Wired for storytelling
Some UVA scientists have “discovered” something: “the human brain is wired to connect with others so strongly that we experience what they experience as if it’s happening to us.”
Really? People who read books discovered this eons ago. We see what the protagonist sees, hear what she hears, feel what she feels. It’s the magic of story, to draw us in. It’s just that recently brain scan technology has allowed us to confirm what our bodies already knew. Not only is our imagination right in there but so is the rest of us. The sensation is indistinguishable from what we’d feel if it were happening directly to us. Except it’s safer. We can extract ourselves at any time or scan through the “tough to read” parts. If we’re reading.
But what if we’re writing? Then, we can’t skip anything. We must experience every detail. Every offense. Every degradation. Every searing pain. So we can translate it into words that are authentic. Words that make our readers feel what the protagonist feels. What we are feeling. This is a dangerous place, this place of ‘taking on.’ We don’t jump in lightly, and there is not an escape hatch. Reader, it may be imaginary to you, but it is real to us.
Why in the world would anybody do this?
- to get the pain on the inside out
- to invite others into the miraculous that only they know
- to share this inner space
- to complete a recurring nightmare so it will go away
- to strike out against someone who has hurt them
All possibilities, and at times, my possibilities. But not for today’s me. I write to understand and to embrace the feeling. I would like the feeling to be a happy one, but I don’t know until I get in there. And even with the happy ending there is always struggle and angst. There must be, in order for the happy to be real. Because “real” always contains both. Contrast is what defines.
I’m a sensitive sort. Always have been. I used to get teased by my brother who called me “cry baby” because I was, at the smallest slight, a bawler. Still am. Tear up at movies, stories, poems, even commercials. It’s something about how I am wired. Why in the world would God make my defensive shields so thin and my boundary walls so low? Everything gets in!
Perhaps so He could get in and help fend off the attack? Maybe that’s part of it: easy God-access. But, from His command post He could strengthen the shields and raise the walls; He hasn’t. I am regularly on the forefront of a hard conversation. I am intentionally on a prayer list where I read about pain and sorrow, and only when I feel it, can I pray for it. I am called into action where kids are hurting and families are struggling. All of it visceral. Painful, but not hopeless. It’s just their story. An on-going telling, that needs some shaping to move it along.
Perhaps the ‘cry baby’ is by God’s design. Am I meant to take in the hurt and work it into story? Into language and image where people can dabble, one chapter at a time from a safe distance? So they can see themselves without being themselves.
Oh, believe me, my instincts would rather I shout them down and tell them what’s good for them. The story telling is God’s idea. Maybe that’s why the story has an arc, an arching plan, in rainbow colors. Brilliant, up close, but even more beautiful when you step back and look from a distance. I don’t see the whole thing, but color commentary…that’s inviting.