Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Fan As Hero

We love heroes in part, I think, because we want to believe that one person can make a difference. That we can make a difference. No matter how "ordinary" and humble our lives, we are each individuals with a capacity for great love and great dreams and perhaps, therefore, great deeds. Yet every day, the media scream at us that some lives are more important and interesting, and some people are more significant than others. If our days are spent doing someone else's work, or work that has nothing to do with our inner passions, if we are restless and restive, bored or depressed, if we see no hope for becoming the heroes of our own lives, then it's easy to concede to the verdict. We must be of lesser worth; otherwise, why would we be so miserable?

The Talmud teaches us that whoever saves a single life has saved an entire world. Each of us is that entire world, however buried under dehumanizing, oppressive circumstances.

Being a published author confers a degree of celebrity. You see your name in print, perhaps even in an advertisement from your publisher. You go to a convention and people come to hear you. They ask for your autograph. They listen when you talk. The seduction of specialness is powerful and insidious. Yet some of the most wonderful moments I've experienced at conventions have come about in violation of the separate status of author and fan. 

I know as a writer that one of the best ways to deepen and enrich a story is to extend special care to minor characters. Care, not necessarily space on a page. Even a red-shirt or a spear-carrier has a family, a history, goals that have nothing to do with the plot. The challenge is to convey this without bogging down the action or the emotional momentum of the story. A brief moment, a tiny but evocative detail, can weave the character into the tapestry of the world, a jewel-bright mote in the landscape of the hero's adventure. Or rather, the intersection between this hero's adventure and that of the spear-carrier (who is, after all, a hero in his or her own story).

I also know that we as human beings have the choice to either ignore or appreciate the people we come into contact with. At a convention or other public gathering, we're faced with large numbers of people we don't know but with whom we share a community, if only for one weekend. It's tempting to divide them into "those I know" and "those I don't know" or "those who might further my career/status" and "those who don't count." Remembering those spear-carriers, those walk-on bit players, I want to step away from utilitarian, impersonal categories. Yes, I most likely have business to conduct, but I must never forget that the heart of that business is completing the story-telling process.

Story-telling in community is a two- (or many-) way street. I get to be the teller when I write and publish my stories. But I also get to be the listener. How did my book affect you? What did you think? What made you angry? sad? joyful? irate? If I am willing to set aside my preconceptions, I may also hear the stories beneath the stories, glimpses into another person's world in which my book plays only a tangential role, just as this brief encounter plays a minor part in my own day. 

But for that precious moment, we are kindred heroes.

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