So is reading it.
In books we can find a safe place to explore the world. In Fiction, ideas – idealistic and positive, or tragic and difficult to process – can be present in the characters and settings that the writer creates. To me, that is the power of fiction.
In talking therapy (which I advocate) the therapist and his or her therapy room are a sanctuary for talking about what is bothering the patient. But the world is full of things that bother us, and full of things we don’t understand, and space for thinking about those things is limited and so they can become overwhelming. We can’t therap’ away the tragedies of the world. And facts, the news, wikipedia (ahem – I know, I said facts but, yeah), can be daunting, boring, depressing and off putting. They can be a constant irritation, even. Facts are rammed down our throats so fervently, and daily, that anyone paying attention barely has the time to process what is true, what is false and what this multitude of information really means. This is a tragedy, because between the facts are the juicy bits, the ideas. Without thinking about the ideas, without thinking about why, we cannot act in a way that will move us forward.
I’ll illustrate with some examples. In both my novel The Nation’s Servant (working title, unpublished) and also in my short piece Three Photographs I explore the balance between making a personal sacrifices in the name of the greater good and making personal sacrifice in a small way, for the people you love. Is one more important than the other? We know that the current global immigration situation should be better. Does that mean it’s right for every one of us who already has a safe home to down tools and head to the borders to help the Syrians fight off their oppressors? We all know that, in the west at least, we should be taking better care of the elderly. Does that mean we should all be building annexes on our homes and giving up our jobs to change our grandmother’s wet bedding twice a day? If we are busy doing that, who is helping the Syrians? Is there a balance? If so, how do we work out what the balance is?
I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I enjoyed writing about the balance of charity because it gave me a safe, fictional place to stretch out those ideas. And what I learned in writing about them was how to make sense of the facts. It has helped me understand the best way to act, and make a choice about that balance that is right for me.
A friend told me “interpretation is the ripple you cannot control in the pebble of your work.” She was right, and I am glad. I don’t want to tell people how to think. I have no authority to do that I wouldn’t even try. But what do want to do is give my readers a fictional space so they can stretch and mould ideas.
Reading and writing fiction is the best way I have of asking deeper questions about reality. Some people read so they don’t have to think at all. If you have ideas on this topic I want to hear them. Please share them in the comments.