There is a lot of stuff I’m not sure about and don’t know in this life. I don’t know why some people suffer more than others. I don’t know why we haven’t talked to any aliens yet. I don’t know how to fix the broken chair I’m sitting on while I write this. The one thing I do know, and that I steadfastly believe, is that stories are the most important part of culture. They have the power to change the world more than any other sort of discourse. Whether in the form of literature, film, music or poetry, even the most basic stories can be life changing. That’s why it is so prevalent in society, but also why we must engage with these stories.
We can only live one life (so far as we know.) However, that one life is painfully limited. Even the best humans can only reach approximately a hundred years. That is a miniscule amount compared to the age of everything else and a tiny stretch of time to try and fill with all the experiences you want to have.
That is where stories become important. In the matter of a couple of hours, I can watch a man live out a prison sentence over nineteen years, or over the course of a few days I can read a book that puts me in the middle of the world war and lets me spend some time in it. Suddenly, I’ve lived three different lives.
I’ve always had a problem wishing my life was more like a movie or a book. I want so many amazing things to be constantly happening that I refuse to see the logical error in that.
Any story that covered every second of someone’s life would be incredibly boring.
Those times in between the spectacular events are removed for your viewing pleasure. Songs cover only one specific incident. Movies are only around 70 specific scenes. The movie I am watching through my own eyes includes all the in between stuff. The filler that isn’t necessary to the important things.
That’s why I love stories so much. I can fill the downtime in my life with the highlights of someone else’s, whether it be fiction or nonfiction. This creates an unbroken chain of awe inspiring experiences. I can see them through my own eyes and I can see them through other’s when I am home enjoying a bowl of popcorn. Obviously the former is more engaging and memorable, but that does not diminish the power of the latter.
The problem as we gain more and more access to these voyeuristic forms of entertainment is that people begin to passively involve themselves in the act of reading, watching or listening. I’m at fault of this as well. I turn on an episode of The Office while I get ready in the morning, or I’ll listen to albums as background noise.
The true joy of stories though, comes down to the moments when you sit down and focus your active attention on absorbing the narrative.
Letting the imagery wash over you. Feeling the percussion deep in your chest. Really stepping into someone else’s shoes. When you experience emotions while taking in a story, you know: 1) you’ve gone along for the ride and 2) it’s a damn good story.
This is why I love writing stories and love writing about other people’s creative work. Through writing, I come across new knowledge that I haven’t found before. I make connections that are new to me. Often times, when I write a review or analyze a story, I will get a couple paragraphs in, make a discovery, and then start my whole piece over again with that discovery as my focal point.
Life doesn’t have to be as limited as we make it. I’ve seen life cut short, and I’ve seen it end when it is supposed to end. However it goes, we need to have our eyes opened to all the possibilities that this world offers. We don’t have to suffer alone. Reading a book or watching a movie gives us another lens to see the world. Another life to live. Extra experiences to have.
We never know what is going to come our way and the book of our own life is going to close, so why not fill it as much as possible? Take in whatever you can. Listen to that album your friend suggested. Watch that movie you’ve seen on every hipster’s “must watch” list. (Hint: it’s probably Pulp Fiction and it’s great) Let the storytelling aspect of culture wash over you. Listen to that crazy guy at the bar tell his story. Read that magazine article about raising chickens. And when the gaps of your life are filled, the spaces between your own experiences won’t feel as empty or boring, because end to end there will be a magic you didn’t feel before.
The key is investing yourself and truly feeling a part of these adventures.
I sincerely hope that everyone in this world finds at least one story that moves them. One that sticks with them. Something that they carry with them the rest of their lives. I will always remember my favorite stories: Frankenstein, The Great Gatsby, Arrival, Baby Driver, Halo 3 (mock me all you want), Ocarina of Time, Macbeth, “Mayakovsky’s Revolver.” Hell, I feel like I truly lived on my Grandma’s farm I’ve heard so much about what went on there. I never farmed and probably never will, but I am privy to the knowledge of the smells involved in keeping calves in your living room because of a blizzard going on outside.
The list goes on and on. Compared to the sheer number of things that have happened, are happening, and will happen, we have an oppressively short amount of time to accomplish things.
That is why stories are so important.
They fill us up with moments we cannot have by ourselves.