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"Welcome to Night Vale" and the Transience of Life

Holley Morgan is a graduate student at SNHU and currently works as a college essay tutor.

The Quote

"Sorry, listeners, not sure what happened in that earlier section of the broadcast, as in, I actually don’t remember what happened. Tried to play back the tapes, but they’re all blank and smell faintly of vanilla . . . the glow cloud, meanwhile, has moved on. It is now just a glowing spot in the distance, humming east to destinations unknown. We may never fully understand or understand at all what it was and why it dumped a lot of dead animals on our community, but – I am going to get a little personal here – that is the essence of life, isn’t it? Sometimes you go through things that seem huge at the time, like a mysterious glowing cloud devouring your entire community. While they’re happening, they feel like the only thing that matters, and you can hardly imagine that there’s a world out there that might have anything else going on. And then the glow cloud moves on, and you move on, and the event is behind you. You may find, as time passes, that you remember it less and less, or absolutely not at all . . . And you are left with nothing but a powerful wonder at the fleeting nature of even the most important things in life, and the faint – but pretty – smell of vanilla."

Welcome to Night Vale, Episode 2 (more source information included in Works Cited section)

A Welcome Distraction

When I was young, my late mother drove me to school most mornings, and we listened to the news on the radio. Every election year, she said, "I will be so glad when this election is over so that we don't have to hear about it anymore." I used to laugh at her statement, but I never fully understood or related to it until recently.

I find myself with a similar feeling with all that has been going on. The media seems to get hyper-focused on one or two stories that are complete downers, and then they talk about them for days or months. When you add to this the fact that most networks have a bias and often choose stories or ways of talking about stories that will spark outrage from one side or another (or both), one can feel quite overwhelmed when trying to choose a reliable source in order to stay informed about world events.

If you are looking for an escape into a fictional world and enjoy podcasts, I would recommend Welcome to Night Vale. I heard about it after it first came out, but did not get around to listening until recently, seeking an escape myself. It is based on a fictional desert town and is structured like a newscast. Night Vale is a strange place, and its inhabitants and happenings are even stranger. If you like weird and do not mind the lack of a central narrative, give it a try.

As the speaker says in the quote above, life can sometimes seem like it is all about one thing. When there is a big story in the news or a pandemic, that can seem like all anyone talks about, all that matters anymore. A big life event, whether good or bad, can bring a lot of stress with it and be an adjustment. Such occurrences can leave you wondering how you lived or what you did before the big event. You may have a sense that you were happier before, even if that is not completely true.

Seeming Importance and Actual Importance

Reflecting on the temporary nature of all things in life can help us more deeply appreciate the good and take comfort in knowing the bad will pass. The reason this truth may seem obvious but does not always feel so is that we get drawn into our emotions surrounding the events. When we are in the early stages of a relationship, we might think that things will always be easy and harmonious, that we could never feel annoyed or upset by our partner. When work is nuts, we tend to allow it into our minds rent-free as we anticipate the coming Monday on a Saturday night or toss and turn at night, worried about the next day's agenda. We may feel despair if we are uncertain as to when the stressful project will end. In its early stages, it can feel as though it will go on forever.

Most things in life feel much bigger, much more important than they truly are. When they pass, you are left with a vague memory, the "faint smell of vanilla" that the narrator mentions. When you live out some drama with another person, it can feel intense in the moment. It can make you angry or give you cause to weep, but when it is past, you find you can hardly remember what the original offense was or why you stopped speaking to one another. In a case where one person in a complicated relationship dies, the living individual may wax poetic about the other person, forgetting the ways that both parties were not kind to one another. This may be for the best since we know how the saying goes: "Holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die."

We don't want to drink poison, but rather to embrace realism while simultaneously offering up a sense of forgiveness toward the self and anyone else involved in a past drama. We want to be able to look at it without becoming involved or swept away by emotion.

Next time you are involved in an altercation with someone, it may be helpful to remember this. The quote above starts at the16:04 mark of the podcast, which is linked below.

Never Understanding

Whenever something big happens, particularly if it was troublesome such as the dissolving of a relationship, we often wonder why.

Why did it happen, and what could have been done to avoid or make it better?

Sometimes we grasp for meaning, grasp for a reason so that we have something we can "work on" or "heal." The idea that we are already healed can seem preposterous. Our first instinct may be to reject it, and we often do.

Sometimes there is room for improvement, a way we could have handled a situation better, especially when it is something new. A relationship you have never experienced before can be a case of this. Accepting that a person was only in our lives to provide a lesson, but not to reconcile, can be hard. In the absence of reconciliation with the other, we can spiral into a damaging cycle of self-loathing before we develop wisdom and acceptance.

People who wait for closure or understanding when a relationship has ended can set themselves up for a great deal of disappointment. Not everything is meant to be understood.

This can make the emotions we experienced during the unfoldment seem futile, which is why it can be so hard to let go.

Let go we must if we are to be fully present for the rest that life has to offer.

Moving On

The idea that the dramas and stressful situations we tend to replay in our minds may not actually be so important can surprise and even depress us a little. For creatives, strong emotion can serve as a muse. I used to worry that if I did not feel depressed or angry about something, I would no longer write poetry. For the most part, that has proved true for me, but I would gladly trade the poetry for emotional stability any day. The ability to write poetry is not necessarily gone; it may be time to take a different approach to it.

In any case, clouds come and go. While we will always experience strong feelings, some pleasant and some not so much, about what is going on around us, we develop emotional intelligence toward these events. This sort of intelligence is realizing and accepting that things may not always make sense. Relationships are anything but tidy. The things we spent years crying about can stop mattering overnight, leaving us with only the faint smell of vanilla.

Some of the relationships are worth crying over, but I have found that the ones falling under this category rarely elicit that response. "Moving on" can sound like a cold, distant phrase, one that we are used to hearing when it is the last thing we want to hear. Moving on does not mean forgetting or ceasing to love. It simply means . . . moving on, rolling eastward, or westward, wherever the winds of our decisions may blow us.

Fiction holds a great deal of truth, perhaps more truth than I had intended to stumble across in my attempted escape from reality.

Works Cited

Fink, Joseph, and Jeffrey Cranor. "2 - Glow Cloud." Welcome to Night Vale, YouTube 14 Jan. 2015,

© 2020 Heidi Hendricks