Who else out there is like me, and finds it difficult to turn away from what's happening in Japan?
The earthquake. The terrible tsunami. The nuclear crisis. And it's not only that it's riveting, this human dram, but that my writer's brain has turned on, has taken hold of events. I begin to imagine, to plot storylines through the tragedy. I begin to diagnose beginnings, middles, and ends. I begin to navigate conflicts.
I think some people react negatively to this, and think it dispassionate. "You want to write a story about this? What are you, a vulture?" Even some writers, I think, feel this, even about their own reaction, this fascination and watchfulness. I think there's a tendency to think of it as voyeuristic and exploitative, even if only subconsciously.
Yet I don't think this reaction really understands the psychological dynamics at work. Story is the way we think. This, in part, is how we understand the world. We make stories of it. We set beginnings and endings. Heck, we break our lives up into decades, years, months and days to help us do just that. It makes the world more comprehensible, providing patterns by which we can shape and delineate our experience. Memory, really, is simply the stories we repeat to ourselves, either consciously or unconsciously. Disordered minds are often disordered because the stories they tell themselves do not make sense.
And this idea of experience as story, I think, holds even greater strength for writers. We are writers because we are deeply touched by story, and in some way we've come to understand their value, and so we consciously try to shape narratives. This is an act of exploration, of trying to understand the world around us by shaping it into a story (no matter how strange and transformed that story might be).
And tragedies hold some of the deepest and most powerful stories. These are the difficult stories, the wrenching stories. And this is why they call to us, because they beg for understanding, beg for us to try and come to grips with them. Sometimes we need to do just that. The world can be a haunting place, and some exorcisms can only take place with a blessing of words.
This act of connective story, of fascination and recreation, is not dispassionate. It is, at heart, an action of extreme empathy. We might be distant, but we try to make ourselves immediate, we try to find a way inside the story, inside the people, inside the experiences, no matter how terrible, how tragic, how full of despair.
There is a human need to share, to take in experience, and to offer a little of ourselves in return. For when we write we invite others to take this exploration with us, to step into a new world, a new experience. To taste tragedy and joy...
Doesn't everyone feel this? At least a little? An accident occurs at the side of a road. People drive by... and everyone slows down and looks. Traffic jams are created from this simple desire, to look. But are we all ghouls, ready to drink in the misery? Or is it simply this need to understand; what is the story? What was its beginning, and middle, and end? What is this experience? For a fleeting moment we enter that story, and we wonder, we feel, we try to share and experience it.
For most, however, this is a fleeting thing. The car moves past, and as the scene fades into the mirror the empathetic connection is lost.
But a writer? Sometimes those connections are strong. We have seen and felt a fragment of something, and it won't let us go. And we want to get to the bottom of it. We need to understand, to try and grasp the human meaning, to piece the puzzle together, to find and shape and share the experience in its entirety.
And so we write. And so we tell a story.