I like to think I’m a fairly active guy. I write (though not as consistently as I ought), I do musical things. This month I built a banjo from scratch (I did buy the hardware and the drum head, although I am thinking of taking a trip to Africa with some dentists to shoot up some tigers and will use the resulting hides to replace the synthetic head which I purchased from Ebay. Perhaps I will write to the Zoological society to see if I can have a bit of Harambe instead). Anyway, my biggest enemy on my road to publishing is myself. I like to think of myself as emotionally calloused enough not to be a baby, but after every new batch of rejections I suffer a period of inactivity while I angstily wallow in self-pity (I just made up the word angstily and you are free to inject it into your daily vocabulary). I am beginning to understand that rather than being emotionally calloused as I’d always proudly assumed, I tend to bottle my emotions so that they bear fruit down the road when I can’t remember where they originated. Thus when Anne asks what vile creature crawled up my private orifice I have never had a good answer (feel free to use that turn of phrase at every opportunity).
Anyway, this was my state when several concepts I’ve been mulling over the last year came together for me. Stick with me, I’m going to cover these loosely-related brain-fetus’ and then bring them all together and show you the graphic birth of my brain-child. There is a point if you don’t jump ship while I ramble (Brain-fetus is mine. If you employ it even in casual conversation I will pursue you in the country’s highest courts if need be).
Concept One: We read books for a lot of reasons. David Farland has talked and written at length about why people hunger for stories. Once I would have said we read for escapism. This is partially true, but whose life is so bad that they say “working at the factory blows. I’m going to read Hamlet to escape this dump”? I think escapism is sometimes true and for varying reasons, and I’d be lying if I claimed I hadn’t repeatedly escaped to Hogwarts as a youth during a very hard time in my life. I think wish-fulfillment is sometimes a factor as well (raise your hand if you recently read “50 Shades”). All that considered I like David’s theory best because it encompasses both of these easy answers in a deep and poignant way. He says we read as a kind of emotional exercise. That through a good story we are transported to a place where we can safely experience emotions that would be traumatic in real life. As a lifelong reader this rings true. I guarantee that I was prepared in part for the tragedy of mom’s death by reading novels and experiencing hard things second hand. I think of reading as an emotional practice yard. We learn all kinds of stuff from stories. This is one reason why very often fiction is as truthful as non-fiction.
Concept Two: Non-Fiction is great too. I am listening to “The Wright Brothers” by David McCullough and he quoted one of the brothers as lamenting that some men change the world while others just fall into the occupations that easily present themselves and never rise beyond that, though they might have given different circumstances. I sell doors because I installed them because that was what Dad did. I am grateful for my job but I long for more and I fit the description (you can read more about that here). As I read further and learned of the remarkable determination and resolve of the Wright brothers I kept wondering what they’d be doing if they were living now? Would they have put Steve Jobs out of business or would they have pushed humanity into space? Or would they be remarkable employees that were only superbly functioning cogs in some other machinery? I kept falling back to the last idea, thinking that they were born in an era of invention. Now-a-days we already know how to fly and we can look at backlit pictures of friends and relatives while we poop. What else is there to discover? I was shocked to read in that book an excerpt from a newspaper after the brothers had succeeded and proved to the world that flight was possible. The paper said that there was a similar attitude back then, that mankind had discovered all the secrets and inventions possible, but the Wright Bros had proved that ideology wrong. There are still things to invent and discover. There are still stories to tell. Case and point: the Squatty Potty. The main thing I took away from the book is that the Wright Brothers did not let discouragement or widespread scorn keep them down. They were doers. They were constantly active and productive.
Concept Three: There is something interesting about learning stuff. This thing is something I have been told before but only recently really get (which makes sense considering what this thing is). Confused yet? In Sunday school we always complained that we’d already heard the crap they were teaching and the teacher would always talk about how repetition was important and we didn’t know it so well as we thought. I first saw the truth of this while learning guitar. Some gals and guys pick up the guitar and are great in a month. I hate those people. I fought like hell to be marginally good and play for my own enjoyment. I practice the same songs over and over and over and then all of the sudden something clicks and I’m a bit better. I understand concepts I’d thought I’d known already even better and in a different light. Practice makes not so crappy.
The clearest lesson in this has come from writing. I improve a bit, level out while I habitualize (Made up word, patent pending) what I’ve learned through practical application, and then step up again. After a long time practicing I’ll hear some basic bit of writing advise that I first heard in high school and because of where I’m at now the lesson that previously earned an eye roll from me is now suddenly mind-blowingly brilliant.
Concept Four: The other day I had one of these lessons hit me on a new level when it crossed over from writing to real life. I was in one of my I-got-too-many-rejections funks, driving home from work, and listening to Writing Excuses. They were saying that one of the most important parts of writing or telling a story that keeps folks engaged is to center the tale on an active protagonist. No one wants to read about a character that does nothing or only reacts to things that happen to him or her.
What if, I thought, real life is the same way? If I can’t be happy with a fictional character who is reactionary can I be happy with my real life protag (me) if he’s not proactive either? I began to resolve, as the idea took root, that I would not allow my life to become a crappy book with a dull or angst filled protag. I needed to be doing. I needed to ditch my inner Katniss and become Miles Vorkosigan.
So here is the brain child: We can learn how to actively shape our own worlds through reading/watching/listening to stories. The truly funny thing is that this is one of those lessons we’ve been taught repeatedly, that we should learn from the stories we are told. Why else do we have stories like “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” or “Give a Mouse a Cookie”?
Am I just a slow learner or have I lived enough to understand this basic lesson in a new light?
So my resolution this year, a month late: Act. Do not react. Be assertive. Do not give up. Give em’ hell.