"Telling stories is how we think."
(I've said that.)
"Stories teach us empathy."
(I've said that too.)
"Stories help us feel again."
(I've heard that.)
"To relieve stress."
(Are you kidding? Did you know MRI images have shown that the brain stresses much the same when it watches a story as it would if the events in the story were really happening? So if you want to use fiction to relieve stress, maybe you should pick a really boring story.)
Whatever you tell yourself. Fill in the blank.
But why bother? I know I'm not the only one who feels the need to justify the hours I spend reading novels. Or writing them. But why?
Maybe "Just because" is the only answer we have to the question of why fiction matters. Jonathan Gottschall says, "We are, as a species, addicted to story. Even when the body goes to sleep, the mind stays up all night, telling itself stories."
All along, you thought your mind was relieving stress by processing subconsciousStories anxieties, when in reality it was just playing with its toes, weaving characters into situations to see what would happen next.
I'll bet you've got a couple of dreams in mind already, times when you've awakened thinking, what a ride that was!
Care to tell us?
Some years ago, I dreamt that I was in a huge castle court, with tall white marble walls, and white marble pillars holding up a white ceiling somewhere high above. The court was filled with people formally dressed as you would expect in a castle. God was in an office off the hall, fat with a beard, clearly troubled about something, his desk piled with papers. And Satan was a strange little man, running around telling everyone "You'd be perfect" at this thing, and "perfect" at that.
Then suddenly, God ran out of his office, and squatted down to rifle through a basket of papers on the floor.
And he said, "Genesis! Where is my Genesis!"
A couple years ago I dreamt I was walking through a seaside village where everything was painted black and white. (White doesn't figure into all my dreams, but it did in this one, too.)
A white van roared up the street, and skidded to a stop beside a man walking on the sidewalk. A bunch of men piled out of the van and assaulted the fellow, forcing him into the van.
The van sped away, only to stop at a white travel trailer down the road. The men forced their victim out of the van and into the trailer. At the last moment, I caught a glimpse of his face and realized: he was Jesus!
Something clearly had to be done. I ran to the trailer and opened the door. The bad guys were all clustered around the table to my right, too busy hatching evil plans to notice me. Jesus sat on the bed at the other end of the trailer, hands tied, head sagging, face covered by his long hair.
I sat next to him to untie his hands. "Jesus," I whispered. "We have to get you out of here."
At which point he lifted his head to reveal a radiant, loving smile, as if to say, "Really? I need to be rescued by you?"
It's strange to realize how many of my dreams are CBA material. Even stranger to know that any reader who makes a study of dream interpretation now knows more about me than I might knowingly disclose.
But I dove in. Now how about you? What stories have your minds woven while you slept?
I'd love to read what you have to say.