from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

'to poison a nation, poison its stories'

It's a lovely thing when someone quotes you back when someone else has quoted you to them! I don't experience that very often. But someone by email told me of an internet interview she'd come across that spoke of an essay of mine. In Writing the Bright Moment I'd written about the importance of story; or rather the importance of the kind of story we tell/write/read in this seemingly unravelling world. 

It seems to me that story, like poetry, might be a means of saving your life. And if our diet is that of disasters, unhappiness, catastrophe, war, brutality, violence, rape, torture – and of course I could go on – whether that is through the media or in the books we read and the films we watch, there is a price we pay at the level of the heart and soul, and in what we feed back into the collective. And more, it colours our vision of how the world is, or might be.
Yesterday I was invited to attend as an honorary member lunch and a session at a writers' group I set up nearly 20 years ago. Afterwards, some of us were talking about the nature and place of violence in film and literature; and it was heartening to hear others, too, voicing their concerns about the wisdom, or otherwise, of continual exposure to brutalising scenes, whether through watching the news or in film and literature, and what it means to us as writers – let alone as humans.
The email I received quoted this (apologies if it seems boastful):  'Roselle Angwin is inspirational. I drew much strength from the extract from her book Writing the Bright Moment — inspiration & guidance for writers — which was published by Lapidus Cornwall in Prompted to Write. In this essay she quotes Ben Okri: “To poison a nation, poison its stories. A demoralised nation tells demoralised stories to itself. Beware of the storytellers who are not fully conscious of the importance of their gifts, and who are irresponsible in the application of their art.”'

So I went back to my essay, and found some words from my favourite essayist, Barry Lopez: 'If I were asked what I want to accomplish as a writer, I would say it’s to contribute to a literature of hope… I want to help create a body of stories in which men and women can discover trustworthy patterns… Every story is an act of trust between a writer and a reader; each story, in the end, is social. Whatever a writer sets down can help or harm the community of which he or she is a part…’ 

These words are behind my thinking for most of the work I do. How we keep heart in heartless time? What stories do we need?

I concluded the essay like this, and I guess my thinking hasn't changed: 'At the end of my first book, written in 1993, I asked this question. Of course, I am still asking it. How would it be to read books and stories that support us in being more fully and compassionately human? Ones that give us tools to grow and change; offer us models of functional, healthy patterns of relating – whether to ourselves, to each other, to the wider human sphere or to the planet as a whole, rather than narratives that merely underline how grim ‘reality’ is, and how untrustworthy and self-seeking people are, thus confirming our view of the world and the human condition as basically beyond hope? 

'Surely we need now stories that offer us healing, offer us the potential of wholeness, of coming through in the end. Empowering stories. Stories that show us human being at its best: its most courageous, generous, kind, loving, compassionate, wise, funny. Stories that celebrate the earth, wilderness, the diversity of nations, the diversity of species. Inclusive stories that allow us to imagine a new world order based on empathy, co-operation, kindness, discussion, negotiation, fairness, equality. Stories that celebrate what is green, what is vulnerable, what is innocent, what is childlike, what is wise, what is feminine, what is masculine; stories about co-operation and harmony rather than competition and conflict; about people making wise choices. Stories that celebrate magic, mystery, miracle. Stories that help restore some sort of faith, whatever that may mean for each of us.'

1 comment:

  1. I totally agree with you. I love to read about the good things life brings us, and how we can learn and grow from our experiences. And when we write about them we are sharing something great. Surly we can have 'tension' and adventure without lies, torture, killing? In my life Anyway!


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