[Repost from May 3, 2013.]
I’ve been reading a lot recently about whether or not it’s valid for a person to use fictional narrative in describing the events of their life. For example, when I go to Chuck E. Cheese with my kids and I get a wary feeling, I’m reminded of Sam (from Supernatural) at that kids’ play place where he’s terrified of clowns. I don’t pretend to be Sam, and I’m not terrified of clowns, but I empathize with him and I get the feelings he felt, and yet they’re still my feelings. What I’m feeling is valid, and in trying to make sense of the strangeness in my mind, I equate it to Sam Winchester.
This is normal.
Not only is this normal, it is what writers want you to take away from a piece of writing, whether it’s a book, television series or a movie. Writers write, and readers don’t read. They feel. They long for. They want. They want to be.
If all you get from every piece of fiction you encounter is purely as an escape, I feel sorry for you. You’re missing a lot of the point. Yes, fiction can be an escape, but it is more than a simple escape from your life. I’m not suggesting that you will get the personal feelings from every piece of fiction, but something should speak to you in a very personal way, and for some of us, we need, absolutely need to talk about it, to put it into terms that our friends will understand when we’re too emotionally withdrawn or fragile to talk about the real life issue. We can, however, use our shared fictional experience to relate it to people to understand our mental or emotional space.
How many of us watched Nichelle Nichols on Star Trek, and say to ourselves, “Look at that beautiful, self-assured Black woman holding her own on that man’s ship”? How many of us wanted to be Uhura? I’m not African-American, but I wanted to be Uhura. No offense, but I didn’t want to be Yeoman Rand. We saw her in the context of secretary, and there’s nothing wrong with being a secretary, but Uhura was a Lieutenant. She was the officer in charge of communications. She was gorgeous and yet she wasn’t reduced to her looks. As a Black person, as a woman, she was equal to the rest of the crew. No one singled her out as different, and she was a role model.
In many of those role models we find ourselves, and sometimes our self comes to us in the strangest of places, where we’d least expect it.
Some writers will beat you over the head: 50 Shades of Grey, Twilight. You don’t think because the writers have told you the story. If you like that sort of thing, great; have at it.
But some writers are much more subtle. Stephen King, Bernard Cornwell, Russell T. Davies, Ben Edlund. It’s a little easier I think to be subtle in the writing of a television series like Doctor Who and Supernatural (the two I currently watch regularly). Easier because there are more than words to the story. We get a fuller picture because of artist intent, the actors’ facial expressions, hand gestures, if their words match their faces.
Because of that overall and more complete picture we truly see the ‘magic of television’, and we can relate the narrative much more to our own lives.
There are superficial ties. When I say the word, ‘well’ in a conversation, in my head I hear David Tennant saying, ‘welllll, four things and a lizard.’ I usually don’t say this out loud.
From last week’s The Great Escapist, It is one thing to say that Castiel is lying in the middle of the road and Dean nearly runs him over. It is quite another to have Dean slam on the brakes, the Impala screeching to a halt, the car barely stopping before he jumps out and the look on Dean’s face says it all, but before the emotion can take over, Castiel asks for help, but not in a begging ‘please help me, I need you,’ but in a humorous way, the way Dean relates to, the subtle, dry, humorless-humor that Misha Collins displays so brilliantly. On his face, you see:
Thank G-d you didn’t run me over, Jimmy’s vessel would not have taken well to that.
Thank G-d it’s you and not Crowley or Naomi.
Relief to see his friends.
Relief and pushed down joy that it is Dean, that they are reunited, that maybe they can talk about what needs to be talked about, but not yet, oh hey, by the way, I’m fucking bleeding.
Fuck, this hurts, would one of you pick me up and by one of you I mean Sam, like NOW.
When I get in the backseat, I better not get blood on the upholstery.
That’s what Castiel is feeling.
But what am I feeling?
Why am I worried? Why am I elated at this brief tease of a reunion? Why am I jumping up and down and fist-pumping? Why do I want to both smack Castiel and hold him close?
The main reason is that I care. But why do I care?
Because I live a life, and I can relate to these things. I can feel the emotion of a loved one being hurt, being the victim of violence, returning to a loved one, missing someone so much that seeing them for the first time is painful and ecstatic and wonderful and scary at the same time as you wait for their reaction, frightened at the sight of blood, so many emotions and feelings that I only have because I have something in my real, non-fiction life that makes this scene important to me.
I’ve talked recently about my friend being murdered and another friend being shot (during the same violent act) and so many things revolve around this anniversary that is coming up next Tuesday. My senses are a bit heightened, especially in this storyline: to the blood, the victim (in this case Castiel) being the victim of a gunshot wound, the reunion after the act, the relief that he is okay. I could even stretch it to a domestic violence relation with the angel involvement, calling Ion his brother before pushing the angel blade bullet into his eye and the abuse that Castiel has taken at the hands of Naomi for millennia, family in the very strict, blood sense of the word.
If I didn’t feel these things as they relate to my real life friends and their pain, I wouldn’t be human. Superficially, the writer wouldn’t have done his job either. The writer wants me to feel. Why else would he write? Most of them (us) don’t do it for the money (although some would be nice). We write for the human experience, the need to make people feel things, and to make them feel things that they haven’t necessarily experienced but can still relate to.
I’ve never been shot (and I hope to never be), but I can imagine the pain; I can imagine the wet, dripping, sticky stuff on my hands as I try to keep it together. I’ve had to keep it together before. I can extrapolate what I read in a book or see on the screen to my own life and feel the empathy. Or the pain. Or the longing.
Another thing that writers do is create parallels.
