“Life is pain, Princess. Anyone who says otherwise is selling something.”
That’s from The Princess Bride, one of my all-time favorite movies. (Please forgive if I didn’t get it exactly right — I’m quoting from memory.)
The hero says this line to the heroine when they’re at odds, yes, but it’s a romance. There’s a happy ending. Pain and suffering are worth it because the bad experiences lead to the ultimate prize for each character. They’re a kind of dues-paying. So the movie itself undercuts the hero’s assertion: life contains pain, yes, but it’s not identical with pain. In the end, love, friendship, and satisfaction trump suffering.
But real life isn’t like that, is it? Sure, many people find happiness, but some get far more than their share of suffering. Some people — perhaps many people — spend their entire lives desperately needing something they’ll never get. Some people lose everything they love. Some people have experiences that destroy them. Maybe it’s too extreme to say “life is pain” for all of us, but it sure as heck is for some of us, and I bet many of us have dark moments when it feels that way.
And that’s why I write.
I’ve been involved peripherally in the world of writing for many years, now, and since I wrote my first book, I’ve gotten to know quite a few more authors. Thus, I can say with some confidence that people write for many reasons. Some feel they have a story inside them clawing to get out, and they find no peace until they write it down. Some write because they enjoy it, some because they appreciate the challenge. As for me, I write to make recompense for pain.
When I open a book to read, I forget myself, forget my life, forget my problems (piddling as they are, compared to many people’s). Instead I focus on other people’s problems, other people’s pain, other people’s happiness. I may suffer with them, but at least it’s not my suffering. And when they feel joy, so do I.
Some view read reading as a solitary activity. I disagree. I think reading is profoundly social, a turning away from a focus on the self, an engagement with the other. What does it matter that the others inside books aren’t real? They’re real to me, and in their variety, they show me far more worlds than I would ever see if I were restricted to my own day-to-day experiences, which are so limited by the particulars of my life.
That’s reading: a turning away from inwardness that brings a respite from the trials of selfhood, however brief, and tutors us in empathy for people we might otherwise never consider. That’s why I read.
And that’s why I write. Other authors have given me recompense many a time. Now I want to give recompense to others as best I can.