It’s been a challenging year here at wendyvogelbooks.com. I’ve been a cancer survivor since 2011, and last summer it decided to drop by for a visit. It ate my left hip, which has been replaced by the T-800 (with built-in rocket launcher and smoothie machine), and has proceeded to enjoy my liver, bits of lung, and the top of my skull. This is not a nice cancer, and has already outstayed its welcome.
There’s a quote from the podcast Welcome to Nightvale which I have printed on a T-shirt. It says, “Death is only the end if you assume the story is about you.” It’s always been quirkily cute, a little a-ha moment of pondering if you’re the hero of a story, or just a side character in someone else’s tale. The truth is, of course, that we’re all both.
But suddenly the quote hit home for me. I wasn’t the hero after all. I’m going to die a lot sooner than I expected, and it’s not going to be pretty. Someone will learn something from, or be moved by my death to do some wondrous thing, forever relegating my life to the trope of: “inspiration for someone else’s heroic deeds.”
And then I thought about it some more.
I used to be a marathon runner. Last May I ran a half-marathon, and a couple of obstacle course runs over last summer. In August my hip broke out from under me, and the world crumbled into pieces. Now all I do is doctor’s appointments.
But today I walked two miles without a cane. I got out there onto my old running path and limped along. I’ll pay for it tomorrow, and that’s okay.
The point is, I’m overcoming this. Fighting through it. And that got me thinking about how we write stories.
A hero’s story is never a smooth passage from one point to another. That’s a boring story which no one would ever want to read. As writers, our job is to make the hero’s life a misery. We throw obstacle after obstacle into their path, each one getting more and more difficult until the final battle, which seems hopeless. Surely this time the hero will fall. There’s no way to triumph over such a powerful antagonist, the boss monster that eats lesser heroes for brunch.
But that’s what I’m doing.
The obstacles in front of me have grown. Beating cancer the first time was pretty easy. It ran and hid, licking its wounds to the point that the reader forgot it was ever there. Reconstructive surgeries piled up, but I plowed through. I ran more. Biked more. Wrote books. Got published. Got popular. Signed contracts and gave lectures and mentored in both of my professional fields. And now the cancer’s back, stronger than ever.
And I’m beating it.
The fight is slow. There won’t be a climactic final battle to leave the readers cheering over a decisive victory for the good guys. But today I walked two miles without a cane. After spending all of last fall on a walker, I’ve gone from needing my husband to lift my legs into bed to walking two miles without assistance.
The obstacles in front of me have gotten bigger, because a hero’s journey is one of ever-increasing peril.
I’m not a side character in someone else’s story.
I’m fighting the boss monster.
Because I’m the hero, and that’s what heroes do.