A New Normal

The Cat's Eye Nebula, a planetary nebula forme...
The Cat’s Eye Nebula, a planetary nebula formed by the death of a star with about the same mass as the Sun. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s almost three in the morning, though you won’t see this until later. It took me this long to realize that I knew what I needed to write about. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about stories. What makes me engage with them. What makes me back away like I’ve touched a pane of bees with stingers at the ready.

Last week’s episode of Game of Thrones sort of prompted it, because it reminded me why I’d stopped reading the books. They’d violated something I felt they were obligated to maintain. I read a lot of fantasy growing up. Heaps of it. My favorite stories were always fantasy. As I grew older, those stories evolved.

I’ll be frank and say that I’ve had a severe case of reader’s block in the last year. I’ve been flailing at A Memory of Light for months. I have A Gentleman’s Game sitting next to my bed when it should be getting back to its owner. Maybe it’s circumstance, maybe it’s weariness, but television has been where I get my stories lately. There are any number of stories I engage with on a weekly basis, and even more every year. Dexter. How I Met Your Mother. The Vampire Diaries. Buffy (always). Supernatural. Star Wars. Breaking Bad. Game of Thrones. Two Broke Girls. The Bachelor/ette. True Blood. Homeland. New Girl. Workaholics. The Walking Dead.

On any given week, our DVR is filled with different stories. Some of these stories I’ve kept with for years. There’s something that keeps me coming back to them over and over.

I have managed to read a few books through in the past few months, and they share a common thread.

When you ask a storyteller to tell you lies, you’re asking her to make you believe them.

A great story replaces the world around you with a new one. A world with new rules, whether those new rules allow for gravity-defying pixy dust or simply a group of four friends always managing to sit at the same booth at their favorite bar.

They create a new normal.

The great stories make you sob when a character’s mind reaches out to touch a tainted power source because you know it will drive him mad. Even though no such thing is happening or even possible — that is the normal of his world made yours.

The great stories make you crow with glee and feel pangs of loss alike when a suffering, grieving vampire shoves the world’s only cure for vampirism down the throat of her enemy instead of using it to take back a life that was reft from her. Even though there are no vampires, and you can’t go home again — that is the normal of her world made yours.

The great stories allow you to destroy a Death Star or fly a broomstick or fight an ogre or make love to a god because they are making their normal yours.

Some people call it suspension of disbelief, but I think it’s more than that. Perhaps in the mediocre tales we suspend disbelief. The great tales leave us no say in the matter.

What worlds gave you a new normal? What universes would you choose to visit — or go to stay?

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2 thoughts on “A New Normal

  1. What was it about the Game Of Thrones that didn’t work for you? I haven’t read those books (or watched much of the series), so I’m curious which rules you thought Mr. Martin broke. Also (as long as I’m asking questions), are you suggesting the stories you see on television are better than what you read in books? I don’t watch much TV – well, except for baseball – I think because it’s too immediate. I’d rather read a book, and though I’m just as emotionally engaged, there’s a comfort level that makes it possible for me to deal with whatever the author throws down. (Except for Mr. Martin, because he seems kinda kookoo.)

  2. Shauna Granger

    I actually know exactly what you’re talking about. This past year, I’ve had a very hard time committing to books and have had to resort to tricks to keep reading (like sunbathing, what else are you gonna do?). I think this is also why we’ll always go back to certain books and reread them because they didn’t let us down and we can reconnect with that “I need to get back to my book” enthusiasm with the ones we loved. I stopped reading A Storm of Swords, probably about a 1/3 of the way through, and I hadn’t even made it to whatever happened last week on the show! I think, sometimes, we just need a break and the lovely, compartmentalized, episodic formula TV shows follow help us with that.

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