I am doing a Masterclass on writing and the instructor is the best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell. I plunge in half expecting a long-winded discourse on ‘show don’t tell, perhaps a few nuggets to spruce up my writing skills.
What greets me is a refreshing take on writing as a calling, his bewilderment at his own unique view of life being the fuel for his writing, reminds me why I chose to be one myself.
Like the gushing of water that had been stoppered and blocked, my own quirks surface. I realized that there really are only two kinds of people, the ones who tell stories and the others who listen.
From the prehistoric campfires that culminated with a cave painting that is 35,400 years old, we as a race have loved stories. Innate questions of when did we arrive, what did we do to why are we here, have all been answered in the form of stories. The thinking human was first a questioning one, a curious being that wanted to know what, when, where and why and once that was answered, and then what?
Animal cave paintings, the oldest being that of a pig, tell us that we have always been fascinated by our surroundings, especially of those that are not like us. A pattern seeking social being we have always sought out the meaning, no matter how pointless or illogical. Our need to label and classify led us to the invention of language and our need for stories created vocabulary.
There is however one story that has held our interest in the past and continues into the future its the ‘Hero’s journey’. In his 1949 work The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell described the basic narrative pattern as follows:
A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder, fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won, the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.
The said power often being the great story of triumph against all odds and the boon being the desire for the thrill of an adventure. Malcolm explores one such narrative in his book David and Goliath but its his philosophical take on the classic story that thoroughly impressed me. His take on the little guy beast the giant, gave me goosebumps. He discovered that an Israeli endocrinologist who suggested that Goliath suffered from a rare genetic disorder, caused by a growth in the pituitary gland, had rendered him blind.
Malcolms take? The giant looses because he is blinded by his ego. The giant is so big and powerful that he losses his ability to appreciate the world around him. He took an already inspiring story about David’s courage to a new level with his discovery of Goliath’s blindness.
This especially stirred my soul not for it’s inspirational message but for the similarity to my predicament. In my quest to be better, stronger and perfect (in my writing) am I loosing sight of my calling?
Of late, my head was so cramped with writing guides, style guides, and a need to excel that I was loosing track of my real reason for writing. A burning, gut wrenching desire that aches within me to voice the stories. Will some of them be crap? Yes. Will some fail to inspire? Definitely. Will there be some that will never be worthy of being published? But of course!
Some stories need to be told even if the only one listening is the writer. The job of the story teller is to tell stories nothing more but never less. It is up to the listener to decide if they want to be carried away in the ebbs and lows of the narrative, to hear the call of the birds, the chill of the dawn or the blistering heat of the dessert.
I recall the days when I used to scribble away the stories in my notebooks or scraps of paper, about witches and dragons, orphan girls that conquered the world and about a little bird that build it’s nest one straw at a time. I cared not if they were good or bad, all I cared for was if I told it honestly from the heart.
So as I sit at my desk, typing furiously another story I see an elven year old me vanquishing the ego of a 42year old me. David two, Goliath zero.