Deep in December

bumbleXandXclariceI love to read, and usually have three books going at once. One will be fiction, one will be history, and one will be on writing. In my craft reading, I came across an interesting idea recently, about the scene that romance writers call The Big Black Moment. This is the point in the book where All Hope Is Lost. If the heroine and hero have options, every choice stinks. Often it looks like they don’t even have stinky choices–failure and doom are bearing down from all sides. 

rudolphXsplatHannah is sailing away from Asher MacGregor, never to be seen again. Christian is off to duel with an old foe while Gillian and Lucy have been left in the hands of the real villain. Tremaine is leaving the woman he loves because she’s chosen saving lives over rescuing his weary heart. Who writes these cheery little tales, anyway? 

What I learned about the Big Black Moment is that the scene portrays not only the death of all hope, but also the death of the character’s world view and self-image as they existed at the beginning of the book. Asher MacGregor was never going to fall in love again, period, much less fall in love so hard, he’d break his own heart rather than try to tell the woman he loved what to do. Three hundred and forty four pages later, what’s he doing…? 

misfitAt the beginning of The Captive, Gillian was determined to stay far away from any man who sought to solve problems by violence, and yet by the end of the book, what do we see her doing?

The Big Black Moment is a tough spot, because it signals that the external conflict–the bad guys, dooty, rotten luck–is about to thwart true love. It’s also, however, a moment of birth. When faced with every reason to quit, the character who is inspired by love makes one last desperate grab for success–not as they would have defined success at the beginning of the book but as they NOW define success, after taking the courageous step of loving and being loved.

bumbleXstatAs we approach the darkest time of year, a time of year when some people fight hard memories, tight finances, difficult work circumstances, and challenging emotions, I’m reminded that tough times can give birth to creativity, ingenuity, resilience, determination and all kinds of growth we might once have thought impossible. From Big Black Moments can come people changed for the better and even a happily ever after or two.

When did adversity change you or somebody you know for the better? To one commenter, I’ll send a $50 gift card. 


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33 comments on “Deep in December

  1. If it doesn’t kill you it will make you stronger. My mother was always fond of saying that. I don’t believe it 100% – some things (physical and emotional) will leave you weaker sometimes.

    I’ve had a few Big Black Moments (and many gray ones) over the years. I’m not sure if they made me a better person or not. I’m not very introspective.

    • I do NOT agree find that saying very useful at all, and think it has been overused to denigrate and minimize–or worse, glorify–a lot of trauma. That which does not kill you can still hurt like blazes, and wreck your life.

  2. I have worked through several tough times.
    Black moments teach you to prioritize and problem solve.

    Seven years ago, my husband was laid off from his job. He had worked for the same company for 28 years. It was devastating. Why are people let go at Thanksgiving? Lots of things entered my mind- health care, mortgage, college and holiday gifts.

    I changed my hours at work- part time to full time, our daughter got an academic scholarship plus loans and grants, the mortgage is paid and we’ve cut way back on gifts. Prioritizing isn’t an easy thing to do. It can be tough. It’s hard to let go of habits — socializing and gift giving over the holidays and meeting other people’s expectations. In a sense it’s more freeing…you can enjoy what’s important to you!

    • I was laid off twice when my daughter was very young, and I’d recently acquired a home–no savings, no back up, no family in the area. It’s terrifying, and the more competent and well paid you are, the more likely it is to happen to you.

      It’s also devastating from a self-respect standpoint, because you’re told in no uncertain terms that your contribution isn’t valued. Buh-bye. I found my self-worth slipping, my confidence, my courage. Gave me a lot of compassion for the chronically un-employed and under-employed. That try, try again stuff gets harder and harder.

  3. Having a child with a disability changes your perspective as to what’s important and why it’s important.

    Initially, it SEEMS like it is a Big Black Moment, but only initially if we are to have a life or ever be happy. That BBM can’t last as long as perhaps we would like it to last because we have to take care of that child. We learn to cope. We learn to not be so perfection driven. We learn to take joy in simple things and accomplishments. And we make friends we would have never met if not for our children and their struggles.

