I've been thinking a great deal again about story: why it's important, what it can show us, the kind of stories we need as a species to forge a new way forward. I've written about it many times, here and elsewhere. I've been thinking, too, about how and when I might re-incorporate into my course programme, as I've mentioned, the previous workshops I used to lead back last century and in the early years of this, where myth, archetype, fairy and folk tales were key to understanding our lives, as well as inspiration for creating new stories.
Looking back over the blogs, here's one I posted five years ago now, in May 2011. It's an excerpt from my book Writing the Bright Moment – inspiration & guidance for writers (hence the references), which you can buy from me via this blog and Paypal. I suppose it's primarily for writers, about making story, but it's also about how stories make us.
A Tree Full of Birds
In the chapter on creation stories I laid out, briefly, a number of different approaches to explaining how we came to be here. Each of these viewpoints is unique; and yet many have features in common. Some have a gender bias; some seem loaded towards violence; some have humour and generosity; some establish the pre-eminence and dominion of humans; others less so. An individual culture’s religious foundations – and, by implication, its creation narrative – has notoriously been fiercely defended as the only possible worldview, and arguably has been, and is still, at the heart of many situations of world conflict. What happens when one culture’s adherence to its view of our origins, and the faith built on those, comes up against a different one?
Many so-called ‘primitive’ tribal cultures, ridiculed by our Western ‘civilisation’, have a profound awareness of the interconnectedness of everything, and live by laws of respect and reverence for all life, as embedded in their creation narratives. We, who consider ourselves sophisticated, have coerced, bullied, seduced or ‘preached’ many of these peoples away from these beliefs and into our worldview which, ‘developed’ though it may be, is hardly a sustainable, let alone a respectful, one.
In ‘Tongues of the Earth’ in this book Jeremy Thres raised these questions; and they are important enough as to raise again. What are the tales we tell ourselves? What underlying beliefs and truths do they portray? What stories support our values? How could we build on this? Do the stories in which we immerse ourselves enhance our view of ourselves, each other and life?
Here’s another question: what responsibility does the writer have for what he or she puts into the world? No one wants chocolate-box stories and perpetual epiphany; you can’t make stories about only contented characters in a perfect world. But when did you last see a film that portrayed people relating in a healthy, loving and mature way to each other? What is the attraction of watching TV shows and screenplays that centre on human dysfunction and people behaving badly?
I am not suggesting that we pretend all is not how it is. I am not naïve enough as to assume that war will end in my lifetime; that violence will cease to exist; that poverty will be an extinct word; that pollution will be outlawed; that conservation will suddenly become more important to the corporate world than profit.
Don’t worry whether anyone else cares about your writing. That way, you can’t fail. ‘People are hungry,’ says poet David Whyte; ‘and one good word is bread for a thousand.’
This book, which is over 350 pages long and contains a number of essays by me and other writers, and includes exercises, is available from me via the sidebar and Paypal. It's £14.99 plus postage to the UK only, and I've been grateful for the feedback and reviews, which have been consistently extremely positive. (Please contact me for rates and postage if you are abroad.)