Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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A World Without Stories

This essay looks at the importance of stories and the cost of losing them. Some thoughts ...

Stories have a problem. Writers are not keeping up with what is happening in the world to help us understand what in hell is going on, but one of the major threats for writers and thinkers whose ideas and work disregard the barriers is censorship of the truth.

This is true for some writers. Certainly I've seen a falling tendency to write science fiction stories about new scientific discoveries, which used to be the norm -- each bit of news would spark a rush of stories about it. I still do that sometimes, but not as many other people do. But it's something anyone can do, and it's a very good way to write solid stories from the core out. Just pick a news article and write about it. If you're writing speculative fiction, you'll need to imagine how it could go in some other world; but you can also write about it for the one we live in.

Amitav Ghosh, another award-winning Indian writer of novels such as The Hungry Tide, in his latest book titled The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable examines the reasons why catastrophic events are not more readily seen in literature, and why writers find it hard to move from the backdrop of normal reality in the familiar world of the individual.

Dude needs to read more SF. Apocalyptic fiction has been around for ages, touching on climate change for the last 20-30 years, and booming at the moment. I've written a bunch of "world fucked up" pieces myself. Even in Terramagne, with its better approach than here, climate change and rising tides is what drove the Maldives to become a haven for people with superpowers. Same problem, MUCH better response. But I also write about changes in my yard that I've observed through my own lifetime. Anyone can do that, and those stories matter too.

While thinking about this huge subject of silencing, the muting of voices, and bullying tactics used to oppress, humiliate, manipulate, create fear and exclude, I thought about how to tell this story about censorship in another way—by visualizing an extreme situation where the world was stopped from telling stories.

To be human is to tell stories. Timebinding is literally one of the key things that defines our species, and we do it primarily with storytelling. Stories and potshards are often the only things left of lost civilizations. You can lose old stories, but you can't stop people from making new ones. To kill all the stories, you have to kill all the people, which is why tyrants like genocide.

Although I present this scenario as an imagined situation, it is close to the reality in which Aboriginal people have lived for the past two centuries, and I will come back to this later.

It works with some people. Certainly there are many who have lost their language, their tribe, their way. But it never works with all the people unless, as above, you complete the genocide. America has multiple counts of completed genocide. Yet some tribes and their languages still survive. Here's the thing: some people won't stop no matter how much you torture them. They may tell those stories in secret but they keep doing it. All those "untold" stories are out there. They just aren't being broadcast on a wide scale.

But now, we have the internet, we have video cameras anyone can hold in their hand, we have more ways to tell and share and save stories. It's working. Many oppressed peoples are standing up and demanding a voice. This often gets them killed. You can kill a person, but not an idea. Someone else will stand up with a new story. You can drive the tyrants absolutely batshit just by refusing to shut up.

Some of the most subversive things I have done are all about telling stories. I encourage people to speak their heritage language, and I've made donations to such language programs. I've designed coursework for prison classes on composition and literature, because nothing scares bigots more than a black man who can read. I write about things that enrage people, even if it occasionally costs me a reader, because a problem that cannot be discussed is one that will not be solved. I write about great possibilities and dire warnings, because only when we can see the range of options will we be able to make good decisions. I ask for prompts, because not everyone feels up to telling their own story, but everyone has a story to tell. The more perspectives we have, the better we can understand the world and ourselves. I sponsor things, too, so that more people can see the kinds of stories I want to read.

Anyone can do stuff like this. Anyone can make a difference. You can influence the kinds of stories that get told and shared, by telling your own, by buying and recommending diverse stories, by watching for prompt calls where you can request topics that don't get enough coverage. A dearth of stories is the most fixable problem humanity has.

Tell ALL the stories!
Tags: activism, ethnic studies, history, networking, reading, spirituality, writing
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