Originally posted on Patreon.
I’ve been thinking a lot about story.
It was Iceland—the conversations and being around people who care deeply about story, whose work revolves around telling stories—that sparked this. As we clambered up precarious paths to secret waterfalls and sped along seaside roads, I wondered: what am I searching for in stories? Why do they hold so much power and meaning?
We spoke about stories in the evening workshops. Some of us tell stories to mend the holes we find in the fabric of the world, to do something—anything—to keep the encroaching darkness at bay. Some of us tell stories so that we may share ourselves with the world—and thus discover a little of what makes us tick. Some of us see story as a way to find and build community, through shared experiences and laughter. We acknowledge the power of the specific story, of many stories over one, and long to see more diverse tales blossoming in the industries and genres we work in.
We grew up with stories: folktales, space operas, Ghibli, Tolkien, Lewis, Avatar: The Last Airbender, alternate realities, video games, dystopia, utopia, fantasy. These stories shaped how we saw the world and guided our growth, sowed the seeds of artistic careers, offered a mirror, opened a door to new cultures, became a safe space to retreat to.
(I think of friends elsewhere in the world: S and her love of Pratchett’s work, of J speaking about Eowyn, of L and Murderbot, M showing pages of Witch Hat Atelier to a spellbound audience. I think of myself sobbing at the news of Le Guin’s passing.)
A story is a great tree under which one may find refuge and nourishment.
A story winds like a stream from the highlands, sometimes a roaring waterfall, sometimes a bubbling brook, meandering through our lives.
A story is an ice fragment floating out to sea.
A story is the picking of bilberries in the cold and their jam filling your belly with warmth.
A story is a vast lumbering cloud perched atop a mountain, formless yet present, enfolding us in its mist.
But is a story ever a story if it is not told or shared?
We talked about the need for face-to-face interactions as a way for people to set aside boundaries, unlearn walls, deconstruct biases, and sit together for a time. We told stories to one another.
A story can be a bridge but only if there is a builder and a walker.
A boat, with a captain and crew.
A home, with folk to dwell within.
(Is that what I’m looking for in stories, then—a home? Is that why I lose myself in the pages of books, the calming tones of podcasts, the frames of a film or the virtual environments of a game?)
Not all stories are easy to tell or share. Some are riddled in pain, dizzying in complexity, clothed in nuance. These are often stories of importance that speak to the underlying conflicts and structures of the world itself. If we could figure out how to tell such stories and move people to action, perhaps we could shift the plates of the world ever so slightly towards the better—or at least, that is the hope. A fool’s hope, as one literary character might say, though he would also work tirelessly to bring it to fruition.
Home and hope. Perhaps that is what I seek in stories, and why I make them.
Notes and links:
In the second edition forward to The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien writes: “I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence. I much prefer history, true or feigned, with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers. I think that many confuse 'applicability' with 'allegory'; but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author.”
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s The danger of a single story
Shaun Tan’s interview without words
Mobility support for this trip was provided by the Prince Claus Fund and the Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF), for which I am grateful.
For information on open calls and grants for cultural exhange, see culture360.