Comfort and Joy

When things get a little overwhelming, when the outside world starts to feel a little too much, I find refuge in stories. I don’t mind where those stories come from – books, TV, podcasts. I just want to get lost in a different world, and it seems I’m not alone. Two articles from earlier this year (check the links at the end of this post) explore about how we turn to stories in times of trouble or in order to de-stress. That got me thinking about the stories I’ve been drawn to during the various lockdowns and restrictions of 2020.

Turns out, I’m not all that interested in anything new.

At the start of the pandemic, other than an insatiable appetite for news, I went for comfort. For familiarity. I needed stories that made me feel warm and fuzzy. After a reunion with the residents of Schitts Creek, I headed over to spend a few weeks in the company of Lesley Knope in Parks and Recreation. By the time we came out of the first lockdown I’d also been hanging out with Liz Lemon at 30 Rock again. Comedies, yes. But nothing too saccharine sweet. Comfort for me includes a heavy dose of cynicism.

As summer drew to a close I felt able to return to my main genre obsession – my love of horror. And again I wanted to go back to the stories I already knew. Stephen King novels, 80s kitsch and classic 70s tales of terror.

And even now, in lockdown two (or tier three lockdown-lite) I’m still doing it. A few new things have crept in. The Queen’s Gambit was a particular highlight. But the lion’s share are old favourites. I’ve just got to season four of The West Wing and season three of Gilmore Girls. My fourth time round for both shows I believe.

It doesn’t seem to matter that I know where the plot is headed. If the many, many books on my shelves are right, all plot structures are pretty much the same anyway. It’s the characters that draw me in. Their concerns, their conflicts. The world the authors create for the protagonists to inhabit. The feelings that emanate from screens, speakers, or the page. That’s what draws me back.

In difficult days I want familiar and friendly faces. I want stories I can trust. I guess I want feelings I can trust too. But above all I think I crave satisfaction. A sense that whatever it is I’m experiencing, I can rely on the result. Because I’ve been through it before. Now that the festive season has arrived, the weeks ahead will be filled with more familiarity. A lot of our Christmas traditions centre around old BBC specials and MR James ghost stories.

So, what stories do you dive into during challenging times?