ever after, possibly even on their tomorrows of any kind, when they’re subjected to endless, pointless, isolated suffering.

Let’s unpack that.

When you know your troubles are going to be over by, say, next Tuesday, you can pretty much put up with those troubles, counting the days, hours, or minutes until Tuesday waddles by.

When you know you’re not in the misery alone, and you share community and camaraderie with even one other person (say a spouse), then you can hang in there, encourage each other, and find a hand to hold even in the dark.

When you know your suffering is producing progress toward a goal, whether it’s weight  loss, solvency, or world peace, then you’re also motivated to cope for just a little while longer.

So in my books, I have to conspire to isolate my characters with endless, pointless pain, and snatch away from them any hope of reprieve. Too bad for my characters, though by page 376, they’ll have their happily ever after.

In my life, to keep my spirit strong, I have to keep good people around me, know what gives my life meaning and protect it, and make sure I celebrate the inchstones, because the milestones may never come to pass.

So… how about you? What wrecks your spirit, and what have you learned about making sure the Undertoad never triumphs for long?

To five commenters below, I’ll send a signed copy of “The Soldier.”

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14 comments on “In Good Spirits

  1. 1
    Gail Nichols says:

    Usually 5 minutes with my relitives wrecks my spirit so I don’t go around them very often and stick to the family(hubby & kids) who I know love me. I also depend on good friends like you Ms Burrowes who see me in a light that I don’t often see myself in. 5 minutes with books like yours and I forget all the stuff that wrecks my spirit. Thank you for that:)

  2. 2
    Barb says:

    Hmmm, I have been blessed most of my life and have had few real, long lasting “terribles” descend. But I have to count the past year as the one exception. I lost a well loved job and “job family” when the company shut down last March. I wasn’t worried, and with my husbands income, wasn’t in a great hurry to find new employment. We hoped to sell the house and move to Florida and start a new chapter of life. But things had a way of not going our way. We both had lots of physical issues come up (including a treatable but malignant cancer for him) and the house didn’t sell. After about six months, the isolation of not having work outside the home really started to get to me and I found myself spending way too many hours on the computer (and reading–but I don’t count that as a problem!) It really felt like page 300 to me.

    So I shook myself off and got BUSY. I took up cooking and baking with my husband (which really I don’t recommend–I gained 10 pounds!) and started realizing that the ‘perfect’ job was not going to happen right now, we weren’t going to get to move and we had to accept it and go on. So I took a retail job for practically no money, but gets me out of the house and back around people. I’m much happier, even though the underlying issues are still there. The bonus is all the exercise of standing and walking all day has made those extra ten pounds drop off in a hurry!

    I guess the moral of the story is not to dwell on what’s wrong, but to get busy in mind and body, and things have a way of going right again. I’m not to page 376 yet, more like in the 350’s, but I’m not putting the book down and going to bed either!

    • 2.1

      I don’t know who said it, but quote applies, “Weak people give up and stay, strong people give up and move on.” You dealt with a lot, faced a lot, and now you’re moving on. Well done, readin’ buddy.

  3. 3
    Livia Quinn says:

    Great, post. I recognize some Hauge here.

    Ditto Gail’s sentiments, Grace. Your books are windows into ourselves and those around us. I’m blessed with a few close friends who stand in as family. One of them is usually there for me when I need advice or encouragement.

    I think most people have times when they feel worn down, friendless, and overwhelmed by circumstances in their lives. Beyond understanding what my boundaries are and sticking to them, the three things that help me most to maintain my equilibrium are concentrating on gratitude, generosity and forgiveness. NOT that I’m always successful. Far from it, but deliberately redirecting my thoughts back to my little journal of favorite quotes from Wayne Dyer, Marianne Williamson, and some of your blogs “rights” my attitude or sends me looking for further wisdom.

    • 3.1

      Livia, on my worst days, if I think about it long enough, I can usually come up with something–some small thing–for which I’m honestly grateful. It usually turns out to be not so small a thing, like the ability to taste, chew and swallow my food; the abilities to see and hear; to use a QERTY keyboard; oh, by the way, my parents love me and keep me in their prayers, and so forth.

  4. 4
    Conny says:

    Quite a challenge again!
    I am quite happy too say that, so far, I haven’t had to live through something your great characters need to bear before you let them (and us) have their happily ever after. Nothing so quite bad that it pulled the rug out from under me, though when you have a problem, for YOU it usually is a big one…

    If there is anything to struggle with, I always think of someone who can somehow support me. Either with the matter itself or at least in encouraging and just giving mental support. And it just helps greatly to know someone is with me, supporting me in whatever way or just sharing the problem with me, I think. And then it is much easier to be done with it and struggle.

    Also very good for me works being rather a little bit closed-minded: I am telling myself, that somehow I will get over this as time (the date) runs by (it won’t work with everything of course, but with dates/appointments and such, like horrid exams, difficult meetings… sometime they will have passed).
    And most certainly, it works believing it will work out if I try hard! I am absolutely positive, that God or the Universe or whatever you might call it, listens to wishes and grants them IF YOU BELIEVE IN IT! Be positive!
    And then, I decide, what I want from the situation, what is my wish, my dream, what should be for me (sometimes this is a hard part already!), and then just struggle and fight and get it done (hardest part…) while thinking positive.

    And I think, appreciating what I have gotten and knowing that only someone who perpetually works hard will get lucky and rewarded, might help preventing (being positive again…). I just hope that I will never have to suffer from something so severe that my strategies won’t work anymore.

    • 4.1

      Connie, I read about a prayer study not long ago, where subjects were given the first name of a recovering heart patient, and that’s all. They prayed for the person daily, and the patients did not know who among them were being prayed for and who was not. The people for whom somebody was praying recovered faster and with fewer complications.
      I take this as confirmation of your idea that universe is listening to us, both when we pray… and when we curse.

  5. 5
    Aretha zhen says:

    Hi Grace, no need to count my name. Just want to comments what wreck my spirit the most is people who think they know all about others. I just so hate those misters and ms know it all. There are parts of us that we love tp guard it and there is no way we have to let others to wreck something so precious which we hold closely to our heart

    • 5.1

      I agree, Aretha. The people who don’t bother to see us, to listen to us, to note that we’re individuals with something to offer, they make me run the other way.

  6. 6
    Connie says:

    I try very hard not to let anything crush my spirit. There are people in our lives who frustrate and annoy us at times, but I try very hard to “just let it go”. I have found that this works the best for my well-being. It also helps that I have a great husband of 25 years to whom I can vent!

    • 6.1

      Sometimes nothing will set me to rights except a good rant. If I’m in the right company, I often end up laughing about what had me so ticked off, or at some aspect of my reaction to it. We all need and deserve the occasional Poor Baby.

  7. 7
    Amber says:

    Like Barb, I was laid off this year, a few days before I was to have surgery. Then my dad had a heart attack. But still, I consider myself lucky in most things. I met my husband through unexpected and improbable circumstances. He is British, and we had to work incredibly hard just to be in the same country. We have our own love story, and even though problems don’t disappear after page 376, they are made infinitely more bearable by having true love by your side. That’s one of the reasons I adore your books. It’s a theme I see throughout them, and it resonates with me.

    • 7.1

      Amber, have you ever thought of turning your story into a contemporary love story? You’ve got the English hero in hand, and you probably went through a lot of black, or at least dark moments, given the state of the immigration laws. Betcha there’s a audience for it…