Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Fifteen Days of Gratitude 15.9: STORYTELLING

These posts are challenging! I woke up early this morning and went for a long walk by the river looking for inspiration. I didn't find new inspiration, but I guess I did reap the benefits of earlier gratitudes. I forced myself to walk at a leisurely pace (which was a struggle because I was still listening to my RUNNING playlist. Yeah, just try strolling to Titanium) and then I looked around long and hard, with intentionality. It was brilliant. I walked along, appreciating everything, trying not to get hit by cars when sidewalks disappeared. There was a lot to see! All the random street names, the shockingly neon green buds on the trees, and the efforts people put into making their houses homes; I'm also grateful for the high fences that sheltered my eyes from questionable lawn ornaments. It's your business, and I love it even more when you choose to hide your business. Fences are like pants for houses. Curtains are underwear. And please wear pants if you aren't going to close your curtains.

This walk didn't do much except to leave my resting heart rate decidedly unaffected, and give me a general map of my various pollen allergies. But I did spend the rest of the day getting distracted by fiction. Namely, Pride and Prejudice. The Keira Knightley film version. (I've read the book several times, its one of my favorites) I don't know if I'm getting soft in my old age, but I sat on the edge of the couch the whole time getting misty eyed and then pulling myself together in twenty minute intervals.

As an English major, I was supposed to have a highly developed appreciation for fiction. Well, I didn't. I kind of despised it. I was interested in writing, and I liked reading, and no I didn't want to talk about it. I managed to get political in my Literature by Ethnic Minorities class, and annoy a few people with really dumb jokes (I have not changed). Additionally I chose to develop my awareness of current and historical events, social injustice, and political science, which was why I also got a degree in History/PolSci. Naturally, I leaned heavily in the direction of non-fiction. I used to go into bookstores a lot with my ex. We would immediately part ways when we walked in(what a foreshadowing that was! See what I did there), I for the nonfiction section, and he for the plays (actors!). He'd memorize a monologue from, oh, I dunno, Orange Flower Water, and I'd read about Really Important Current Events. We were both pretty snobby about our respective sides of the bookstore: I thought his was flighty. He thought mine was dry. I was wrong, but don't tell him I said that, I will deny it and burn Utica to the ground.

What kind of posture did I have to be in to dismiss fiction as flighty? Part of it was my hero-worship of radicals like Joan of Arc (per Jules Michelet), the sword wielding hellion who made things happen in real time. I didn't imagine her to be particularly poetic (I think I imagined wrong, btw)... she was too busy being useful. Then there was, as I mentioned before, my discouraged romanticism. This is actually where part of the "desire masquerading as bitterness" comes in, which I mentioned in Day 1 of the 15. I kept reminding myself that there are more important things to do than play make believe when human rights violations are being perpetrated in our own cities. You need to be informed! You need to sharpen your minds! You need to put down whatever novel it is that you're reading and smiling about! Yay for issue-oriented, solution-averse activism!

Oh and I was also reading Harry Potter under my blanket with a flashlight, like Jimmy Swaggert in a seedy motel. I bet J.K. Rowling would love that comparison. Man that Harry Potter stuff sucks you in! Sheeze. It's really just such good story telling, I so misjudged it. We all find familiarity in struggle and defeat and sadness and yearning for love. We just prefer it to be scripted because we haven't seen all of our happy endings yet, but somehow we just... know that if someone invented this happy ending, surely it is only because a real happy ending has actually existed somewhere else at another time.

Of course, fiction employs the willful suspension of disbelief... we're asked to set aside our impulse to shoot down the impossibilities and to accept the fantastic. And that is easy to do, because we already want to believe the fantastic. This is why we get caught up in shows like Lost, The Walking Dead, and in my case Once Upon A Time and Felicity. This want, this desire, is a free standing truth, in and of itself. You can extract it from the story, like a backbone from a body, and it will stand on it's own... maybe a little wobbly because it lacks the supporting musculature of characters, but it'll get the point across. There are many wants... love, adventure, justice, loyalty, excitement, family, beauty, rest, realization of hope/desire/ambition, revenge, estrangement, reconciliation, etc. For example: Pride and Prejudice's characters and plotline make me want to believe in beautiful love stories, and in chivalry: gentleman who looked but didn't touch, who spoke kindly but didn't flatter, who were principled rather than manipulative, who were understated, humble, and intelligent. Who could fall in love with a person, and with a mind, and a spirit, and not just a body. (These traits ar  desirable not solely, in gentleman, though. Ahem, ladies. Where are my ladies? I know I want to be one. Although Jane Austen wouldn't approve of my language.) So, the backbone of this story is characters with character, who end up together.

This is where the willful suspension of disbelief comes into play, because I have to silence the awareness that many marriages end in divorce, that many girls are not ladies and many boys are not gentlemen. Instead, I choose to recall the actual stories (rare, fragmented, but existent nonetheless) of people who have found that sort of love. I think of the people who have been living proof. If it didn't exist, where on earth did we extract this notion, or come to find such things desirable? You all know at least one person who exemplified ladylike or gentlemanly qualities... or courage, selflessness, chivalry (You may argue that we fantasize, but within what frame of reference did we construct that fantasy? You don't create a blue eyed prince when you've only seen black and white... Simply wanting something to be true does not make it true. If that were the case, I'd have wings and a Prius by now. And Kristen Bell would have her sloth.) Now, these things, these desirable notions, they are the backbone I spoke of. Pride and Prejudice inspires a latent desire. We, as humans, want to see heroism and magic and, statistically, if the 1 in 5 stat is true, then 4 out of 5 of us still really want the good guy to win. (The 1 needs love, or therapy, or an exorcism.)

The stories we become enraptured by show us some of the realest corners of ourselves... our desires, before we mess them up in the doing. The excellent ones are real enough to give us hope, and idyllic enough to give us inspiration. Now the question is, which are the excellent ones? What stories do you love, and why? Me, I love Anne of Green Gables, Pride & Prejudice, Les Miserables, and the Harry Potter series. And while I had the flu I watched both seasons of Once Upon A Time, back to back, and I'm not sorry.

1 comment:

Joel Glenny said...

And then there is the story about the girl who stays up writing all night!

Any post that emphasizes my favorite story and the ideas behind it well, is a winner! HM= winnnnning!