Writer as Muse and Radical
The power of stories is in their ability to burrow inside our minds to illuminate insights that affect our preconceived ideas. These changes in thought can lead to changes in real-world behaviour. This makes writers equally inspiring, powerful, and arguably dangerous.
In a fictional conflict class I recently attended, the writer Annie Elliot talked about the power of stories to inspire readers to take action in their real lives. When characters make a difficult choice, take a stand, or fearlessly expose wrongdoing it can inspire readers to act. Being open to love the person of our choosing, standing up to a bully, or speaking out against tyranny are actions that readers can be brave enough to take after being inspired by the journey of a fictional character they emotionally connect with. This sentiment was echoed by writer Julie Carrick Dalton in an interview on The Shit No One Tells You About Writing podcast, where she talked about stories becoming a part of you, the reader, as stories invite you to see the world differently. Reading a story is by definition entering into the world of (an)other.
It's not a coincidence that in totalitarian regimes literature and other arts are suppressed. Dissident books and paintings are destroyed. Singing certain songs becomes illegal. Failure to conform to the propagated ways of thinking is punished by being mocked and ostracized—first socially, then physically. You are only free as long as you conform, as long as you don't question. Neighbours turn against neighbours, friends against friends in the name of ideology, in the name of public safety, in the name of fear. If you think differently, you become an other, slowly dehumanized. It's happened throughout history before. And the writing has always been on the wall.
Never take the power of stories, of the written word, for granted. Stories have power. Words have power.
There is of course a darker side to the power of stories—inspiration to copy cat killers and master manipulators—reflecting the inherent duality of human nature. I acknowledge this, but this post and this blog is not about that. It's about the positive transformational power of stories, about the the joy and comfort and lasting change that comes from engrossing yourself in another perspective through story.
I'll leave you with a poem that I wrote as an overly idealistic teenager over twenty years ago. I've sometimes had this poem pinned to my office cubicle or framed on my desk at home. It served as a reminder, a mental homecoming. The words still resonate and have never felt more true in today's crazy world.
My job is to live—
To dance, to sing,
to breathe life,
into the dead and barren—
I do not fit into your box,
heart-shaped or other,
I know exactly who I am—