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Nothing is Original and That’s Okay: the One Story

June 11, 2011

Could there ever be a Book? A universally engaging and relatable novel, one that every single person in the world would be expected to read and benefit from?

Or, is there a Book already? One that has been read aloud, quoted, scrawled on bathroom stalls, passed from generations to generations, translated, burned, reprinted? Yes, I think there is, so long as we squint at the word BOOK long enough so that it becomes STORY (estimated time, one week). Instead of trying to recommend a book to the entire world, I will give a synopsis of the One that has already been chosen. It will be brief, because, hey, if I am right you’ll have heard it all before.

It goes like this – a boy born into mysterious circumstances, overcomes challenge after challenge to prove himself a hero, returning home in several blazes of glory. Two people, conspired against by circumstance, but aided by fate, together form something that transforms the world around them, even as they pay an ultimate price. Or, fate drives them apart. A horrible truth surfaces, one that cannot be ignored. It was all a misunderstanding. Everyone gets married. Everyone dies. It was a dark and stormy night.

But you, say, your patience wearing thin, these are all different stories, you farging icehole. You waited almost a full week extra to give us this?

Yes, I say, they are all different stories, but this doesn’t mean they aren’t part of the One Story. The one that captures everything we need to know, have learned, have suffered, collectively. The truths we can’t escape, keeping running into, need to explain to ourselves and to others. The moments we watch and are part of. The connection between generations, between different incarnations of ourselves, the one thing that keeps us together. Our sameness is heartening and we express it with words. Transcending reality, leaving it behind, simplifying it, exaggerating it, so that we can understand a little piece of it more than we did before. So that we can learn a little more of this Story. But not learn, necessarily – more like resurrect a dormant understanding.

Because why else do we have these repeating patterns of plots and characters, symbols, conserved meanings across ages and places and spaces? Why else, except because we are all searching for that flash of meaning, the silhouette of the Story? Recycling the ideas that stick with us, trying to optimize and reinterpret them, but ultimately conserving them on newer and newer pages. Always attempting to build on the body of literature that has come before us, all those things relevant enough to keep around.

You might say you read to escape. And we do. But escaping gives you perspective on what you have left. You return, able to identify what you could never focus on. The little things that make you believe in people, or give up on them, or laugh, or gasp with recognition. That is your world, your life, your feelings, your relationship to everything around you. Captured in words. There is a beauty and a power in the ability to see yourself and your surroundings reflected in the words of someone you never knew, who had no way of knowing what you are like, what your life is like. There is hope in that. At least part of what you know and feel is understood and felt by others, and that it is important enough to write down, print out and try to sell to people.

It isn’t just one book, but it is One Story. And following the threads of this narrative, while adding patches of our own, is the one of the best ways we have to connect what is going on inside our heads with what is happening outside of it. Transfixing and transforming the world around us to make it fit us, fit around us, bend into some kind of comprehensible mass. There is no way to grasp it any other way. Absolute knowledge is impossible, but gaining an understanding might not be. By looking for connections and pulling out the patterns, finding ways to see ourselves reflected in our world, we can start to take hold and shape how we relate to our world. With everything we write, we do this. Pinning a word we’ve arbitrarily defined, meaning only relevant to us (who else is there?), to affix meaning to something totally alien to us.

And yet these words aren’t totally arbitrary. They are concrete enough to convey this meaning to others. At least sometimes – in those moments of recognition, the flashes of meaning. Each of these becomes a piece of that Story. Accumulating fragment after fragment, you can start to construct this non-linear narrative in your mind.

And that is why, yes, there is a Story we all have read, or at least started reading, told to others. But we can never see it all, or read it all, at least not at once. So there will never be one book.  Ask me for a recommendation and I point to a library and shrug. Start there, never end. But please, do look up from your book from time to time, and realize that the reason you’re doing this, the reason you love isolating yourself is that when you come back (and you always have to come back) the world around you is somehow more yours than it was before.

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