So I wrote two weeks ago about viewing inconveniences as adventures and how that can be difficult even when the inconveniences are minor and very silly. I hold to this.
But that’s not to say there aren’t consequences to “adventures”–either those of choice or those of inconvenience. The whole point of adventure is consequence. When you embrace something difficult or uncomfortable, it will affect you. If it has no impact whatsoever, then I’m not entirely sure it qualifies for the term.
Not all of those impacts are immediately pleasant, and some aren’t even pleasant in the long run. Regardless, I have found that the things I look back on with joy and gratitude were often kinda miserable in the moment, particularly those that were physically or mentally rigorous.
Example 1: Ask anyone who has ever been to Marine Corps boot camp. It’s a stupid, mostly miserable, exhausting, ridiculous, obnoxious, weird little world, all wrapped up tightly with a thread of dark comedy (and a concentrated little hint of what military life can be like in general). But then, afterwards, everybody talks about it with a sort of fondness and a (slightly inordinate) love and pride. (Boot camp stories are told so often that everybody gets tired of them after a while, until they’re older, then they’re funny again).
But you have to get through sleeping straight as a board in a squad baby full of fifty other recruits while feeling like you’re about to cough your lungs out of your throat. You have to get through all the nonsense, the tiredness, and feeling like it’s never going to end. You have to sit dry-firing with numb fingers on the rifle range in the middle of winter. And yeah, you do all the fun stuff too–the shooting, rappelling, obstacle courses, martial arts and so on.
Then, when it’s all over, you get to laugh about it and talk about how fun/stupid/hard/outrageous it all was and the experience becomes a piece of who you are, regardless of how small a piece. Little failures and little successes become cemented in your mind and you carry them.
Or maybe, like some other young women I went to boot camp with, you get injured and have to do it all over again–two or three times, till you’re so worn down and much too acclimated to being treated like crap. Or it messes with your head and you start to think suicidal thoughts–maybe even plan suicidal actions. Maybe something bad happened at home, and you weren’t there for it, and it’s eating you up.
All this is to say that–as a mere example–the miniature adventure of boot camp can be something you learn from and laugh off, or something that injures you and sends you home for a “failure to adapt.” (That is a real thing, and a necessary thing, and not a condemnation. It just means that a given person and the Marine Corps were never going to work out together, they’re not healthy for one another, so it’s best to part ways).
Example 2: Two weeks ago I went on a hike with my family. It was a hike none of us had done in a really long time, but which we all remembered fondly. Sure, we knew it was going to be a bit trickier with seven kids in tow (ages 1-12) and with some wonderful (patient, enduring) in-laws who had been promised a slow leisurely hike and were not quite prepared for anything rigorous.
Fun, fun for everyone, right?
Turns out this hike hasn’t been done by anyone in a long time, it was terribly overgrown and rough, and most of the “trail” isn’t a trail at all, but just making your way up a rocky, log-and-brush strewn riverbed as the canyon grows tall on either side, which makes turning back or veering off pretty much impossible. There was no chance for “this is hard, maybe I should just go back and wait at the car,” because going back was just as slippery and rugged as going up, and we had to help each other over obstacles, and up rocks.
Now my family LOVES this stuff, but with the wide assortment of ages and conditions we had, it was pretty rough (i.e. I’m closer to my third trimester of pregnancy than my first and I was carrying my toddler on my back for half of the hike; he was not too happy with the ride at first. Also, my brother-in-law’s mom has some equilibrium issues, and though she was impressively dogged, she usually needed a steadying arm to grip on the rougher terrain. Also…a three year old, a five year old and…you get the idea).
It took us fully twice as long as we had anticipated, all of us came home aching, sore, exhausted, and covered in scrapes and bruises. I bashed my finger against a rock (it’s still swollen and stiff now) and the youngest ones went all the way past “I’m-so-tired-I-need-a-nap” to “I’m-giddy-tired-and-I’ll-never-nap-again!” My youngest brother also got altitude sickness, because he didn’t have time to acclimate before we started the hike.
For the most part, I think everyone was eventually glad they did it. Now, my finger does still hurt–a minor injury for a minor adventure–but it was good to persevere and challenge ourselves.
It isn’t always fun in the moment, or at each moment. If you have ever taught a kid to ride a bike, you know this. How many tears, tantrums, bruises, and blood does it take for them to figure it out? How worth it is it when they do?
Yet even the littlest adventures are not free from consequences. Real injuries, real dangers, real pain, real frustration, real disaster can result from the smallest risks. But that’s just how it is, and it should not deter us.
Is this at all related to writing? Well yes, though it requires very little explanation, and admittedly wasn’t my original point.
Actions, adventures, emotions, decisions all have consequences. If a character gets punched in the face, that bruise should last a while. If they are tired, it will hit them eventually, and not when it is convenient to the plot. Emotional wounds and physical wounds do not usually heal in a day or a week, and some of them cause real long-term scars or internal change.
I can forget this sometimes–both in life and in stories–but even a tiny little adventure has the capacity remind me of this truth.