Apparently there’s a phase in publishing right now for ‘up-lit’ with gentle tension and happy endings. No more sustained peril and yet another beautiful young woman lying dead somewhere. Movie makers are also getting in on the act and are looking for the next big Rom Com (remember those?). Given the state of the world right now it stands to reason that we’re looking for light in our imagined worlds. Art can speak and these days we simply want it to say “It’s all going to be okay in the end.”
But I’ve come to realise that in books and movies I lean more towards darkness than light. A close friend pointed this out a while back and I laughed it off but it got me thinking. I’ve tried reading books that fall into the ‘cheer up’ category and I can’t finish them. I even struggle to write about happy things, choosing instead in a recent short story to bring a scary group of crows onto the scene who ended up chasing a pet dog. What’s going on?
It’s no surprise that children’s fairy tales are so dark. The brothers Grimm certainly knew how to teach young minds about danger, fear, identity and all things in between. I may have spent too many childhood hours within the pages of my ladybird books to emerge as an adult with any inkling of lightheartedness. I found a cloud and sat happily under it.
For a piece of art to speak to us, we need to connect with it. It might result in confusion or boredom or even transcendence (if you’re lucky) but something happens. Maybe for each of us this connection looks different. Laughing at comedy? Crying at romance? Shivering at horror? All good. The trick is to find your zone and embrace it. Seek it out even, because the feelings of catharsis and closure that happen within fictional or artistic worlds are truly special. There’s really nothing like it when you close the last page of a good book or watch the credits roll after an engrossing TV show. We’ve disappeared for a while, lived vicariously with dragons or monsters or friends or foes, and lived to tell the tale.
Life is not so clean. It’s messy: worries trundle on, uncertainty continues, bad people don’t get their comeuppance. So the tragi-comic land is one we need right now. There’s a beginning, a middle and an end. Light or dark, bring it on. Art is speaking and even if just for a while, we are listening.
I made a new friend recently. And I’m middle-aged! For some reason it’s so much harder as a grown up to form new relationships like this. We’re too busy, mainly, but probably also a bit too lazy and stuck in our ways. And there’s the potential for humiliating rejections that feel so much worse than simply being left to last during the school sports team selection, or left leaning against the wall at a disco while everyone else pairs up (although let’s be honest, those things did hurt our tiny addled hearts).
This new buddy came along all thanks to our new yellow door. Regular readers may remember that last year we wanted to freshen up our old white (or not-so-white) PVC front door and took the plunge and painted it yellow. I say yellow but I mean, really, really yellow. “It’s different,” according to our neighbour, Elaine, from down the road. And since our little terraced house opens onto the pavement this means that many passersby get to admire it as they go about their day (it is, after all, impossible to ignore).
So one fine August day I happened to be sorting out the recycling (as you do) and someone said hello. Usually the conversation ends here (or doesn’t even start, we’re not all that friendly around here) but this time the smiling new neighbour, just moved in around the corner, said how much she loved the yellow door, that it always cheered her up and she had always wondered if someone creative lived here. There followed a great blather about art, writing and the amusing nuances of our local community. It was great. There was a moment when things clicked – aren’t those moments precious? And I’m happy to say that we’ve since met up for coffee, talked and talked (and discovered even more similarities). Nina has even become one of our trusted cat-sitters. And all because of a yellow door.
But it’s also because of Nina’s courage to suggest we meet and find out more about each other. It so easily could have become just a one-off fun interaction. But when you find a member of your tribe – you know the ones, they make you laugh, they share your world views, they like what you like – you want to be around them. There’s that ‘click’ again.
So if you connect with someone, be brave and arrange to see them and foster that relationship. It may not work out (hence the bravery) but it’s so worth stepping forward and asking ‘do you fancy a coffee some time?’ In other words, ‘will you be my friend?’ Life can be lonely and isolating, but there are others out there who can be your fellow travellers through life. You might even find you’re peas in a pod. And who wouldn’t want to be that?