Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A Journal is Not a Story

Not everything can be expressed as a story.

A story is a specific kind of thing, and as most books, movies, fans, and reviewers show, most people don't know what that kind of thing is. Most people think a plot is a story, for example, or a rollercoaster, something that has a beginning, middle, and end, and uses up time in a satisfactory way. I suppose that would make sex a story, or going to the bathroom.

Story, specifically, is a kind of tale invented to tell difficult or subtle truths about human character by subjecting a character to stresses in a specific way to reveal things the character may not have known and certainly would not have wanted to reveal about themselves. Story is a tool for exploring human character in ways that would be cruel and unusual to inflict on actual living people, a way to clarify some things about life by creating a simulacrum of it.

Hardly anyone writes actual stories any more, though there are plenty of writers creating plenty of things that substitute for stories in modern culture.

I, for example, am not a story-teller. I appreciate stories greatly and study them voraciously, but I don't create them. If I am required to express my life in stories, it will have to go unexpressed because I can't do it.

More importantly, stories can only represent certain kinds of truths, not all truths, nor even most truths. As incredible as it may seem to people living in a culture most of whose pleasures derive from fictions, fiction is a limited form of expression. It can only describe things that fit its form. When we try to squeeze other things into the form of a story, we do violence to the truths of those things. That is, we lie.

I don't want to lie. I am journaling so I can tell the truth, as best I can, so I can tell truths that matter to me and to my family and friends and maybe to others, and especially so I can tell truths that are not often publicly discussed, to break the code of silence and secrecy that surrounds so many important truths.

I can't do that in story form. I'm not convinced anyone can, since many of these truths have the wrong form for a story, but I know I can't. Therefore, I'm not going to try.

At the same time, though, I won't be dissuaded from trying to express these things in my chosen form, as journal entries and short philosophical essays. If that means I write boring things, dry things, repetitive things, confusing things, then that's what it means. If it means I never command a large audience, nor even a medium-sized one, then so be it. I don't want to be famous anyway.

I need to express these things in part because it's therapeutic for me, in part so my nieces and nephews have the opportunity to get to know me better and be exposed to these ideas, and in part because there is a powerful social value to coming out of the closet as who one really is rather than continuing to pretend to be another "normal" person. The only way people give up their hateful and violence-catalyzing prejudices about unusual people is when they get to know them for real and come to realize that they don't fit their stereotypes, that *gasp* maybe they need to change their opinions about their fellow human beings rather than eliminate them.

So, I'm writing a journal and some short essays, not stories. Most of it won't be to most people's taste, and it won't be fun or easy or comfortable enough to help you pass the time. That's okay. There are better things to do with life than just to get it over with as quickly and entertainingly as possible.

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