    We are better people because of our child’s problems. I know I am because of my son’s autism!

  4. I don’t have a comment on the topic of the week, but I wanted to thank you for the two Christmas stories that you have available on gumroad for free. I loved the opportunity to revist the Wyndham family even if only for a short while.

    • You are welcome, Moriah. For everybody else, please just be sure to enter 0.00 in the price field, and the download prompt will pop up. They are tiny stories, and I don’t want anybody to pay for them. Think of them as gumdrops from gumroad..

  5. I was in a very serious accident when I was in high school and it definitely brought me closer to my family, at a time when we were fairly remote from one another. While I’m not thankful for the accident, I am grateful for the family unity it engendered.

    • When I turned up pregnant without benefit of matrimony, my sisters were particularly kind to me. At that point, we didn’t have much in common, but they could easily have judged, snarked, sniffed, and condescended. They absolutely went to bat for me, and that made a huge difference to my anxiety level.

    • Health is the big non-negotiable. From a bad back to an ingrown toenail to a migraine to a serious diagnosis. It’s a reality you can’t bargain with, and once you’ve had your face rubbed in that reality, your tune tends to change. Mine has, anyway.

  6. I was laid off from my job in a hospital but used the time off to go back to school to take computer classes, that lead to a computer job, that lead to me reading a technical book and understanding it, that lead me to a Master’s Degree in Computer Science program. Before that, I liked computers but didn’t think I was smart enough technically to do it. I don’t know if I’m really better now but I am happier, and that’s actually better in my book.

  7. As much as I don’t like it, adversity does make you grow as a person even if it takes you there screaming and kicking. I think we’re put here to live, learn and grow and if everything was always perfect, we just wouldn’t. I love the idea of reincarnation – you keep coming back until you get it right!

  8. First of all, Grace Thank You for the gift of the short stories!

    When I was young I struggled with learning: reading, writing, and math gave me major problems at times. Eventually, a teacher figured out that I have (thankfully mild) dyslexia. She and my mother helped me work smarter to learn how to memorize my letters, numbers and so on. My dear older sister told me more that once that I was stupid and never going to be able to do anything, but that only made me more determined to learn. Because I had to work so hard early in my academic career, the hard work through the rest of it wasn’t as much of a hardship as it was for some of my friends. I’m the only one of my siblings to earn a college degree.

    • Hats off to you… college seems to go on forever when you’re young–FOUR YEARS of your life! And your sister needs kick in the patootie. I can’t recall any of my siblings ever putting me down that way–they might not exactly have gushed with encouragement, but they weren’t mean.

      BUT to the extent my parents required us to be decent to each other, it’s because they’d both been subjected to family situations where “all for one” was not the norm. Their adversity resulted in a benefit to me.

  9. My husband and I were just talking about this. We have been together for 15 years and been through many ups and downs, but having kids changed our relationship drastically. We argued more than we ever had before. in the middle of one particular argument, I remember thinking “Thrre’s no recovering from this. I think we’re done.” It broke my heart. Luckily, we both agreed that we had too much love left to give up on each other and we stuck it out. It hasn’t all been easy or perfect, but since that moment, we have worked hard to love and support each other more fully. Having faced the idea of losing my marriage, I now see it for the wonder that it is. Not easy, DEFINITELY not perfect, but wonderful all the same.

    • Kids have a way of shining an relentless light on any fault lines in a marriage, and then hammering on them. And the little dears seem to know when a marriage is faltering, and they can’t help but react which only creates greater strain.

      I’m glad you and your spouse were able to love your way through the Big Black Moment. The gift you gave your children with that decision–and that example–is beyond measure.

