Monday, 9 October 2017

The Narrative

I wrote this a few days ago.

Last night I cried for an hour and a half. It was intermittently cathartic. I would cry and then feel better for having cried. Then I would feel awful and disintegrate. As I cried, I analysed. I judged my technique. My expressiveness. The sincerity of the underlying emotion. I wondered why I needed to cry.
It’s no wonder I need medication.
There’s a suggestion in Terry Pratchett’s Witch novels that people all have second thoughts which analyse what they have done. Witches have third thoughts which take a step away and analyse as you are doing. I’m not saying burn me at a stake, but I don’t think I’d have fared well in medieval times.
Unsurprisingly, I find it unpleasant to think about the world as posited by stories like The Egg, where we are all part of something bigger and we are all one mass, interconnected. Because, among my other thoughts, are those horrible dark ones that I fight and the idea that there is a version of me that didn’t fight those, or that there is a world where other people know I have those thoughts and assume that means I feel they are good thoughts to have is… well, I don’t like to think about it.
So, I don’t. I touch it on the surface and skim away from it.
But I see, in the world around, constant signs that the narrative is real. All the stories we tell and hear are reflections of the world. Maybe they are accurate. Maybe not. But they are connected to something. Something deep within us.
I am a storyteller. I know very little about politics. People peacocking around to further their own agenda in the guise of working for the people is so intrinsically false it feels unpleasant and I avoid it. I keep informed, but I rarely seek out a deep knowledge. I don’t know names, or parties. I won’t vote without confirming I agree with the manifesto (and I feel incredibly uncomfortable that people are OK with Jeremy Corbyn leading a party whose manifesto he isn’t 100% behind. Apparently it’s ok to be “principled” and not adhere to your manifesto, but there’s no test to distinguish “principled” from “bat crap crazy, power hungry mania” so forgive my discomfort).
My boyfriend is a politics guy. He knows all the fact and figures. He knows what he agrees with, where he stands and what “should” happen. I tell stories.
We had an argument (we’re very good at them) about politics and whether Donald Trump would get in, and if he did whether or not he’d be any good and whether or not the media needed to portray him less like an amusing piece of entertainment and more as the danger he was.
I went by the narrative. He went by facts and logic. Look how that turned out.
As a point of fun, I did the same with our most recent election. He asked for my predictions before the poll came out and I was initially going to scoff but I thought – nah, I’ll give it a shot. I thought about the narrative, what I’d seen and how I felt. I thought about the way the media had influenced me and if I listened to every part of my soul how the breakdown would fall. What had my internal swingometer done?
I said Labour would gain x number of seats. He scoffed. I said Lib Dem would get this, and Green would get that. He went with facts and logic. The Tories, he said, would get loads. Was I saying the Tories would drop? Yes, I said. The Tories would drop. I had nothing to go on. Nothing but the narrative. Nothing but the feeling that the zeitgeist is real and we are constantly fed stories that we absorb and remember. We are played by the system, over and over again.
I was exactly right.
I don’t know how. I don’t know what the odds are against it. I don’t know anything about politics and I’m no psychic.
I have my third thoughts. I listen to how people are pushed and how they respond.
When I was a child, my Dad had an interview. He was not especially himself in the week that followed and my Mum wasn’t sure why. I pointed out it was probably because he didn’t get the job. Her response was “He didn’t want it.” I couldn’t articulate the feeling at the time, but I knew not wanting is not the same as being ok with being rejected.
When I was crying last night I had a flashback to another time I couldn’t articulate the – to me – exceedingly visible link between motivations and behaviour. A singer was very obese, and I wondered aloud that she would risk damaging her performance by the way the weight affects her voice. Mum was adamant that she should be more worried about dying, but… death is such an abstract concept, and small short term rewards are so much easier to value than large remote ones. If you told someone that by exercising every day for 100 days you would give them £100,000, they probably wouldn’t exercise more than a few days before they hit their barrier. But give someone £50 each consecutive day they work out over 100 days and they’ll find a way to earn that £5,000.
It’s what I learned from fiction.
It’s what I rely on when I write.
It’s a bugger when I have to deal with anything in the real world.
And it’s completely unreliable.
I can see the narrative and its impact on people. I can feel the shifts in the world. But the narrative is a living thing too, with quirks and motives of its own. We try to shape it, to fit in with it, to make it work for us, but the narrative cannot be caged. It will always be impossible to pin down and it can choose to take any path it wishes.
We know what it was and we know what it is; but the future could be anything.
When we write, we have the most compulsive story when we adhere to the narrative. And the funky thing is, that people who don’t know the narrative can still feel it. If you write historical fiction you can find the narrative of today doesn’t work for the time you write about and there’s a reason for that.
The narrative of earth may not work for space, and there’s a reason for that. But looking at the narrative through a gravity well will give you enough distortion to make things work.
The world we experience is not made of facts and logic. It’s made of an amorphous mass of continuity and physical laws. It’s the chaos theory applied to jelly and plasma, shocked into the eighth dimension and studied at a quantum scale.

It’s the most awesome, improbable child of science I can imagine.