A week and a half ago I went to visit a Chinese healer. He was suggested by a friend as another way to battle stress, and get on the right side of health. I wanted him to do some acupuncture, give me some tea, and make it better right away. Alas, no quick fixes here. Instead he gave me really hard homework. A recommendation to give up wheat and dairy. A demonstration of some Tai Chi moves. And a prescription to be silent for 15 minutes at the beginning of every day, and then ask the question “who am I?” Sounded simple enough. (I was wrong, nothing simple in those tasks.) Then he took my pulse, and dropped a bombshell.
“You know, 97% of what you worry/think about you can’t change. So you have to let it go.”
I argued. Given my job, my personality, I can change more than 3% of what I want to change. He just shook his head and smiled.
The next day what he said hit me like a ton of bricks. If he was right, and I began to suspect he was, how could I recognize the 97%? And how could I stop worrying about it? And did I really want to?
Being a writer, thinking about the 97% is how we create conflict for our characters. It is how we heighten the tension. We are told to think about what bad thing you could do to your character, and then make it worse. Not paying a parking ticket lands you in jail. A frayed cuticle leads to an amputation. Ordering from a sketchy website ends in financial collapse. That’s the way it works.
The doctor was recommending getting rid of the 97%. I am thinking about repurposing it. Give it all to my characters. Which makes me wonder–are mystery writers healthier than civilians because we use our angst in our writing? Or are we hot messes because we hold it all in? I’m not sure. But what I am sure of? The story lives in the 97%.