Why do I care about the abusive nature of John Winchester? Well, in my case I wish Dean could have had a father like I had. I had a great Dad. Not everyone does, and this shows some people who have not so great Dads that they are not alone, and if Dean can get through it, so can you, but Dean doesn’t do it alone. And being able to ask for help or lean on a trusted friend is a good message to send to folks in a similar situation.
In Houses of the Holy, when Sam talked about his faith and the look on his face when the light came from behind the angel statue, I knew exactly that feeling from my last year of attending Mass at the Catholic church. I believed what he was saying because I’d said those very same words; I had that very same look on my face. I wasn’t appropriating Sam’s character or minimizing my own faith journey; I related. And I cried over it. Real tears.
When Bobby says, ‘family don’t end with blood, boy’, I feel that, not because I had such a crappy family; I didn’t and I don’t, but I’m close with people I never expected to be, people not of my blood, but if asked, I would share my blood with them.
And no, creepy, stalker people, I don’t mean some kind of Satanic blood ritual; I mean a transfusion or bone marrow or whatever my non-blood family needed.
Because they are my family.
When Eric Kripke or Russell T. Davies makes reference to the Judeo-Christian Bible, whether it’s through the literal (Kripke) or the abstract (Davies), we know what they’re talking about. We have a base for knowledge. We all have some kind of religion, yes, even atheists. There are many things that atheists believe with the equal zeal as a religious person believes, and that’s why many of these narratives speak to all of us on a basic level.
Look at Doctor Who. One single entity, yes a man, but with two hearts, not of the Earth, but loving the Earth and her people so much that he can’t stay away. He’s worshipped like a G-d, and when he’s not recognized as one like in the episode where we first meet The Master, ‘you don’t know who I am? My, the end of the universe is a bit humbling,’ he even begins to believe he is a G-d. It was almost his downfall in Water of Mars. Just look at this week’s Supernatural when that same thing happened with Sam, talking to G-d’s scribe, Metatron: “How do you not know who we are?! We’re the friggin’ Winchesters!”
The visual of the trinity, so prevalent in Christian mythos: The Doctor, Rose, Captain Jack, and with every companion, The Doctor and Donna, The Doctor and Martha, there is always the shadow of Rose. Infinite combinations of threes: Doctor, Jack, Martha. Doctor, Amy, Rory. Even now, we have the Doctor, Clara and the Tardis. Pay attention this season, clever people.
In Supernatural, we have Dean, Sam, Dad. Bobby, Dean, Sam. Dean, Lisa, Ben. Dean, Sam, Castiel. There are almost always two henchmen with Crowley and Naomi.
Lucifer fell, leaving three Archangels: Michael, Rafael, Gabriel.
Metatron hiding on the Earth, not human, but living as a human, not only before the modern age of religion, but before Christ himself. And isn’t that what G-d did with Jesus? He put Him on the Earth to live as a man, to understand man, to have compassion and empathy for man, and then to die as a Man and to come back as a G-d, not on his own, but with the worship of G-d through Him. You come to the Father through Me.
Sam and Dean are with Metatron, who wrote all of the tablets. Technically they don’t need Kevin; Metatron can help them with the rest, but Kevin is family. He’s not blood. They can justify abandoning him as choices that he made as Prophet or there is a big picture here, but that is not acceptable to Dean. Kevin is family, family don’t end in blood, family doesn’t get left behind. Dean is the patriarch and he’s the glue that holds them together, that keeps the family together.
These are all narratives that we, on some level can relate to.
We’re supposed to relate to them.
If I didn’t relate to the characters and situations and make parallels to my life and use those examples to grow as a person, I wouldn’t be doing my job as a reader or a watcher of fictional television. The writer wants me to draw those parallels.
It’s easy to mock what you don’t understand, and so when I see someone mocking me (or others) for taking the stories too seriously or that we should just get a life, I’m disheartened. I understand the subtext of the fiction because I do have a life. I feel badly for those people who engage in the fandom or just watch the series and don’t see the bigger picture; the picture that relates to my real life.
For Dean and the Doctor, I see so many things that they overcome and I feel as though I can overcome my own obstacles. I have depression. I talk about it a lot. I use coping mechanisms. But in addition to that, my depression takes up about 80% (or more) of my constant, so when I read something, I relate it to my depression. When I watch something, I relate it to my depression. My life revolves around my depression and it can rule me or I can rule it, and in Dean and the Doctor I see new ways to cope and control because in them, I see myself. Good G-d, Donna! Donna was a perfect role model for me; I loved her, and I am so sorry she’s not with the Doctor anymore. I just couldn’t relate to Amy as much as I loved her. But I still watch.
I still watch because there is always something that someone else can teach me.
That is what the fictional narrative is.
Pick a show. Any show that you have some kind of familiarity with, and watch an hour or two. Write down the character that you most identify with. Write the character that rubs you the wrong way, and then write down why. I bet it’s because they remind you of someone. Write down a flaw that a character has that you also have. How do they cope? How can you cope? Do you get any ideas from the show? I sit with a little notebook and I don’t take notes as much as I take ideas.
It’s not delusional, or getting lost in the story; it’s being human and fulfilling my part of the narrative contract with the writer.
So, when I write meta (or anything really) that comes from the heart and I relate it to Supernatural, Doctor Who, Star Trek, Daydverse or any number of things that have been filtered through my head and heart for the last four decades, they almost always refer to parallels in my life and revolve around my depression, anxiety, sense of self-worth, friends, lovers, family, kids, education, hobbies, travel, stress, life trauma, coping, advising, experiences, and my life intersecting with the fiction that I’m attracted to is my narrative and I intend to claim it every chance I get.