Monday, June 16, 2014

The Storyteller's Dilemma

"These things you write, these stories- they matter as much to you as real life, don't they?"

It was a party.  She hovered over the storyteller. She was alive in a scarlet silk dress.

The storyteller's face shifted slightly as he glanced up from his notebook. "Sometimes they matter more. In my stories, my dreams come true and things make sense. Even when the stories are sad and the people in them are broken and unfulfilled, the stories still make sense in some secret way that only fiction can. When I find failure and a lack of fulfillment in my own life, there is just no reason for it, no logic, no symbolism, no literary significance. But things in stories mean something. Somebody said that stories are 'pregnant with meaning', and that's how they feel to me; they feel somehow alive and kicking, always happening in a particular direction, always leading somewhere, and that satisfies and excites me in ways that real life sometimes can't seem to match."

She ran her left hand through the folds of her dress, feeling intensely the softness, the lightness of the material. "So why spend all your energy writing them? Can't you just read other peoples' stories?"

"No, that wouldn't work. Not by itself, at least... I mean, I pay attention to the stories other people create, too. But there's something different about telling my own." He laughed. "Maybe I just like playing God. Maybe it's just an extreme sort of narcissism. Maybe I’m secretly so disappointed and even angry that my own real, important story, the one that matters, hasn't turned out the way I want it to that I write stories to distract myself from the pain. I write them to cope with failure and disappointment."

She felt the sensation of the soles of her feet as they came into contact with the insole of her heels, compounded by the vibrations of music spiraling their way up from the floor. "That isn't a way to live. That's a way to stagnate in the dark all alone. You're avoiding all of the things that make you human and replacing them with forgeries. Sometimes they're convincing forgeries, but that doesn't make them any more like life than a counterfeit painting is like a real one."

"You're right, of course. Like always, I'm telling a story right now. All of this is just me avoiding responsibility, shying away from any exposure of who I really am. I’m afraid to lose control of things. I’m constantly afraid that something or someone will force me to crack this whitewashed eggshell of mystique, the aura of someone who knows what he’s doing with his life. If the people around me swallow this story I’m telling about myself, this story I’m desperately trying to sell to the world, then I don’t have to show them the truth, which is that I’m really scared. I’m scared that I can’t control everything, that things just happen and I can’t do anything about it, and that real life won’t always make sense.

"So if I'm being honest with myself and with you, when I say that I write my stories to find refuge in meaning and to cope with my real life, I guess that's garbage, or at least a garbage way of saying something a lot simpler. What I really mean is that I write stories to stay safe, to stay insulated from the things in life that I know could hurt me. But the problem is that I also know that those things are the things I really want out of life, the things that would make me not want to hide behind my stories anymore. It's pathetic and stupid. I'm done with this. It's time to change. I want to change. I want to come alive."

Her open hand escaped the labyrinth of the dress and hovered in front of him, within easy reach. "So will you come dance with me?"

"What? No, no, I need to keep writing this."

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