Thoughts from a tree

Archive for April 25, 2013

Terry Pratchett and romance

I didn’t want to post just about depression, which is in itself depressing, so I thought I would follow it up with something more cheerful.

Terry Pratchett is an amazing author. If you haven’t read his books yet, go get them, read them, and then come back. It might take a while, but I’ll wait. Particularly the discworld series (including Tiffany Aching) and the gnome series, since those are the ones I will be discussing (this is your spoiler alert).

When we started listening to the discworld series (we started listening to them on audible on a lark), it was his humor, his stories, and his bizarre metaphors that caught our attention. Starting around book 3, the characters start to grow and have significantly more depth and the story arcs become even more compelling. Surprisingly deep ideas are often contained within them. Since a lot of the characters repeat throughout the books, they grow and change. Some of them get married and have kids, because that is what people do, but romance is never a central theme in any of the books. There is very little intimacy shown on the pages, even for the characters that are together. So, when he occasionally throws romance in, it catches me somewhat off-guard (or at least it did at first).

“What is the sound of love?”

By itself, those two sentences don’t seem that impressive. However, every time I think about them, it makes me cry (a good cry). I think it might be the most romantic thing I’ve ever read. It doesn’t make any sense of course, unless you’ve read the book (“I Shall Wear Midnight”, the last Tiffany Aching book). Pratchett does such a phenomenal job of building things up and showing you little details that you don’t even know are important at the time, that when he gets to the end, to that crucial last little bit, that his few simple words are able to convey everything else. He doesn’t have to talk about how the characters feel about one another, have them kissing (or more), or tell us that they live ‘happily ever after.’ He manages to convey everything by focusing on one or two little details about the characters, which tell us all we need to know. In this particular example, both of the characters enjoy words/knowledge and have previously had discussions regarding what sound should be associated with particular words. Also, Tiffany had tried to ask her future-self if she/they would ever fall in love (although she didn’t actually say ‘love’, even that was alluded to); her future-self smiled, faded away, and said ‘Listen’. At the time, we thought that meant something like ‘listen to your heart’, or simply puzzled over it. Only at the end do we realize what it meant. There are a lot of other things that build up to that moment, to make it significant and make you care, but those are the details that directly relate to the sentences spoken.

In another book (“Thief of Time”), we learn two things: 1) Susan likes gourmet chocolates, but not the nougat ones. 2) Susan doesn’t believe in ‘perfect moments’. So at the end, when the boy shows up right after she’s eaten a chocolate, which turns out to be nougat, and she learns “even with nougat, you can have a perfect moment”, we know what that means. There are no romantic speeches or declarations of love; they aren’t needed.
In “Diggers” (from the Bromeliard/gnome trilogy) the romantic moment is conveyed with the delivery of a particular flower. In “The Fifth Elephant” Captain Carrot shows his love when he, without fanfare, resigns his job to follow Angua, who has disappeared. Simple things, yet, in context, they mean so much.

One of the other interesting things about romance in his books, is that it is never a given. Female protagonists can exist quite contently without constantly worrying about who they will hook up. Granny Weatherwax, one of the main witches, never even has sex (you only know this because of a unicorn she rescues). Nanny Ogg has had several husbands, but we never see any of them. Susan starred in several books before she found her love, as did Tiffany; in fact, neither of them had even MET their future soulmate until the book in which they get together at the end, and had rarely thought about or discussed their single status prior to that.

Physical attractiveness is never what brings the characters together either. It is always something else; pieces that are important to both of them, ways in which their personalities click together like a well-made jigsaw puzzle, which makes it more real, and compelling. There are no lengthy descriptions of his or her physical attributes, which is pretty rare for a book written by a man.

I find Terry Pratchett’s ability to use words fascinating. I can only hope that one day I’ll have a tenth of that ability to use in my own stories.


To anyone who might be keeping track, you might have noticed I’m falling behind on my one-blog-post-a-week goal, since I didn’t write anything last week. To make up for it, I’m going to try to do two posts today, one is 😦 and one is 🙂 . This is the 😦 one.

I’ve been having difficulty the last few weeks with lack of motivation/depression. It was triggered by someone who I care a lot about trying to kill herself. It’s hard to explain the details of why it bothers me so much without possibly revealing who it was, which isn’t my right to do. Let’s just say that the circumstances that precipitated the event are still ongoing and things seem to only be getting worse.

When I was younger, I sometimes believed that I was living in a Truman-Show-esque world where I was being watched and everything revolved around me. A symptom (“proof”) of this was how when I had recently learned about a particular topic, or had something on my mind, it seemed like everyone else was talking about it. As I have been thinking heavily about depression/suicide/mental illness (or, trying not to think about it), the subject seems to keep coming up. For instance, a guest on Wil Wheaton’s blog discusses his own struggles with depression, which leads to someone who regularly contemplates suicide. Just a few minutes ago, a podcast discussing mental health prevalence in writers came up in a writer’s group discussion on facebook (this was the final prod that made me decide that I should write this post, btw).

