The power of story: Drawing in or drowning

Over the past few days, I’ve been diving into Doctor Sleep by Stephen King, after a requisite reread of The Shining. (NB: Doctor Sleep follows one of the main characters from The Shining.) Diving in as in having a hard time putting in down to do what I need to do – make dinner, get out of the door to make a lunch date with a friend of mine.

fca6410e73713976eef90ae0f3a3a911While I was driving to said lunch date, I was thinking about storytelling, as I am wont to do, and realizing… the power of storytelling isn’t just in giving us voice. It has the power to draw us in – show us new things about our world, give us new perspectives, or put our lives into a perspective we may not have been able to see before. Stories allow us the opportunity to be seen, as well. (More on that later this week.)

The other power that storytelling has is to serve as places we drown in… As a bibliophile, and as someone who likes to stick her head in the sand when she doesn’t want to deal with something, stories written by others have often served as a way to drown. In those times, I compulsively reach for more (usually fiction), devouring it and then moving on to the next one. There is no absorption, there is no thinking about how this may expand my perception of the world.

In the past few years, I’ve come to realize this tendency to drown in stories, rather than allow them to draw me in and learn from it.

What does this matter, honestly? Isn’t fiction for fun? Isn’t it just mind candy? I guess, for me, the answer is more complicated than yes or no.

It’s both.

One of the ways I am trying to learn stay awake is to learn the ways I fall asleep at the wheel of this life. How do I numb out, rather than be drawn into my life, so that I may stand in my own truth and allow myself to be fully present? I think about Natalie Goldberg and the writing practice that I am drawn back to, time and again. The line I’m thinking about is in reference to not identifying with one’s own work, but … perhaps it is relevant here.

Don’t identify too strongly with your work. Stay fluid behind those black-and-white words. They are not you. They were a great moment going through you. A moment you were awake enough to write down and capture. (from Writing Down the Bones)

Good writing allows me to see my world through awake eyes, when I am drawn into storytelling, moments those writers were awake, too. Good writing also has the power to allow me to drown, just be swallowed into world and fall asleep (bad writing can do the same thing, but that’s another post all together).

That is the power of good writing. And it’s part of my responsibility as a writer and a human being to stay awake enough to be drawn into this world, to witness others’ moments and to share my own.

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