{Thu 22 July 2021}   Too long without a story

Too long without a story

A white quill pen is poised as if to write a story, but no hand holds it.

There’s writing and there’s writing

Ah, the power (and responsibility) of the quill! I pick it up gingerly again after too many years. Why “quill”? And why now?

Naturally, I only type these days, and quite a bit faster than I did after a five-day touch-typing course at the London Keyboard Training Centre so many, many years ago! But the quill reminds me of Shakespeare and other creative writers I admire. The difficulty of writing with a quill makes careful contemplation more likely before committing ink to paper. Also, there is a sensation of art-making in the physical calligraphic act.

Perhaps my fed-up-ness has finally reached boiling point? I don’t know. In 2013 I posted my Pyrenean poem. Today I realised that despite reading and writing every day of the eight years since, this was almost all wage-work. Nothing that I wanted to share with anyone except the target audience (and often not even then, I confess).

All I know is that I’m starving internally due to neglecting the types of writing that give me the greatest pleasure, use my true talents, and might be key to making meaning in my life.

Fascinated by story and storytellers

During all these years, my fascination with story has never left. Communicating for businesses and business people involves hearing and telling stories… of quest, discovery, failure and success.

And since completing my MA in Creative Writing and New Media in 2009, I have hung around the edges of story in fiction as well as non-fiction, playing a part in facilitating the journeys of friends and clients who stuck stubbornly with the craft and produced books and poems worthy of audience.

Often, the vulnerable, courageous truths in and behind these stories demanded more will than I had while battling the awful personal impacts of Brexit, the pandemic, and my inner demons. To cope, I’ve left some good books superficially-scanned or half-read, or tried to control them by analysing them minutely. Anything to avoid more challenge.

But even these reactions of mine fascinated me… they proved beyond doubt that stories are the opposite of Nothing; their rich, mysterious power creates, terrifies, inspires, feeds, and unifies.

The purpose of human storytelling

Myriad human identities coalesce around different and, often, opposing stories, but some stories, such as Christianity and Islam, are strong enough to unite very large groups, and a few, such as capitalism, can unite all of humankind, as explained by Yuval Noah Harari in Sapiens.

Subtitled A Brief History of Humankind, this enormously influential book surveys the development of the human capacity to create, believe and trust in things unseen, such as national borders, human rights, money and gods.

Harari argues that storytelling is humanity’s main differentiating skill, an imaginative power that creates enough cohesion to build civilisation and all its assets.

Abraham’s powerful new story

Many years ago, I met a psychiatrist who was fascinated by the Bible story of how Abraham’s imaginative leap of faith actually transformed the nature of faith: In Abraham’s culture in Ur of the Chaldees, multiple gods, each with limited capacities and responsibilities, often unique to tribes or families, were embodied in the statuettes which he and his father sold from a stall. You had to own one to have a link to the divine. These gods could be lost or destroyed.

Abraham imagined instead a single, larger, disembodied god with whom he could communicate directly. When Abraham heard the call of this new god, he destroyed his father’s idols before leaving Ur. His physical move parallelled his transition from a sense-based visual-tactile religion to a more spacious religion of the mind where a G-d of infinite capacity offered possibilities never before imagined to anyone who could listen, independent of any idol.

This was the Jewish beginning of the One God story on which Christianity and later Islam expanded, uniting billions of people and giving some of them the confidence to push on to the Enlightenment. Many of the scholars who laid the groundwork for modern science did so because they believed their God had tasked them with stewardship of the world and had given them, as creatures made in the image of God, at least some divine capacity for that task.

I too am a storyteller

Thinking of storytelling like this helped me see it as not only for worthy others. Rather, storytelling is inescapably mine, because I am human.

Reading Sapiens, and watching several interviews with the author, I began to feel the regathering of purpose within me… it’s still a primordial soup, but seething with nutrients and I’m hungry for more.

My next post will be about the power of story in politics… touching on the ancient myth of Cassandra in Troy, and modern conspiracy theories.

[…] third post about storytelling… this topic will not let me go! I mused first in Too long without a story about how storytelling is a universal human function and therefore mine as much as anyone’s. […]

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