Trafficking In Make Believe
A friend of mine once told me, referring to the creative act, “people have taken something that should be joyful and turned it into f**ing science.” I liked that – because it’s true.
No matter what medium you practice, no matter what form of art fills that creative desire you have, some, somewhere, has taken it upon themselves to provide us all with the “correct” way, we all should be doing things. The problem is that quite often the “correct” way is something different, depending on whom you ask or whom you choose to listen to. We engage (hopefully) in the creative areas we like because it fulfills this need, this sort of an intangible thing that is often hard to explain to those who either don’t delve into creative endeavors or simply don’t care for them at all. In other words, we do what we do because we love to do it.
Plain and simple; and unless you’re one of those out there who thinks the arts is merely a meal ticket, a quick way to become rich, then I’m afraid you’ve been sadly mistaken. The truth of the matter is very few people – in relation to all those who are doing something – make an actual, comfortable living at what they love.
The reasons why people write fiction are as varied as the number of those who actually do it, so there is no point in trying to spell it all out here. If you’re a writer of fiction, you know why you’re doing it, but I bet, over everything else, the love of doing it is the main reason why you do. You love to create stories, to express yourself, perhaps even relate an event in your life that may actually connect with someone, hoping that our words will move someone, in some way, make them think about something differently, or perhaps provide an experience they never had before. I know many of the great authors have done that for me, and even the not-so-great ones, as well. It’s something that’s not easily explainable, but there’s a reason why human beings love to tell stories to one another and have been doing so since the beginning of time. It’s part of what makes us human. In fact, it is human.
Unfortunately, as my friend pointed out, there is a tendency for those of us who write stories, poems, novels, etc. to take ourselves just a little too seriously at times. Take the work seriously, sure. Try to make it as good as you can make it. Please yourself first and perhaps you’ll be able to please others. Writing is not an easy thing and all one has to do is try it, and they will soon learn that it’s not something you can just pull out of a hat (although many of the great authors throughout time make it seem that it is).
What I’m getting at is the “making it into a fucking science” part my friend had said. I totally got what she meant. It wasn’t about the craft of writing, or the mechanics of it, or the difficulty of putting something together cohesive enough for others to enjoy and relate to. No, what she meant was those who took something that should bring the creator joy – i.e. something that should be fun – and turned it into an endeavor of stress and quite often self-doubt. I got to thinking about how we all, as children, begin to create something, whatever it may be. A crayon scribble on a piece of paper; a hodgepodge of cut construction paper, a macaroni’s collage, an attempt to draw your mom and dad standing outside your house with a huge sun hanging over their heads; I think you get the idea.
When a child is engaged in such activity, most likely he/she feels some sense of happiness as they are creating whatever it is they are creating. The time has not yet come when there are self-appointed guardians standing at the gate, ready to rip the child’s drawing to pieces, destroying their self-confidence and making what was once an act of joyful play into the headbanging, stressful, neurotic thing it eventually becomes for most of us. Who would take their child’s drawing and tell them to their face that they suck, or they are doing something wrong, or perhaps tear it up in their face and tell them to give it up, there’s no hope for them? Only a monster would – and put more simply, a fucking prick.
However, we are not children anymore and have moved into the adult world, where pettiness, envy, or merely the desire to destroy something for the sake of making oneself feel better about themselves often rules the roost. Hierarchies were imposed, and others allowed them to exist – either willingly, or by default. You can argue until the end of time whether or not these hierarchies are needed, or whether or not there is a need for gatekeepers to filter out the “crap” from the “works of genius” but art by its very nature is so subjective, in all seriousness, who’s to really say with one hundred percent certainty that something is worthy and something is not? But that is beside the point. It’s another argument I tire of having the older I get. We like what we like, we don’t like what we don’t like, and rarely, if ever, does anyone agree one hundred percent.
Writers of fiction, at least from my point of view, are in love with storytelling. Why else would they do it? Writers of fiction are participating in something that has taken place since time immemorial, since humankind was an oral culture, long before the Sumerians invented writing. Tens of thousands of years of storytelling behind the first Sumerian cuneiforms, people told stories to one another, some so engaging that they became the myths we still read today. Religions were even founded on it. Writing and storytelling is a very powerful thing. So those of you out there who are writing fiction and telling stories are participating in something really heavy when you think about it. You’re in a very, very, very long line of other humans, who did the same thing. It’s part of what makes us human.
I try to imagine the first storytellers, sitting around a campfire at night, perhaps, the whole clan or tribe huddled together for warmth, while the group’s storyteller spins another tale. Oh, I am almost certain, at times, one story was received better than others or even that one storyteller was loved more than another would have been, but people still did it; they still told their stories, making up things, perhaps to help understand things that weren’t easily explainable, or perhaps to merely entertain, to allow those in the group to escape a little while after hunting all day or gathering other forms of food, or taking care of the children.