  10. Hmmm… at age 39 I was tried of my phobia of driving and found help, at age 51 I was tried of being overweight and found help, I have currently lost 28 pounds and I feel good. I think it comes down to whatever your obstacles are in your life being tired of being afraid or being tired of not feeling well and asking for help from people who have the skills to help you, it is not easy, but it is worth it.

    • The only guy I ever lived with was a rolling wreck, but he once told me, “When you’re facing something overwhelming, you take it on a little bit at a time, supported by people you trust.”

      He was right. That ONE TIME, he was right.

  11. What was blackest about my big black moment was I didn’t know it was a moment. I just thought that my life had collapsed and the few halting years of happiness, satisfaction, and independence I’d known in college were over.

    It was a Dark December of 1992 (please don’t do the math), and the US was in the midst of the recession where for the first time in generations, adult children were expected to do worse than their parents economically..

    A cruel boyfriend, no job, no more classes to get me out of the house, and an English degree that no employer was interested in were all I seemed to have. That and a case of clinical Depression, for the first time in my young life.

    I remember Depression this way: I would wake up and cry. I would go to my parent’s house and sleep for 12 hours on their couch, and every single reaction to everything was raw and irritatated. It would slip in like a fog, almost unnoticed, and instantly, everything was bleak. I stopped singing along to the radio in my car.

    I didn’t know it was Depression with a capital D. I just kept feeling like I was having bad days. I was numb and empty and couldn’t understand why joy had slipped from my world. I found a job working in an office cafeteria (which I hated), and was told by one of the employees there that I “always looked like I was going to cry about something.”

    My parents, bless them, knew something was wrong. Somehow I got into see a doctor and was put on medication. Somehow I started slowly feeling better. I started working at a horse camp, and found mucking out a stall was better therapy than I could have known. Somehow that long winter turned to spring. Somehow I left the cruel boyfriend. Somehow oxygen returned to my lungs, and I could breathe again. My life wasn’t over.

    What I know now is this: empathy for others suffering and an appreciation for life. Now I just don’t want to follow negative people down that rabbit hole because I’ve spent enough time on that foggy, boggy side of the shore. I do believe part of it is a choice. I also believe I may not have come out of that fog without medication. But I refuse to not honor my health now that my brain and body are (somewhat) sound. I understand in a deep, primal way that things can be very wrong even if there is not discernible reason. I understand how very dark and scary things can look from the inside the pit. But even on crap days, my brain usually bounces back. And I am so grateful for that. I never forget that I am lucky to have come out the other side. And even on days I’m broke, aging, tired, bored and covered in cat hair (okay, most days), it’s better than not feeling at all.

    • You remind of a line from Amy Lowell’s “The Dinner Party.”

      …Only living flesh can suffer.

      I’m glad your parents were paying attention, glad the medication helped (it doesn’t always), glad the muck fork was your magic wand, and that you emerged from captivity a kinder, wiser person. Not a choice for the faint of heart.

      • I teach Women’s Literature, and I make my students read Amy Lowell. Thank you for reminding me of that.

        My, but you’re well read.

  12. I think my defining moment was when I was widowed in ’78. I now wonder if I suffer from undiagnosed PTS as I’ve made some very stupid decisions after that happened. I’m trying to get out of what seems like a very deep pit, though I sometimes wonder if I’ll ever succeed.

    • You were young, and lordy, did I EVER make stupid decisions when I was young… I’m still no genius, but my worst errors in judgment (so far) were in my twenties.

      I think holidays make any loss feel closer, and for many people, just the darkness of winter days, the dreariness of year end–compound a low mood. Will keep you in my thoughts, Molly, and hope Axel finds his way to you, too. He’s a cheery fellow, in a charm-free sorta way.

      • Grace I was in my late 20’s early 30’s when I made most of my stupid mistakes. Since I want Axel in print I’ve still got a message from Amazon that they’ll email me when it’s ready to be sent out. Frustrating, but I know it will show up eventually.

  13. I believe that all the troubles I have been through have made me a stronger person. My life is definitely looking up from my very low point(s).