Friday, May 23, 2014

The Boy Who Didn't Like Stories

Today, I'm going to do something we don't normally do, and talk about a conversation I really had with a real live person in real life. But I'm definitely not going to say his name and I'm pretty sure he hasn't discovered my blog anyway, so I'm probably pretty safe.

However, let me preface everything that follows by saying that I think he is an absolutely wonderful, brilliant guy who I am totally overjoyed to have in my life.

For the convenience of what follows, let's call him 'Albrecht.'*

So, Albrecht and I were on the last leg of the second rather long drive of the day. It was just him and me in his very nice car and conversation was getting rather sparse. We'd already discussed seafood, our mutual acquaintances,** our living arrangements for the near future, and had vaguely sketched out our summer plans. Silence fell once again. Scrambling for a topic, and as we are fairly new friends, I asked what his post-graduation plans were as it is often quite a fruitful topic, even if somewhat annoying and very commonly asked. He described what he planned to do after he graduated (lucrative mathy and businessy things) and then returned the favor by asking me the same question.

I steeled myself and told the pragmatic young man that I wanted to be a writer. Thus followed the conversation I have with practically everyone who I have to explain my future plans to.

ALBRECHT: What do you want to write?

ME: Novels.

ALBRECHT: What sort of novels?

ME: Uhhh . . . Fictional novels.

ALBRECHT: What sort of fiction?

ME: *sigh* Young Adult Fantasy.

ALBRECHT: Like with magic and stuff?

ME: *groan* Yes. With magic and stuff.

ALBRECHT: Have you written anything yet?

ME: Yes, a couple of drafts. I'm hoping to publish the one I'm working on now.

ALBRECHT: That's cool. Tell me about your story.

Now, while it hasn't never happened before, it is unusual for people to actually inquire about the content of my novel. Even if they do ask, I am usually fairly unthrilled about explaining further after they've already made the "Ew, Children's Books and Fantasy to Boot" face. But Albrecht actually seemed to want me to explain my plot and the magical system of my world as well the writing and publishing process to him. Believe me, I left ample opportunity for the subject to drop but he kept asking intelligent questions which I must admit was a nice change.

Eventually, I asked him--suspiciously--if he read fantasy since he seemed so interested.

ME: Soooo . . . do you read any fantasy?

ALBRECHT: No, I prefer informative non-fiction. I don't like stories. They make you have feelings. I think they're manipulative. I don't like being manipulated. If the message is 'be courageous' why can't people just say that instead of being sneaky about it?***

0.0

WHHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAATT?

ARE YOU HUMAN?

Because if you're human, you like stories. You ARE a fricking story.

The reason we tell stories instead of going up to people, making a serious face, and saying "be courageous" is because that has exactly zero impact on the human heart and the human heart is the best--and maybe the only--way to the human mind.

We tell stories because some things CAN'T and SHOULDN'T be boiled down into two word catch-phrases. Emotions are too complex for that. Our hearts are bottomless and mysterious even to us, their owners. You can't convey what it is to love by saying "love's great." You can't teach self-sacrifice just by telling someone that he should die for his brother. You can't talk about courage without talking about those who are courageous. And you certainly can't instill a desire for something as uncomfortable as courage in someone, without first making him love the brave.

While I find it in me to forgive (with difficulty, I admit) those who have told me they "don't read," I do so only because I know they are still breathing stories in with their oxygen. But to say you don't like stories . . . To say you don't like stories is to say you don't like being alive.

So, don't tell me you don't like stories, because I know you are lying to yourself. If you love anything good, beautiful, or true it is because of stories. If you ever dreamed of a life beyond the one you are leading, of climbing higher than you have before, it is because of stories. If you think the world has meaning, it is through stories. If you think you know anything of who you are, it is because of the stories you've woven for yourself over a lifetime.

So, Albrecht, don't tell me you don't like stories, because I know you and really you love them. Especially don't say things like that to me, because I am a storyteller and I am conscious every day that we, all of us storytellers, are doing the most important thing in the world. We are sustaining the race. Human beings cannot live without their stories.

 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

* I was going to go with Joe, but then I realized I was choosing a Blog Alias for someone for the first time and that I'm a fantasy writer. Why in God's name should I give him a boring name when I have a head full of strange ones and a book on my desk full of even stranger ones?

** At great length and in great detail.

*** This can't be an isolated incident because this Tweet exists:

  

3 comments:

  1. There are times I think stories are the /only/ things I like.

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  2. So much truth here! Emotions ARE too complex for them to be summed up in quick, factual phrases. Isn't that the purpose of fiction? Drawing out the human emotions from the reader that mere fact or reality cannot?

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  3. Great post and very eloquently written. No one has ever said that to me, but I have met people who have never read a book. Talk about an automatic disconnect! I instantly assume that we have nothing in common, or at the very least, not much that matters.

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