If you look around, you’ll find stories everywhere. Of course they are in the usual places; in bookstores, in movie theatres, on television. Look closer—in a newspaper, a magazine, in a bar, in a church. Everywhere people use stories to make sense of what life has brought them. A story has a structure—beginning, middle, end—and a line of movement from one thing, to another, and another. Our lives, on the other hand, are often messy and chaotic, with no structure and no narrative throughline.
I believe in the power of Story. I have always loved stories. As a child growing up in an abusive home, I longed for escape but knew there was nowhere to go. I longed to be the brave hero who could fight evil and rescue the helpless. Back then I didn’t know how to rescue myself. So, I used stories to escape. The library became my haven. A trip to the bookstore was a visit to paradise. The ones who made up the stories became my heroes. After I grew older, I still gulped down stories as if I were in the desert and the stories were my oasis. They sustained me and got me through the years until I was old enough, and safe enough, to begin healing.
Stories can be part of that kind of healing. Stories are amazing things—a mix of truth and lies, dreams and facts. Stories can take the unreal and make it real, to our delight. They can also take something all-too-painfully-real and give it a veneer of distance, enough so we can accept and assimilate it. And perhaps most astonishing, a story can use a lie to tell the truth. It can take something fantastically unreal and use it to say something deeply real about life, and love, and what it means to be human.
People have teased me about my love of story media. But to me stories are more than mere entertainment. I have studied stories deeply to find the connections and similarities between them. I was looking for the Meaning, of Story and of Life. Eventually, I realized—maybe there is no inherent meaning. If we must bring meaning to our own lives, then we do that by telling stories about that life. When chaos rages like the primal abyss inside or outside us, we create heroes to conquer the monster and impose order once again.
As someone who struggles daily with bipolar disorder, chaos is a familiar presence to me. As a writer, I use stories to ride that maelstrom and bring it to heel. By placing my pain and confusion within the framework of a story, I can learn from my suffering. I can carve meaning out of a meaningless universe. And not only can I learn, but I can teach. Through telling stories, I can share what I have learned with others, and hopefully make their lives a little better.
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