I was happy to do the favor...until the day I had to get Ricky into the pet carrier for his follow-up appointment at the vet.
A cat + a pet carrier = crazytown
I've never been a very good salesman, and the honest pitch about why Ricky should get into the cramped little carrier wasn't working. I tried to lure him in with treats. I tried to coax him in with a loving nudge. I eventually had to force him in, which resulted in a lot of hissing and plenty of scratches on my forearms.
I got Ricky to the vet and waited anxiously for the nurse to call his name. I figured I'd be facing another struggle, this time getting Ricky back into the carrier after his check up in the presence of a vet who probably expected me to be much better at the task then I actually was.
The time came. The doctor opened the carrier and lifted Ricky out by the scruff of his neck. She looked into his mouth. She weighed him. Then she put him back on the examining table, where Ricky slinked back into the carrier of his own accord.
I was a bit stunned. I looked at the doctor wide-eyed.
"He's behaving like a good, scared little kitty is supposed to behave," the doctor said.
Suddenly, what had been an instrument of torture at home became a place of comfort at the vet. It really made me understand that the idea of a safe haven was relative.
* * *
As a writer, being original is often something I try to accomplish, and I think it's something that readers appreciate to some extent. At the same time, I'm aware that the reader in me often seeks something that falls into my comfort zone. That's why I read some books over and over again. I like to re-explore familiar places and relive enjoyable times, something that seems even more desirable as the problems of the world press down on us.
For a fictional story to be successful then, it seems to require components of newness integrated with more familiar material. I think a reader is more willing to explore something new if they also feel the security of something familiar at the same time.
Originality is probably something we all think about. But, what about the familiarity?
For me as a reader, comfort zones come in many forms. Cormac McCarthy's post-apocalyptic The Road might not seem like it should have any comforting elements in it. But, I found that the consistent beauty of the prose style created that warm blanket that wrapped around me while I looked out at the desolation of the story. Gabriel Garcia Marquez's magical One Hundred Years Of Solitude created comfort by describing emotions that I could relate to, even when the characters and the setting were foreign to me.
Most recently, I became aware of the creation of comfort zones while I was reading Haruki Murakami's The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. This book is TOTALLY bizarre. I was scratching my head for the first 500 pages of the book, and it's only about 600 pages long. The story was so fragmented, so fantastical, so quirky--for much of the time I couldn't figure out why I stuck with it for as long as I did.
But, as I went on, I realized that Murakami had created comfort zones in a really odd way. He made me comfortable by repeating the same bizarre elements over and over again. Through the repetition, the newness became familiar and comforting. I started to crave it.
I've often thought that some writers have to first "train" their readers to read them. In a way, Murakami did that in this book by returning to story elements that seemed bizarre at first but that grew more familiar each time I re-encountered it. From the beginning of the book to the middle, he had trained me how to read him.
This idea of originality mixed with newness isn't specific to writing. I'm guessing that's why covers are successful in music, and why fusion food is in, and why some production companies are so willing to remake the same movies. People want something new, but they don't want it to be too new.
Where does that leave us?
It may be a requirement to mix the old with the new in our writing, but how we choose to create that hybrid is completely up to us. I've found comfort in many books, and often that comfort is created with elements. In my own work, I try to create comfort by describing the mundane. I mix that with some dark elements and some magical elements, and as a whole I think it holds together.
However you choose to do it--and whether you choose to do it at all--will come from your own personality and your own views.