Friday, October 07, 2011

Friday Forays in Fiction: Spook Me

I watched the entire 15 hours of Stephen King's Kingdom Hospital this week. I had watched the first 4 or so when it first but somehow missed the rest. Can't remember why but it has often bugged me the way an unfinished story will.

As I watched and in the hours when I wasn't I marveled at the idiosyncratic imagination of Stephen King and contemplated the trajectory of his influence on my imagination, my understanding of people and of the way the line between good and evil is drawn right down the center of every soul.  Before I encountered Stephen King's stories in the late 1970s and for at least another decade, the moral universe I lived in was fairly black and white and people   were either sunny souled saints or sinister souled sinners.  Never both at the same time or one day one and the next the other and a week later the other one again.

Believing that set up a severe cognitive dissonance in my psyche caused by the collision of that belief with the evidence of my eyes and of my own inner duality whenever I caught a glimpse of it in my accidental introspections and nightmares. 

By the mid 1980s I was an avid King reader in spite of the fact that I knew his stories were anathema to the teaching elders of the Christian sect I grew up in and whose doctrines I continued to hold and whose concept of spirituality I continued to aspire to.  Reading King was a guilty pleasure at that time with a heavy serving of guilt.  

In 1984 I had one of my severe depressive episodes and on the advice of a friend reached out to her pastor for help.  I met with him for one exploratory session and he agreed to take me on if I agreed to abide by his rules.  One of his expectations was that I keep a journal of the cultural things I was exposing myself to: movies, books, TV, music and then to eliminate anything he deemed inappropriate.

I was in my late twenties at the time and had been married for six years to someone whose reading habits were even more eclectic than my own and our relationship from the beginning had revolved around book talk.  The beginning of our friendship was in our high school library where I was a Teacher's Aide to the librarian and he would help me shelve books and we'd talk about what we were reading and recommend books and authors to each other.  Two years later our first date had been going to the first Star Wars movie.  What this pastor was asking of me would have amounted to an emotional divorce from my husband.

But as harsh as that was it wasn't the reason I never went back.  It was envisioning a future without 80% of the stories I loved.  I felt extremely guilty for this choice at the time but I now believe that something deeply self-preserving in my psych had saved me from a return to the freezer of thought which I'd escaped when I married outside our sect and the slow thawing of my mind underway at the time would have begun to reverse itself.  Instead, a few months later I enrolled in college and began the exhilarating adventure of learning that there were more stories in heaven and earth than were dreampt of in our sect's philosophy and just possibly they didn't hold a lock on the only valid stories.

Now with nearly 30 years of hindsight I believe that stories were more instrumental in alleviating those regular bouts of depression than all of the counseling. Since then my personal philosophy on the role story plays in our lives and our cultures has developed into one that sees story as crucial and as necessary as breathing.  Whenever I hear stories blamed for bad human behavior or cultural decadence or dumbing down of the masses or what have you I believe a very wrong assumption is behind those accusations.  

The assumption that stories are the root of human behavior, that they cause it somehow even if only by the mechanism of monkey see, monkey do is, I think, absolutely backwards.  Stories are the fruit of human experience, the distilling of our understanding of what it means to be human, the expression of our essential selves.   the mirror in which we see ourselves.  So those who object to the content of the stories shouldn't waste their time and energy trying to suppress them.  Rather they should be asking why that story? why now? what is that story trying to tell us about who we are, who we could be?  For if a story has reached a big enough audience to catch the attention of those whose tendency is to object to things outside their comfort zone that is proof that it is resonating with a large cross section of the culture and thus necessary in some way maybe not immediately obvious.

I now believe that my attraction to scary stories was my psyches attempt to release the pressure building up inside due to my determination to fit all that I witnessed within and around me into the rigid frame I'd been given and told was the Truth the only Truth and nothing but the Truth.  I shudder to think what would have become of that pressure if it had never been defused.

Having come to that understanding of the role of story it was quite gratifying to discover, upon reading the afterward in his Full Dark, No Stars, that Stephen King's own philosophy of story resonates with mine. I'll leave you with the quotes from those pages that speak to this:

I have little patience with writers who don't take the job seriously, and none at all with those who see the art of story-fiction as essentially worn out.  It's not worn out, and it's not a literary game.  It's one of the vital ways in which we try to make sense of our lives, and the often terrible world we see around us.  It's the way we answer the question, How can such things be?  Stories suggest that sometimes--not always, but sometimes--there's a reason.
Here's something else I believe:  if you're going into a very dark place...then you should take a bright light, and shine it on everything.  If you don't want to see, why in God's name would you dare the dark at all?
...when it comes to writing fiction, the writer's only responsibility is to look for the truth inside his own heart.  it won't always be the reader's truth, or the critic's truth but as long as it's the writer's truth...all is well.  For writers who knowingly lie, for those who substitute unbelievable human behavior for the way people really act, I have nothing but contempt.  Bad writing is more than a matter of shit syntax and faulty observation bad writing usually arises from a stubborn refusal to tell stories about what people actually do--to face the fact, let us say, that murderers sometimes help old ladies cross the street.

0 tell me a story:

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