I weathered the anxiety of the aftermath of 911 by turning off the news (eventually) and steeping myself in imaginary love affairs. I turned my anxiety into passionate intensity. I dithered about who to have an affair with. I worried about the ethics. I considered all the possible ways things could go. I planned the dates. I checked airline flight schedules. I picked out clothing to wear on our dates from catalogs (but didn’t buy anything). I even exercised. I got really into it.
Sometimes I looked across the room at my husband reading, blushing to my roots at my thoughts. But why waste such thoughts? I used them. I told my husband stories spun from my imaginary affairs that fueled his imagination as well. And then…
Well, I’ll just close the curtain on that. You can use your own imagination.
Meanwhile, my husband moved deeper and deeper into his research, steeping himself in history. He turned off the news long before I did. In a way he entered an imaginary world as well, though his was the actual past while mine was the never-to-happen future.
When the world is uncertain and scary, imaginary worlds are sanctuaries. But they have to be compelling. To work for me, the imagined future has to engage my full self. Ideally it will also have an movement component, if only for the health aspect. But even without exercise, it needs to take my anxiety and roll it into something else. Something all-consuming.
That’s part of what fiction does. It pulls us into another world. For a time, the most important thing is how we will deal with a deadly space wreck or how we will choose between two lovers. As readers, we get to live in that world for a short time. It’s a brief break before we have to return to the real anxiety of life.
But fiction writers get to live in that world all the time! What could be better? The important part is to design a world that is endlessly interesting, frightening, and filled with wonder. It has to engage the emotions to work as a bulwark against anxiety and despair.
As I edge closer and closer to my novel, I’m reconceptualizing how this will need to work. Not for readers, but for me. What do I need to have to pull me away from the grim reality into a roller-coaster fantasy? If the world around me is going to provoke emotional responses, how can I use those emotions?
I thought novel-writing was about creating characters I wanted to spend time with, but I see now that I need to create situations that make my heart thump and drive me to distraction trying to find ways out. That’s the way I’ll get through this. I might as well add an imaginary lover or two to the novel’s mix and stir it up. Imaginary lovers are delicious.
I hope you are finding distractions that engage your entire self, helping you transfer your anxiety, even if just for a few hours, to another world.
Be well, friends! And stay well.