The Harsh Light of Day

I seem to be having a problem with reality.

Mom and I just finished watching Austenland, an exceptionally cute romantic comedy that is Every Austenite’s Wish-Fulfillment Fantasy. Not surprisingly, one of the major themes of this flick is wondering just how thin that line is between fantasy and reality.

I read fantasy. I write fantasy. I’ve been a princess and a pirate and a pig-keep and a lady knight. I’ve been a sorceress and a scullery maid. I live the adventure, revel in the romance…and then I finish the chapter and either shut the laptop or close the book. I feel like I have a fairly good handle on What Fantasy Is.

Reality is a bit of a puzzle for me, though.

And don’t even get me started on “Reality” television.

What is reality? Is it paying bills and mowing the lawn and collecting receipts for taxes? Is it the stubbed toes and the tears and the extra fifty pounds? Does “reality” always have to focus on the bad things? Because I know there are happy things too. I know what it is to look into the eyes of a friend you haven’t seen in far too long. I know what it’s like to come home to a house full of a family that couldn’t wait to see you. (Granted, this only ever happened to me once, but it happened.) I know what it’s like to kiss someone you have lost your heart and soul to completely. And sure…that person may eventually be the wrong person, but inside that bubble of a moment life is blissful perfection.

So why is it that when we read that last sentence, when we write “The End”, when the credits roll, that reality seems like such a slap in the face? If our lives are what we make of them, then why does the coming-up-for-air portion feel like such a heartbreak?

Or is it just me? Have I spent too much time writing again today?

When Mom and I finished the movie, we put away what was left of dinner, did the dishes, threw in another load of laundry, and then I came in here to bare my soul and ask the world what my problem was.

What do *you* do when Coming Back to “Reality” seems too harsh for you?

14 thoughts on “The Harsh Light of Day

  1. Alethea,
    I think reality has to be combination of all of it. Everything you mentioned. We all have our highs and lows. Us and the characters we create. I truly believe that we have to experience some bad things or even the mundane things to appreciate the wonderful, hold-your-breath moments. Maybe we can complain that those fantastic moments don’t happen as regularly as we want them to, but then they wouldn’t be the fantastic moments anymore. Then we would raise the bar and expect MORE. Right? We pretty much always do.
    In books and movies, this is commonplace. The happiness, followed by hitting rock bottom–those Black Moments and then the resolution. It always happens. Even when you feel like you don’t want your character to experience it, the Bad Thing Has To Happen. Why? So she/he can grow, to change, to find the way. And they do.
    Sometimes it’s all in our perception. When adults have to shovel the driveway, they grumble because it’s cold, and it’s a pain in the ass. Kids get out there with their shovels and they take a few breaks to throw some snowballs and get giddy about the idea of hot chocolate. Same driveway. Different perspective. Don’t even get me started on the vast difference of opinion on the snow days from school. 🙂

  2. I hear you, Alethea. Reality can be tough. Really tough. And that’s when I scrabble for my gratitude practices. The gratitude circle with my family and the gratitude journal with my five good things a day. And our gratitudes don’t have to be huge and life-changing. They can just be small moments we appreciate. For example, after a long night of battling thirst because I couldn’t keep a sip of water down (nasty stomach bug), I was INSANELY grateful for a nice, cool glass of Gatorade. I said to myself: I will never take my ability to take a few gulps of this refreshing, hydrating liquid for granted again. It’s a matter of perspective, as Kim said, and my gratitude practices help me find the proper perspective.

    1. Absolutely! But you know that reality is not 100% tough. With that in mind, “being realistic” should not equate to “being pessimistic.”

  3. What a great post – because it happens all the time with both reading books and writing books and watching movies or tv shows and then it’s over and you’re left with the real world – full of sunny mornings and mundane chores.

    I think the thing we find in books and movies and so little of in real life is wonder. But wonder happens into the dark places and the mundane. It’s what makes your books so delightful to read and, in my opinion, one of the defining aspects of fairy tale. That moment when against all odds something good happens; when the pain of loneliness and tears threaten to destroy us (or a character) something declares that we are loved. That moment of unexpected, unforeseen joy.

    It happens in real life but is so much easier to manufacture in stories.

    1. Thank you!
      I get most criticized for “insta-love” in my stories, when love at first sight is a scientifically sound principal. I also explore mental illness, addiction, loss, and pain…based on all of these feelings I’ve had in my life, of course. But the reality of my falling in love is written into the story as well…but no one believes that part.

      It’s interesting to think that, because I love living the life that I live–good and bad–, that I can be accused of “living in a fantasy world.”

  4. I think it’s about control. We choose when to dip in and out of fantasy. But reality is always there, good or bad. There are many ways to soften it, delay it, pretty it up, but it can’t be denied. And we humans typically don’t like thinking something is not within our control.

  5. I think the other thing that prompted this essay was a comment someone made on a link I posted to social media this week, on how even the authors we think should be living in the clouds are facing far tougher economic times. The comment was something like, “About time writers have to face reality like the rest of us.”

    I *am* a writer, and I consider my life to be quite real. It was tough not to take offense, really…and gave the sense that “reality” meant “being miserable at a job you hate.”

  6. My characters never go to the bathroom, at least unless I’m trying to highlight something or setup humanity. It’s not that we don’t assume that characters don’t excrete, it’s that it’s not interesting, therefore happens off screen.

    That’s the difference, I think.

    I hate the phrase “the real world”. Always have. It’s diminishing, defeatist and cruel. In real life, there are people who overcome adversity to live happily ever after. There are people who go from tragedy to bliss. It happens every day.

    But these people still poop. If I were writing a story about them, I’d likely focus more on the journey towards bliss and less on the poop. As such, the lack of mundane details might make the story seem “less realistic” the same way that highlighting the soul-crushing aspects of everything going poorly and ending in a mess gets a story called “gritty”.

    At least that’s how I see it. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go play with my gryphon.

  7. I am a person who has been accused of living in a fantasy world before. The fact is that nobody has a perfectly happy life, but some people are better at seeing the happiness in life than others. There are also people out there who simply hate to see other people happy, and justify their criticism of happy people by saying they know what’s “real” and the happiness just isn’t real. I’ve been told that my opinion didn’t count because I haven’t had a parent die, or because I haven’t been sexually assaulted, etc. before. I know I’m lucky, but I also know that my opinion counts, and my life is no less real than anyone else’s. I think the talk of “real world” is partly just a phrase taught to people who haven’t thought it through. I also think people use it as a defense against despair when they realize someone else has had life easier. No one’s life is a fantasy life. And I think everyone deserves to have more happiness.

  8. Sorry I got to this so late, Alethea. 🙂 Real life is ups and downs…you know some wise boys from Basildon once said, “Get the Balance right.” That’s reality in my opinion. But when it’s a little too harsh, I usually take to performing Lady Gaga hits for my cat and dogs around the house. hugs and fishy kisses to you

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