Friday, March 22, 2013

"Imaginary though it was, its influence affected her, for she was feeding heart and fancy..."

Fiction is not merely entertainment. It isn't fluff or an inane part of our existence that doesn't mean much for our lives. Fiction is part of our reality.  Why? Because fiction is how we experience life. Fiction is where we learn to experience emotions, and where we go to continue to experience them: to experience excitement when our life is dull, joy when our life is sad, pain when a release is needed. Fiction is regenerative. It is invigorating. Fiction truly matters in our lives because our experience of it keeps our hearts and minds awake, alert, and alive.

I realize that crying over the death of a beloved character in a favorite TV show may seem to some to be ridiculous and immature, but it is my personal and passionate opinion that it being fiction does not make it unreal. The reality of our lived experience of those emotions is not diminished because it is a story of characters that do not exist in our world. I may not have known this person as a real human being in my every day existence, but this character, this person, kept me company on certain evenings, told me stories for weeks, made me laugh with them, and gave me joy through her experiences of love and excitement. We traveled together through time as she grew and married and created a family. We may not live in the same realm or reality, but she gave me these experiences and joys and pains, and my experience of those feelings that I shared with her through her story is not any less real.

We often hear about how our reality is that which we create. How we perceive the world to be, and how we respond to it. Our reality is that which  we imagine and perceive.  At the end of the day, what we experienced, how we felt, what we went through--that is what is real. Therefore, these experiences through the fiction that we live through by reading them, hearing characters, and watching life unfold in shows and movies… these are part of our reality.  These are relationships we have built in our lives that we manage and maintain, that give us new experiences, and create in us real emotion and reactions.

You may ask why this is so? As discussed on the "On Being" podcast episode on fairy tales, we are able to experience fiction as real because these stories reflect our other realities. As Krista Tippet of "On Being" stated on "The Great Cauldron of Story: Maria Tatar on Why Fairy Tales Are For Adults Again," these stories carry plots "we endlessly re-work in the narratives of our lives--helping us work through things like fear and hope." When we experience joy or pain through watching or reading something, our body connects to a moment in time where that experience arose. We live that experience again… Anew.

Fiction, then, helps us learn how to manage our experiences by giving us new ones to live and work through, and guides us on how to live a better existence by fine-tuning and deepening our emotional experience. Do not diminish the experience of fiction in our lives.  Relish in it.  Don't hide when tears well up in your eyes as we are forced to say goodbye to a beloved storyline, or rejoice in the joy of a happy ending. Instead, appreciate the experience as a privileged chance to live more deeply, love more fully, explore your emotions, and grow your heart. See fiction as rehearsal--the practice part of what makes perfect. It is our tool. And our experience of it is not any less real than our experience of a friend or a parent, a sibling or a child, causing us pain or great joy.

"Late at night my mind would come alive with voices and stories and friends as dear to me as any in the real world. I gave myself up to it, longing for transformation."
- Jo March, Little Women by Louisa May Alcott 

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