Secrets of a Storyteller
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Doing any other job, while pursuing a writer’s life, can bring to the surface a similar set of experiences that at a second stage, can culminate into a writing genius. I hope the story I am going to tell here, might influence, inspire and help move forward many like myself, who at some unfortunate turn in their lives, are forced to believe they are good for nothing. It is a debate that occurs in every mind, irrespective of one’s profession. Even if you are a writer, police officer, teacher, or doctor, at some point in your life, you must have taken this exceedingly inappropriate step to judge yourself. That their craft sucks would be the first impression they themselves are concluding with, if they are artists. Police officers might conclude, they are bad officers, blinding their eyes (for a moment or month or year—to whatever extent this feeling lasts, which in some people, until a messiah comes along and shows them the light of day) at those corrupt and indecent officers. For teachers, these days must be just as bad and hurtful as any other person. He might feel he is not worthy of the job.
As a teacher, I felt that too. I felt as if I was the worst teacher ever walked on the earth. This psychological upheaval happened occasionally. It was this June, when for the previous time it happened. It’s remarkable to see how the Universe kept its solution for the mental trap I was in, just within what I am, inside my self. I came back home one evening puzzled over the next step I should take, as it was clear teaching was not going to leave me any peace of mind whatsoever. When I opened my blog and thought of checking the comment box casually, I had not considered the possibility of anything else, not even a comment by some reader.
As you might have heard of, there are moments when fairies come alive and fire spitting dragons take us to new worlds—magical moments. In one such moment, I opened the comment box in my blog and there it was! A very positive comment on a book review I had written. The comment was just one line. It said, “You are a really good writer and inspiring too!” and nothing else. It felt like I was taken into some magical world by a dragon or this very world itself had just transformed and acquired a fantastical nature, for it was only in stories I had heard of such acute presence of coincidences! As a matter of fact, my self-doubt was washed clean by this single line of comment. The next day, I was a new person and had a lot of creative ideas to share. I felt, even if I may not able to make it to be a good teacher, I am doing great on another side of my personality, my writing.
But the same wall of doubt was due for the same personality I was so confident about on that day. Before long, I came across a situation where my short story collection could not even find a reply from the publisher I had sent it for publishing. It was clear the publisher had rejected it.
Perhaps dejection attracts a fair magnitude of dejection. There was no option, all my thoughts had tuned into the morbid frequency of hopelessness. Someone was telling me from inside that I should never write stories, they are worst; that I could not succeed as a writer. It was as if all other thoughts were unreal and hope was a fantasy. I denounced the writer in me. It was not because I found any fault with my writing though. Self-criticism felt good. I just felt consoled when I criticized myself. But the peace self-hurting gave me did not last long. Soon my mind was on high fire. There was a need to write that arose within me. I had to submit to that call, I felt strongly. However, without confidence and trust on what I do, writing was impossible.
I decided to help myself, to forgive myself for the failure I was. But to believe I still could write stories was impossible. In order to ward off these caustic thoughts, I resorted to reading self-help books. One day in college, I was reading a book on the dichotomy of form and formlessness and how through transcending the barriers imposed by the world of form one can enjoy everlasting happiness in the formless dimension of existence. A young girl came near to my table. I was sitting in the staffroom, in my table. The book in my hand, I was totally absorbed into the reading process that the movement of the student nearby did not create any response from my senses. I noticed her only when her voice was identified by my ears and my mind decoded her presence.
She asked what I was reading. What she wanted to know was if this book was fiction. I remembered that in the previous class, I had discussed a novel about a shepherd boy, who took the courage to follow his dreams and ended up learning the Language of the Cosmos and Soul of the World. In that journey the shepherd boy had also found the love of his life. The story had been of great interest to the young adult students, and I knew it would be.
The girl stood in front of me. I remembered, how this same person had, after that class once I discussed the novel, asked me for the copy of the novel. I could not, however, give her the book, as it was my personal copy and due to reasons I deem exceedingly psychological, I never consider lending my personal copies of books. She must have thought this was the same book in my hand now. I told her that was a non-fiction book I was reading.
Once I told her what the book was about, she had a surprise expression on her face. Her eyes went wide. She then explained why she considers it a very dignified act to read non-fiction. Her words took a confessional turn first. She said she did not read much non-fiction books other than her text books, mostly because she did not know how to remember in a sequence, the ideas in a book that is written without a story to connect all those ideas. She said this was a question she always thought about, but could not find an answer for and so avoided generally, the genre of non-fiction. Then she appreciated me for keeping such a wide variety of tastes in books. Before leaving, she asked two questions. Can I keep what I read in memory, even if it’s non-fiction? And how do I remember what I read?
I answered her something like—it worked in a complex manner. The ideas inside the book are elaborated in a sequential order. So one can remember what one reads even after one had finished reading the book, through connecting ideas and linking their connections. She left the staff-room wishing me a good day. That turned out to be a magical moment and a very good day, indeed.
The answer I gave that young girl was the answer I needed myself, desperately. The way I remembered the ideas and concepts from the non-fiction book was through creating sequences of ideas, sometimes following the same lead and order given in the book and sometimes through creating my own order of concepts. This sequencing happened internally and as a matter of fact, I never was conscious of this internal activity. At that moment, this internal and unconscious process revealed itself in front of me. It was simple. I would create some categories and put the ideas into different categories as per their nature, importance as well as significance in my personal view. There were other ideas, which I found now, connected with what I read in the current book, which were not actually part of that book. This happened by connecting similar ideas that I had heard of or read in other places. This too was an unconscious process.
Thinking about how this chain of responses happens unconsciously, one can discern a hidden symmetry in this process of connecting ideas and creating an internal sequence of them. This symmetry is very much the essence of a fictional story. There must be structure, which will give order to the story and that can only be achieved by sequencing the events. This will follow another step; connecting the characters with events. So in a close analysis of the processes involved with writing a story and the internal processes involved with remembering what we read in books, we can observe a striking similarity.
On that day, in the staff-room at the local college I realized, there is a hidden storyteller in each one of us, and an excellent one, for to achieve such a complicated sequence and order in our minds, to whatever we read cannot be work of just a naïve.
We all can bring that veiled storyteller out into daylight. Only, one should be prepared to deal with one’s success!