This is a post about storytelling.
I always had the desperate urge to do the thing prosaically described as writing. I felt guilty about it in my youth. I was good at it, but that did not feel enough of a reason to spend thousands of hours putting pen to paper. It felt frivolous. Not useful to society. Escapism.
Now I understand something. Writing and creating are not only ways of crafting a fictional story, they are ways of teaching storytelling for real life. When you read a book or look at a painting, it reminds you that there is always another way to look at things. That book or painting can provide you with a frame of reference, an alternative worldview that you can use to rewrite the story of yourself. The way we construct our stories of the past shapes our future, because stories are the way we decide what is meaningful, what is of value.
Storytelling gives us more hope, as a human race, than almost anything else.
Here is a shy admission. When I was a not-so-sweet sixteen, I read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. I shrugged my shoulders, thought it wasn’t too bad. Sixteen years later I was shelving books at my library job, and saw Frankenstein on the shelf. I burst into tears. Sixteen years later. I’m not joking even a little bit.
The story sat in my bones all those years, waiting for me to realise this:
Frankenstein’s monster is a precise mirror of a human life. He’s an absolute mess. The messy characters are the ones we love, right? The ones that remind us that even in our messiness, we are lovable. Because dammit, I love that monster. I want to invite him home and give him lots of hugs and cups of tea until he feels better. And in loving the monster, I realise I, too, am able to be loved despite my flaws. This is the best reminder we can have in dark times.
Stories matter. Both reading and telling stories are ways of making sense of life. By having some consciousness of the stories we tell ourselves, we have more control over our happiness. Is it absolute truth? It doesn’t matter. All truths are shaped, in one way or another. Why not shape it is a way that is beautiful?
Of course, I am not suggesting you lie to yourself. But framing is an essential component of storytelling. A tragedy can uplift and inspire more than a comedy, if it is woven well. We are conditioned by the stories we are told and the stories we tell ourselves. We are, all of us, robots with feelings, built of shifting, unfolding stories. Stories that change like clouds. Stories that are wonderful and tragic and sad and magical, all at once. But these stories can change, depending on how you narrate them.