I am also almost certain that there wasn’t a group of people standing around, listening to the stories first, then deciding whether or not one should be allowed to tell it to the group. In the end, some stories endured, while others – perhaps most – were long forgotten, never to be heard of again. Things aren’t much different today, but the difference is now there are those who decide to become our culture’s storytellers and take themselves – not their stories – way too seriously. Back then, storytelling was an essential part of the human family – but it certainly wasn’t more important than hunting down that animal so the clan could eat for the day, or keeping predators at bay in order to live to see the next morning, or caring for an infant who had gotten sick. I somehow can’t imagine the group’s storyteller standing up and saying, “Hey! I’m a storyteller. What I do is the most important thing in the world! And since I am the supreme storyteller, what I have to say is more important than you who hunt for our food every day! I know all things because I tell stories!” What storytellers did then – just like they are doing now – was traffic in make-believe.
Trafficking in make-believe? Yes. We writers of fiction are making shit up – perhaps throwing in bits and pieces of our lives and experiences into the mix, but we are just making up things that don’t exist, no matter how realistic our stories are. Some of these stories today – as in days past – are universal, stand the test of time, connect us with what it means to be human beings – or should, anyway. It doesn’t always have to be that, though. It can be for mere entertainment but what often entertains us, can be important, as well. It helps us forget the hardships of life, the real important things – but a good story can help us through those trying times, as well.
But these days there is a whole different dynamic taking place. Storytelling, for writers, has become a business, and big business at that. Unlike our “primitive” ancestors, now there are those who make a damn good living filtering what we “should” read and what we “shouldn’t,” as if one doesn’t have a mind of their own to decide that for themselves. But, business is business, and it is what it is, no matter how much we love it or despise it, and when there is money to be made, and people’s livelihoods depending on it, you can bet your bottom dollar that they will make damn sure to filter out what they perceive as garbage from the culture – and for a long time, those at the gates had an essential monopoly on the trafficking of make-believe.
But things are changing now and with the advent of new technologies the gatekeepers are slowly, little by little, losing that monopoly. Anyone – and I mean literally anyone – can now tell their story and have it read by someone, and like our “primitive” tribe, not all the storytellers are going to be liked by everyone and what will endure will endure and what won’t be forgotten in the long river of time. That’s only natural, but the fact remains that nowadays – for better or for worse – everyone can now have a chance to tell their story around the campfire. And we/they do it because they want to participate in something that is naturally human. They do it because they feel that same urge they did as a child to pick up that crayon and put it to paper – to get that sense of fulfillment by creating something that is uniquely their own – something, anything – that reveals a part of themselves, to have a chance (at least), and perhaps connect with someone else if they so desire. That innocence in creativity, what I think is the “true” purpose of it all, is lost in the noise of those who feel it is their duty to determine what goes in and what goes out; those who “turned it into a science” rather than a joyful, pleasing and most importantly fun thing it’s supposed to be.
Is there a way, as fully grown adults, to recapture that? “I don’t give a shit; I’m going to do this” feeling one had in their innocence? I don’t know and sadly, probably not. So long as there are those out there who feel it is their duty to destroy rather than create something, I think the chances are pretty slim. But this is all up to us, individually. Are we creating because we love to create, or are we creating to – first and foremost – gain the approval and/or validation of others? This is a question I haven’t answered yet for myself. Perhaps, all artists, in a way, are all those people out there seeking some sort of approval they felt they were lacking since they were children, I don’t know. I can’t say. I’m not everyone. I’m merely me.
Imagination and creativity are two essential ingredients why we are where we are today and not still sitting around a fire at night, hunting animals with sticks and stones, but in a lot of ways, we aren’t much different from that either. The only difference now is that the art of storytelling has fallen into the realm of commerce and big business and so long as it remains there; there are always going to be those who feel it is their duty to let some people tell their stories and disallow others from doing the same. But they can’t stop you. They can only stop you from becoming famous.
They can only stop you from going to fancy cocktail parties and hobnobbing with the so-called “important people.” They can only stop you from becoming a “celebrity”. They can’t shut you up. They can’t keep you from doing what you love to do. So for young traffickers in make-believe (and even old ones), take advantage of the technology, and tell your story. Stand up around the campfire and just sing it with all the joy and fun you can. If some don’t like it, so what. If others do all the better. The important thing is to just do it; no matter what anyone else says. If it’s something you love, if it’s something that can perhaps bring a little more joy into your life – and perhaps others as well – then get to it.
Be human. Tell your story.