Monday, 19 January 2015

The Power of Fiction

Fiction is one of the greatest weapons ever known to civilization. It’s like a hideout spot, a cozy, warmly lit little nook for when the harsh fluorescent lighting of reality gets to be too much. It’s where our dreams take shape, where we meet characters we can relate with and people we admire, where we embark on adventures, and where we gather memories we’ll relish for a lifetime.

Fiction is a recluse. It’s unrealistic and unpredictable - like going on a roller coaster, backwards, with a blindfold on. Unless you’re the author, you never know what’s going to happen next. As the readers, we have no control over what happens in the next few pages. We must bestow all our trust in the writer and wildly hope no accidents happen while we’re along for the ride.

As a perfectionist and self-confessed control freak, that terrifies me. Yet, I find myself willingly letting go of my power when I enter the world of books. The question is - how? And why?

As the old cliché goes, we’re all caught up in our own tangled webs. We lead frantic and fast paced lives. We have control over everything that can or will happen. But with great power comes great responsibility, and the stress that builds up from managing all this power starts to pile up. That’s where fiction comes in - it’s a chance to sit back and relax while someone else decides what happens next and why.

To shine some light on this issue (no pun intended), we could compare fiction to the sun. It provides light when we’re in the dark. A little ray of sunlight never hurt anyone - in fact, it can lighten up (no pun intended) people’s moods. However, overexposure can lead to problems in the future. In this case, it’s not sunburn or skin cancer. It’s disillusionment with reality - dissatisfaction with the real world.

One of the problems with fiction is that it can be a little too perfect. By the time we turn over the last page, everything is wrapped up neatly (or sorted out to prepare for a sequel). This isn’t a problem, but things start to happen when we compare our lives to those of fictional characters. They’re just so perfect - a fully functional (or perfectly dysfunctional) family, the perfect and absolutely amazing love interest we all want, a set of friends who are so strangely supportive and witty, and a lifestyle that definitely does not involve binge watching TV shows on Netflix and gorging on pizza (or maybe it does, but the love interest swoops in to save the day). None of that is ever going to happen all at once.

Although life doesn’t work like that, we can always pretend like it does. We can cover up our messy footprints, hide undesirable elements of our existence, model our lives as closely as we can after our fictional counterparts, wear masks. But eventually the façade is going to crack and everything comes falling down. Bit by bit, the fresh paint coating our little shells will peel off, exposing our frail bodies, weakened by overexposure.

To make matters worse, there’s YA dystopian fiction. With this genre of books, we can experience (through the protagonist’s point of view) a world where everything that happens in a person’s life is planned out - family, social circle, education, career, potential life partner, etc. And what happens is, somewhere around halfway through the book, we find out that the protagonist has some sort of higher purpose and is meant to determine the fate of the human race.

...Seriously...

Although I’m just as normal as any other person, I like to imagine that I too have some sort of higher purpose. Maybe I’m meant to liberate mankind from the great lie of freedom. Perhaps I’m meant to unveil just how cruel and manipulative the authority figures in our lives are. But at the end of the day, I’m just regular old me. Plain, uninteresting, average, normal.

And that frustrates me. Wouldn’t life be so much easier if I knew what my goal in life was? Why can’t some supernatural force (or maybe just the government) prescribe a formula I have to follow, so that I can make the most out of my time on earth? It feels like I’m dwindling my existence away, and I haven’t achieved anything meaningful. Who’s going to remember my rambling blog posts, my procrastination skills, my shortsightedness, my thirst for knowledge, 50 years from now? I want to leave something tangible on the planet. Something that says “I was here. And you better remember me.”

There’s nothing I can do to protect myself or the people around me from the rays of fiction. It’s all right to soak up a spot of sunshine from time to time. We can’t discount the benefits of reading - imagination, open-mindedness, and a little escape from reality. Although it’s nice to imagine ourselves in a different place every once in a while, we must realise that it’s just not going to happen.

Perhaps the most important lesson that we can take away from fiction is to find a balance. Having too much of a good thing can make the scale teeter a little too far, and upsets the natural way the world works.