Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.
-Neil Gaiman (paraphrasing G.K. Chesterton)
One of the few things I know about the story of The Martian, which I admittedly have neither seen nor read, is that there are a lot of potatoes. Potatoes with ketchup, potatoes with nothing, potatoes, occasionally, with drugs.
The other day, Linda Holmes was on twitter and brought up the potatoes. She said, "potatoes didn't bring Matt Damon back to Earth...but you gotta eat." This was in reference to a tweet from Rachel Fershleiser, who writes about books, announcing on Monday that she was going to go back to writing about books. Obviously, I can't claim the idea of talking about potatoes as organically my own here. I picked it up from somebody else. But even so, it felt worth a ponder.
G isn't a big fan of potatoes. I grew up in a potato house, but G grew up in a rice house. G will use rice as a filler in anything, including bacon and eggs, and to me, that's unfathomable, but my opinions about piles of white rice almost directly mirror his feelings about potatoes. The balance of preferred starches has been a major compromise point in our marriage. We've ended up with potatoes spiced with garam masala and cumin (butter and gravy rarely enter the equation) and rice with lime and honey (no soy sauce, please). In times of trouble, when inappropriate starch fillers are a reminder that we can make enough out of not much, my impulse is to turn to potatoes. G turns to rice.
There's been a lot of argument in the past couple of weeks about what kinds of things are appropriate as tools to understand what's happening, what might happen, and the foundations upon which it all rests. Some have turned to books and art (Harry Potter, Hamilton, Lord of the Rings) and the words of creators to help them understand. Others have found this reliance on metaphor distasteful and irresponsible, and have made a fair bit of noise about it. There's a bitter rivalry brewing between people who speak loudly in their anger and hurt and those whose hurt drives them inward to find a solution and course of action. I'm here to say that the rivalry is a brokenness. Use what fuels you.
If stories help you understand that there may be a way out of this, use them to help you find it. If your anger makes you feel powerful enough to push through, use it to blast out a new road. If the wisdom of thinkers helps you consider new options, let them guide you toward quiet new paths to change. Whatever fuels you, let it fuel you. Don't let it lull you into complacency, but use what you need, and that includes rest stops along the way. Potatoes won't get you back to earth, friends, but you gotta eat.