I saw this infographic on a completely unrelated article the other day and noticed a disturbing statistic: INTENTIONAL self-harm is the THIRD-leading cause of death in America on this chart. (you can find the full picture here). Now, this chart isn’t all-inclusive and is a bit vague, but it got me thinking and I found this, which lists suicide as rank 11 on causes of death in the USA. That still seems *really* high to me. More importantly, it seems really high to me in comparison to the amount of attention it gets. Mental illness, in general, does not seem to get enough attention. Often, we seem to still believe that it is somehow the *fault* of the person who is experiencing it and that they need to just ‘grow up’ or ‘toughen up’. People are often afraid to mention their struggles, lest they be marked as ‘crazy’, ‘incompetent’, or worse.

We need to talk about it.

People tend to think about depression in two primary categories: 1) teens, which they often dismiss as ‘moody’ and 2) adults who had something bad happen to them. While the idea that someone can be physiologically depressed (with no ’cause’) is hard enough for most people to grasp, it seems even more difficult for people to imagine that a child could be depressed. “What does a child have to worry about?” Children are, after all, supposed to ‘bounce back’ from nearly everything, right? I know that I was depressed quite a lot when I was a child. I wasn’t good at making friends, there were problems at home, and I had a lot of health problems. Anxiety runs heavily in my family and I worried about *everything*. I was maybe ten or eleven when I started contemplating suicide. I have a very vivid memory of standing in the shower and trying to figure out how difficult it would be to drown. I decided not to for a fairly stupid reason (I had a cat who I worried wouldn’t eat without me), but it could have easily gone another way. I was not alone in my struggles. I had a friend who regularly engaged in self-harm, starting at that same young age; she would grasp a piece of skin and cut into it with scissors (the large/sharp ones).

I have continued to struggle with depression, off and on, the rest of my life, as have many others. While I gave up on the idea of suicide, I have often wished for death, or thought that everyone would be better off without me. I know that many of my friends have had similar struggles. As the podcast discusses, creative people are the most at risk for depression, for whatever reason, and most of my friends are creative. I have tried several medications and have been dissatisfied with all of them. The majority of them seem to dampen everything down; they make you feel as if you are in a fog and/or cause you to not care about anything. Not caring has a double-negative effect in that it can cause you to not care enough to keep your job, or your spouse, or whether or not you take your meds. Then when you stop taking the meds, whether because you can’t afford them anymore, you forget, or you don’t want to, you end up in withdrawal *and* you have all these things that you’ve been neglecting to make you feel even worse. Some people manage to find drugs that work well for them, and that’s great, but I worry that the medical industry is going about it the wrong way (not that it is trying to create drugs, but the type of drugs).

While we can’t cure depression through force of will alone, there are things we can do to ‘manage’ the illness better, just like we would for someone with cancer or diabetes. Getting enough/good sleep/sleep patterns is important. Going outside, particularly in a ‘nature’ environment has been proven to ‘lift spirits’. Regular exercise is often key; it doesn’t have to be strenuous, just a simple walk will do. The podcast discusses standing desks and treadmill desks, which is something I wish more offices would support. Getting rid of depression ‘triggers’, when we can, is also good; for me this includes health-related issues. Depression and poor health are often linked and can feed off each other into a descending spiral of gloom. However, I found it frustrating when I would go to some doctors and all they wanted to concentrate on was my depression (maybe I wouldn’t be depressed if I wasn’t in pain all the time!) Things like Fibromyalgia are relatively new ideas and when a Dr. can’t easily *see* what’s wrong, they tend to leap to diagnoses of depression (‘it’s all in your head’) and ignore the rest.

Having a support system in place is crucial, whether it’s a spouse, a friend, or a family member; someone we can tell about our doubts and fears without being disparaged or criticized and who will find ways to encourage us without being patronizing. I know that I am lucky in this, having found Gary. One of the things that makes me so upset about my friend who recently tried to commit suicide is the way her husband treated her afterwards – he actually gave her grief about ‘taking a vacation’ from her duty to be a wife and mother. WTF? That is pretty much the exact opposite of what a good spouse should do!

I better stop here, before I go off on a long rant about that… sorry for the rambling discussion; hopefully it is useful to someone. Just remember, depression and suicide are more common than we think. If you are ever feeling depressed or suicidal, know that you are not alone, that it will get better, and that killing yourself will only hurt the ones who love you. If you can’t talk to anyone else, you can always talk to me, even if it’s just an anonymous comment.