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Reading and Writing and All the Other Things

“I write because I want more than one life; I insist on a wider selection. It’s greed, plain and simple. When my characters join the circus, I’m joining the circus. Although I’m happily married, I spent a great deal of time mentally living with incompatible husbands.” — Anne Tyler

“I read so I can live more than one life in more than one place.” — Anne Tyler

We read fiction to escape: to be someone else in another place, if only for a little while. We write fiction to explore: to create something bolder within ourselves that we might not otherwise explore, and drop these characters into the places we might not dare to go in a normal lifetime. To take a walk on the wild side without too much damage. Each of us seeks something more in this world in some way. Fiction offers safe passage to extraordinary places.

This blog doesn’t dabble in fiction, although this writer has. There’s a distinct separation there, between fiction and non-fiction, and between creative output and daily observation. My name isn’t even Alexander, which may lend to the confusion. Certainly it doesn’t offer optimization of the brand. But so it goes. The motive isn’t to develop a brand, but a deeper understanding of the world and my place in it.

Sometimes we want to explore other lives, represented in fictional characters who come to life in the pages of a book. Sometimes we want to explore the meaning in our own life, and optimize our potential in this brief go-around. If I’m sure of anything in this daily ritual, it’s that I’m a better writer and a better human for having consistently done it. Writers develop characters, and we also develop our own character. Those richer and bolder lives aren’t just on paper, after all, they’re within us too.

This business of reading and writing is a lovely part of who we are, but let’s face it: Most of our life is made up of all the other things. When done well, we develop a deeper perspective and sense of place through our active participation in words, but also through our engagement with the world. We must step outside our comfort zone in small ways that lead to bigger and bolder things. Just as a snowball grows as we nudge it along, so we grow as we accumulate skill and confidence through repetitive action. As with the snowball, at some point it grows beyond our capacity to push it, and it is then that we must seek the help of others. We must develop the awareness and courage to ask for help when we find our pushing isn’t quite enough.

When you stop to think of it, we’re each the authors of our own lives. Those characters we develop are often us. Just as they stretch and grow, so too do we. All the other things that make up a life are derived from our imagination and the courage to step out into the unknown. It shouldn’t just be fiction.

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  1. Brothers Vonnegut is an interesting biography delving into this topic. Kurt considers himself a science fiction writer, but not the typical aliens and laser-gun type. He strives for creating interesting and meaningful stories relating to his experience working as a propagandist at GE, and focuses antipathy toward the company-culture and anti-communist propaganda permeating between WWII and the UN (US) involvement in Korea. Regardless, his experience (and also his brother’s) provides plenty to fuel his passion. Truly an artist passionate about explaining his vision of how society has been shaped by nationalism and corporate greed.

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