A charming blogger I follow who is full of sharp wit, emotional depth, and genuine kindness recently posted a poem called What is Life? Her answers to that question follow and are an enjoyable read. Someone in the comments of that post asked the question, “What then is NOT life?” and that question had me thinking. So I thought in response to her poem, I would write a quick one of my own, which is not nearly as clever or humorous, but hopefully at least makes you ponder the question that I did. 🙂
What is not life?
It is not straight lines,
It is not absolute,
It is not nothing,
It is not one truth.
It is not an ideal gas,
It is not constant,
It is not always visible, heard or felt,
It is not just about you
It is not probable,
It is not in equilibrium,
It is not predictable,
It is not perfect.
It is not disconnected,
It is not small,
It is not for the faint of heart,
(And…in the vast depths of time of this universe),
Who doesn’t love a good story? We see it television, in movies, and in books. We all love good stories told around a campfire, around the dinner table. We love writers and directors and people who can weave a good story together. Are stories just something that purely are for entertainment if they are fiction, and education if they are true? Is there any such thing as a true story (and if there is, is it exciting enough to listen to)? Is there any such thing as a fictional story?
There are plenty of people I’m sure who have addressed this topic, so I don’t think I am coming up with anything new here. The value of stories and storytelling has been on my mind ever since I read Patrick
Rothfuss’ two books The Name of the Wind and A Wise Man’s Fear. The main character in that book is from a group of people that are somewhat gypsy like. They live their lives on the road traveling from town to town putting on performances of plays, telling stories, acrobatics, and playing music and singing songs. They are performers. The main plot of the series (which is not finished yet and I’m anxiously awaiting the 3rd and final book in the series) is that the main character is trying to determine the truth behind a traumatic childhood incident (don’t want to give too much away). The source of the traumatic event was something that he heard as a story and thought it was just a myth, something not real, and thus when this myth does seem real he questions his own memory of the event, since he was a child and could possibly have just made a story fit what he witnessed, or did it really happen. As this main character grows and travels he hears more stories from different cultures and different people. Stories are always slightly different because good storytellers exaggerate a bit here and there and of course stories generally change throughout time as they get passed down and pass from region to region. taking on aspects of the culture they move into. In a way the main character is learning about what’s real through what everyone thinks are fictional stories. Taking bits and pieces from all the different stories and putting it together into a narrative that might explain what happened to him as a child. The books represent masterful storytelling themselves, but the author really hits home the value of stories in general. The main character states at one point “There is truth to every story”.
Truer words were never spoken.
Fiction is defined as:
1. a. An imaginative creation or a pretense that does not represent actuality but has been invented.
b. The act of inventing such a creation or pretense.
2. A lie.
3. a. A literary work whose content is produced by the imagination and is not necessarily based on fact.
b. The category of literature comprising works of this kind, including novels and short stories.
Even the most damning definition of fiction here “A lie” can carry with it truth. If you know someone is lying you might know then that the opposite is true. You might know that to find truth more investigation is needed. You might try to understand why I’m lying and learn something about why people lie. I think we need to be mindful that this doesn’t necessarily mean that there still isn’t any truth to be found within the context of our imagination. And I think everybody sort of gets that, but for a while I was heavily into non-fiction because I was like I have so much to learn, and I still do, but I think in my mind I had forgotten sort I also decided to write about this today because of an article I read recently regarding stories and how they impact our view of the world. For instance if we are old stories about violence repeatedly this may skew our view of how prevalent violence is. The article has many more thought provoking ideas than that, but the gist is that stories shape our lives, because we do search for meaning in every story and when we read only one kind of story all the time, whether it is non-fiction, a news story in the media, or in a movie, our neurons start to forge pathways that make that one kind of story a narrative for our life. So it seems it is important to actually fill yourself with different types of stories.
I love reading. My wife and I actually read stories together, with usually me reading and her listening. I tend to read in a British accent most of the time, because hey it makes the story sound better for me, but I also try to do different voices for different characters. She likes the way I read, but I sort of wish she would read to me more too, because when we started she was the one that read to me, and it was actually her getting into the reading and doing different voices that made me feel comfortable getting into it. 🙂 She says I’m better at it, and maybe that’s true, but I just hope I haven’t taken something away from her that she enjoyed doing. I do find value in reading a story out loud, telling it. It makes you think about the characters more, what their moods and emotions might be. I sort of find that when I read to myself I pay
more attention to the non-dialogue part, where as when I read out loud I pay more attention to the dialogue. It’s a very different experience. I strongly recommend giving it a try. 🙂 Rothfuss’ books have also made me think that it would be cool to have, instead of a book club, a story club where once a month you meet and tell stories to each other. I am super excited to read stories to my child that is soon to be in this world, and I hope I can share the appreciation I have for the value of stories. 🙂
If there is no God then you are a fool,
If there is one, then I’m a fool too,
And if there is something else,
Something we haven’t thought of yet
We’re both fools. But isn’t it wonderful,
The kinds of things we can conjure up?
Things to prove and things to lose.
The pain of things gone horribly wrong,
And all we can do is put things right.
I’ve got a few answers,
Maybe you’ve got some too.
Together we can know the truth,
Or else tell one hell of a story,
Either way, we’ll take the world by storm.
But let’s start with the real facts,
We are imperfect and fragile,
We are curious and resilient,
There is only so much we can take,
And it’s all really not that fair.
The only thing that I can be sure of,
Is that in the end…
All is forgiven