Reading, Writing, and Belonging

Dad reading to son

“Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.” ~ Benjamin Franklin

“Humans aren’t as good as we should be in our capacity to empathize with feelings and thoughts of others, be they humans or other animals on Earth. So maybe part of our formal education should be training in empathy. Imagine how different the world would be if, in fact, that were ‘reading, writing, arithmetic, empathy.’” ~ Neil deGrasse Tyson

“I never feel lonely if I’ve got a book – they’re like old friends. Even if you’re not reading them over and over again, you know they are there. And they’re part of your history. They sort of tell a story about your journey through life.” ~ Emilia Fox

I’m not sure exactly what it is I want to express with this post, except for the last nine years I’ve been focused on writing and that has changed me in profound ways. Long before I was a writer, I was an avid movie watcher and reader. I still am, and for quite some time now I’ve been trying to understand just what it is about story telling in all its forms that draws me in. It might be the communal aspect of watching a movie or reading a book with one or two of my friends and then discussing every little detail about it. But watching and reading can also be solitary activities and I love that about them too. Or it might be that stories help me understand human beings better. When I hear people talk about how they are affected by the books they read, or write, I know that there is something fundamental about story telling that we need. Maybe I don’t need to define it, just enjoy it.

I have a number of former students and friends who are totally into cosplay, attend Comic Cons, dress up as their favorite characters, and are even on panels at these events. They read all the fan fiction, watch all the TV shows and movies about their favorite characters. And at first I thought them a little daffy. But after listening to them talk about the different layers of the plots and of their characters, or of the movie we watched in class, I changed my mind. I remembered all those hours of discussing movies with my father and I knew that these students were demonstrating a great deal of understanding about human behavior, their motivations, and hangups because the stories engaged their imaginations. Most of my friends and students have empathy because of their attention to the extreme situations their favorite characters have to deal with. They put themselves in their shoes. They think about what they would do in a similar situation. I love that!

The thing that connects me to great stories is the playwright or author’s ability to help me feel with the characters. When I was in college, the first play I was cast in was The Merchant of Venice. As we rehearsed the play, I understood more fully why Shylock wants his pound of flesh. He, as a Jew, has been treated so horribly. He’s a wounded character but unfortunately, he gets punished again at the end for trying to get what is due him, by literally taking a pound of flesh from the man who can pay his debt. In a way I couldn’t blame him for wanting revenge. But the whole point of the play is about how showing mercy is better than seeking revenge.

When I read a great book, or see a timeless movie, somehow I not only understand other people better, I understand myself better. That’s what I aim for when I’m reading, directing a play, watching a movie or writing. I’m looking for new clues that will help me understand human behavior a little better.

I just realized that I wrote this post because until recently, I felt like the odd person out. I mean, a lot of the people I associated with were into sports, or outdoor activities, or going to concerts, even some of my theatre friends, and I just didn’t get that. I mean I love nature and music, but I didn’t understand the whole sports fan thing, until I began to have students who were into dressing up like their favorite characters, and analyzing every detail of the books and movie world they inhabited. I finally got it. Most people are looking for their tribe, a place to belong. I’m finding my people and it’s a good feeling.

Thanks for reading, liking and commenting. I appreciate it.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2017

Lucinda is the author of The Space Between Time, a historical, time-travel, magical realism, women’s novel. It’s available in all ebook formats at Smashwords, and print-on-demand at Amazon and other fine book sellers. To join her email list, click here. She will never sell the names on her list.

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