I write this from the edge of breakdown.
The past month has been a difficult one, draining in ways I did not realize were possible. I have pushed through, and done my best each day, but it has been hard. I have read articles about burnout and fatigue, contemplated retiring to the countryside like a maiden from an Austen novel, but none of the solutions on offer seem to be enough.
Would that I could escape into the pages of my favorite book and live there for a season. I would not mind suffering all the troubles of my favorite main character, in exchange for the privilege of knowing the ending of this tale. In times like this, when the nights begin to lengthen and the days grow shorter, when ghosts gather in the corners and the neighbors lawns are festooned with gravestones, it is important to gather all the things we love around us. For me—for so many of us—these things are stories.
A good story enlightens us and leaves us breathless. It pulls the heart out from under our skin and exposes it to the air. It bleeds out the poisons just like some medieval surgeon. It leaves us enlivened.
In my exhaustion lately, I have been gathering my favorite stories closer than ever.
There is the novel about lesbian necromancers, which manages to be a romance, space adventure, and an ode to the country house murder mystery. It is gorgeously written, fantastically brutal, and absolutely heartwrenching. The sequel manages to be all that and more, with a splash of the literary thrown into its labyrinthine plotting.
There is the new age fairy tale, in which a star falls to earth and eventually in love. But along the way timelines are stretched and turned inside and out, the past comes into the present, and myths of true love and eternal life are deconstructed.
There is the pastiche, a novel of the stories that hide within footnotes. It is the tale of two mismatched magicians in a land that is losing its magic, who manage to unravel centuries-old secrets and uncover new mysteries at the same time.
There is the story of the son of a god who does not know he is divine, but who believes he is cursed until he gets caught in the machinations of a god as old as the land itself. Filled with dark tales, it is a portrait of how a land can contain both beauty and horror, lurking right beneath the surface.
And there is the epic tale, the ode to romance that divides the heavens, which is the story of a pair of destined souls, brought closer through life and death. They must fight for each other and win out in the end, though the entire establishment fights against them and believes them to be forsaken. And they get their happy ending at last.
These are the stories that I love. They rest on my bookshelf in good times, and come out in the challenging ones. I have been returning to these stories time and again recently, in order to find myself and find a place where I can rest.
And in these stories, though they challenge the characters in new and terrible ways with every chapter, I find salvation. Because their stories have ends. They find love, or destiny, or home. When I read them, I am no longer so tired. With these characters, I find those things, too. My story does not yet have an ending. I cannot see the future through the hazy mists of time—most days, I cannot even predict it. But I can read to the end of the novel, and turn the last page.
I find a good ending in stories.
So here I am, on the edge of breakdown. I have been here before—exhausted, drained, unable to process. These days come more often than I would like. But I will not stop. I will keep going, day by day and word by word. In the end, I know I will be saved by the stories that I love. They give me hope for easier, more restful days.
And when they come, I know that I will have the strength to write again. Because these stories live inside me. They give me strength. They teach me how to keep going.
All the way to the end of the road.