The Lifeboat – Why I write “Fiction as self-help” posts

Admirable traits are often exactly the same as negative ones, only expressed in a different way.  – Charlotte Rogan (from The Lifeboat)

It was one of the best Library days ever! It was a Thursday and I was going in to find more Books on CD for my drive to and from work. I always stop to check the books for sale. The books are $1 or less. I mean, okay, other people have read them because they’re almost always withdrawn library books… but sometimes they’re donations, too. I know, because I’ve donated.

On this day however, I quite literally jumped up and down, clapping my hands in glee. They had four shelves of large print books in (nearly) excellent condition. I’m legally blind in one eye and the other one isn’t so great either. Especially close up. Even with my glasses, my eyes get very tired trying to navigate across a small-print page. I use a magnifying glass to proof read at work. It’s significant. You’ve probably already guessed it’s one of the reasons I listen to books. I love to read sooooo much but can’t like I used to, simply because of my vision.


THE LARGE PRINT BOOKS WERE 25 FREAKIN’ CENTS. As in: 4 for $1. Can you believe it? Me, neither!

I weeded out an entire shelf of “romance”… cuz, yeah… ick. I’ve never read 50 Shades of Anything and hate when I get surprised by gushy romance or over-blown sexual encounters (pun intended). I’ve always been this way. But I — yes, I know, shut up about it — digress.

It so happens that I generally stay away from fiction, too. But lately, I don’t know… I’ve been craving stories. That day at the library, all the books were fiction, so I went through and read about each one, choosing carefully. I brought home about ten of them. I piled them up and opened the first book… which was a bomb. It reminded me of a poorly written (and acted) play.

Scene: A burning barn. Abigail and Jim are on the porch of their farmhouse, surveying the scene.

Abigail: “Jim, fetch the horses.”

Jim: “I will run to the barn, shortly.”

Abigail: “If you tarry, we all shall perish!”

Jim: “I need to zip my dungarees.”

Etc. Etc. Etc. 

I’m actually not joking. It was that bad. If there was anything to be gained from it, I’ll never know.

Then I picked up The Lifeboat.

I was compelled by the story, set in 1914, of a lifeboat adrift in the Atlantic. As anyone who knows me knows, I am a lifelong lover of all-things Titanic (this link will lead you to a post I made about it). I love watching and reading about ships, especially luxury liners. And disasters. That doesn’t sound nice, I know… but I’m fascinated by shipwrecks.

What I didn’t expect was to start the book in the lifeboat, filled with survivors. I was immediately captured by the story of life and death… and by the end, could think of nothing else. Off and on throughout my days, I’d think of it. It’s been brutally cold here — way below freezing — and I wondered how anyone could survive for weeks in that thing. Sometimes, I think the same about people who are homeless. Do you? I stand at the cross walk and I’m so cold, even with hats, scarves, gloves, layers of clothes and a long woolen coat. How does someone without a home survive in this weather? It breaks my heart.

As often happens, a line jumped out at me and it is how I began today’s post:

Admirable traits are often exactly the same as negative ones, only expressed in a different way.  – Charlotte Rogan (from The Lifeboat)

I read it and set the book in my lap. I thought about it… both in the context of the book and in my own life. I think it’s *very* true!

I thought of myself, years ago, fighting for the rights of my son, who has autism. I was tenacious. I could write an entire post on my advocacy for him and others like him. I even began my own business helping parents navigate the education system. (And I may share that, one day.)

I was also tenacious about other things… some of them wrong things. Once the momentum began, I had a hard time turning it back. Often, to my detriment.

Sometimes, I hurt others … and sometimes, the others were people I loved most.

That’s where guilt and shame live… and is a story for another day, for sure.

That’s what I love about fiction… sometimes it can hit you in the gut with its truth telling.

And that, my friends, is why I love this fiction as self-help thing.


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