Saturday, 24 January 2015

Escape Philosophy, or Fictional Healing

For some reason, I've been watching a lot of creationist reply videos lately. Where skeptics, atheists & purveyors of reason respond, critically (and often humourously) to creationist videos that badmouth atheism, evolution and science. Usually these are painfully stupid, and consist of someone blandly explaining facts to people that don't listen. However, I've found some which are genuinely enjoyable, such as those by The Armoured Skeptic, they're worth a look-in, whether you're atheist or not, I find it oddly therapeutic to listen to someone refuting idiocy with calm, astute reason. Even though he only has about a dozen videos at time of writing, they're all worth watching for his funny, intellectual and approachable counter-arguments, give him a go.
I bring this up because, within the comments section of one of these videos - which are surprisingly civilized, considering the content - someone said of the video:
  "Using the Bible to solidify your argument is ridiculous. You might as well use any fictional book, like Harry Potter."And while I understood their position, I took issue with that. I responded jokingly and we had a good chuckle, but I've been thinking about that recently, is that a fair comparison? I mean, the majority of the Bible is fables, and while it's an absolute joke to think of it like a science textbook, the Bible is a book of fairytales, but like many fairytales, they were written to teach an Aesop of some kind, that is the purpose of fables, after all.
The Word of the Day is: 'ESCAPISM'.

Escapism /əz'kaypizəm/ n. The avoiding of reality through entertainment, imagination, etc.

Thinking about this got me thinking further than that. Just because something is fictional, that doesn't mean that it can't teach you something. Of course, you shouldn't believe it to be true or pray to it; but, stepping away from religion, just because something is fictional, that doesn't mean that it doesn't matter. I think I've used this quote twice before, but it is one of my favourites. In the (paraphrased) words of Mark Z. Danielewski:
  "It doesn't matter if it's real, what matters is how you respond to it."
[It is somewhat apt that I've been looking for the original quote, but I can't find it. I thought it was in House of Leaves, but I can't find it, even using the index. But, whether he really wrote that or not, the words still have meaning.]
In a discussion with my girlfriend, she pointed out that fictional characters can be beneficial to their creators at times, and she said that Bill Watterson (cartoonist) found some solace in his Calvin & Hobbes strips, using their laidback and irreverent style to play out his own concerns, such as in this strip where he considers his own mortality.
Also, I was reminded of this clip, of Peter Capaldi in character as the Doctor, responding to a 9-year old, autistic fan who wrote a letter to the Doctor after his grandmother died. Sure, Capaldi is a real person, but (although impromptu) this was filmed in character and it's because of the mythology behind the Doctor and the respect he had for him that allowed young Thomas to deal with his grief.
Also, on a more personal level, my girlfriend once received a message from a girl with a few medical conditions, who was in pain every day. She was told this in confidence, so Beloved refused to tell me her name, but this girl thanked Beloved, because she was a fan of her fanfiction series, and by reading it she found it easier to stop worrying so much and cope with that pain on a day to day basis.

I consider literature to be very important; moreso than others might. But, that is because I read fiction and I know the way that I react to fiction. I don't think that it should be taken lightly that people read these stories, remember them, cherish them and learn from them. It's the reason why, before writing a story - any story - I always have some kind of goal in mind.
I rarely ever write a story just for fun, because although fun is important, I want most of my stories to be fun, so that's a given. I will have a goal, like, "I want to parody the notion of 'routine'"; "I want to explore our fear of strangers"; "I want to see if I can write someone else's character" & "I want to write the next Doctor Who".
But when it comes to this, this notion of helping people . . . I guess I'm a bit worried.

Just like with facts in fiction, I worry about offering people care in my fiction, because I am no more a counsellor than I am a historian. I am an intelligent man, I'm self-assured enough to admit that, but that just means that I know a few things and I am astute enough to apply that knowledge; but that doesn't mean that I am qualified to help people. I can educate people, or at the very least allow them to consider an idea for themselves, but I'm a writer, not a doctor.

I asked my girlfriend about this, and how she felt knowing that her writing had helped someone through a tough time. She said:
"It's a blessing and a burden, but a welcome burden."

I think that, either way, the positives outweigh the negative because at the end of the day I'm not being used as a doctor, it's merely my fiction being used as a catalyst. When people - especially children - suffer a trauma which is hard for them to understand, their brain (sometimes) changes the way they see it, and reinterpets their experience in a way they can more easily understand. Avoidance is a common response to trauma, and escapism is a valid response to reality's harsh . . . well, realities. It's a natural response. If someone were to use my fiction as a method of relief, escape or refuge, then it's not me acting as a counsellor, it's them; this isn't counsel so much as a kind of metacognition. When someone turns to your fiction in their darkest hours, you are merely the catalyst for their self-help. After all, if your fiction doesn't help them, they can easily use someone else's. So, a writer is not equal to a counsellor, and while I would be honoured to help someone - even passively - to deal with trauma; if anyone does find solace in my fiction, I would be merely helping them to help themselves. That's kind of beautiful.

But, speaking of helping yourself, there is the other thing. When a writer writes fiction to create their own refuge, and their own escapism. My Beloved has admitted to me that she often uses fiction-writing as a form of escapism, and when she gets hurt in any way, she often transfers that pain to her characters, so that they can process it and she can move on.
Several writers use similar methods, be it J.K. Rowling creating the Dementors as a personification of her severe depression at her poverty before her publishing success; Terry Pratchett (supposedly) writing Nation, a book about losing faith, after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease; JRR Tolkien's dark tones in The Two Towers inspired by the fighting in WW2 and his worry for his two sons, fighting in the British military at the time or one of several dozen other examples.

Deliberately or not, writers use fiction to express themselves, and one of the consequences of that is dealing with the bad parts of themselves, their trauma, pain, hate & stress. I don't doubt that my mindset has affected my fiction. When I was single, every single couple in my fiction was a story of tragic romance; when I was depressed, I came up with characters like Messy Joe (a broken, cannibalistic, schizo-typical monster); Liam Everton (a child-abuse victim/domestic terrorist); Wilbur D. Turner (a bitter, world-weary war veteran & misanthropic school principal) & Malcolm Blackwater (a PTSD-suffering, anxious, haphephobic hermit, whom investigates the horrors of the world).
These characters are inspired by my own sadness, anger, stress & fear, and I know that in their own way, each has helped me to come to understand myself, accept my own feelings & process them to recover my peace of mind. In fact, something which people may not know is that the character of the Duke is inspired by my own depression, and the character of Anise is inspired by my own post-depression [and Ke$ha]. After all, I've moved beyond my depression to the point where I'm in a much better place, mentally. So, I'm using Anise to help the Duke move past the multitude of traumas he's endured through his pluricentenarian lifetime. By helping him, I can come to understand what it means to help myself. And perhaps even inspire others to help themselves as well.

So, you see, fiction can be more than just a way to spend an afternoon - at the very least it's a better use of your time than reading holy scripture - and it can help us in times of need. If you're genuinely sick, of course, go see a doctor. But, if you just need to take your mind off the world, if you're tired and need a moment to unwind or if you're having trouble coping, there is always the option of seeking refuge in the welcoming pages of a book.
Or, if it strikes your fancy, you might even try writing a story for yourself.

I'm the Absurd Word Nerd, and until next time, I hope you're all feeling okay and settling into the year well. If not, you could always do like I did and write a blog post about it. Or, leave me a comment. In this interconnected and increasinly globalized world, it makes no sense for anyone to feel alone.