Breakfast with Pandora caters to everyone interested in ancient Greek and comparative mythology, good stories, the craft of writing, food, theology, education, and other humane things. Ask a question at teenage underscore heroes at yahoo dot com.
Question: why sit inside a lecture hall during a perfectly
lovely day off and listen to people read from and talk about
their writing instead of going outside and playing softball?
a perfectly lovely day in Greece.
you've got a chance for a wonderful reunion with some old and
dear writing friends (hi Bob,Lyn, and Frankie!).
Bob provided companionship, commentary and feedback as we listened to writers hold forth on
their craft and celebrate their successes. A highlight was Ron
who are engaging and extremely talented. Rash's
Serenais a firecracker, and
Smith's new set of short
like a winner.
Elizabeth Stroutprovided me the most
food for thought in her keynote address last night. She is the
latest thing, a favorite of Oprah, and had an adoring crowd
eating out of her hand as she read fromOlive
Kittredge, a set of linked short
stories that had heretofore flown under my radar.
out on stage looking like an aging starlet who'd spent the last
month at the beach. Darkly tan, she'd twisted her blonde hair,
shining like new straw, into something resembling a do. She had
on a ruffled white blouse and oversized black slacks, and
everything about her was fashionably rough, wrinkled, and
disheveled. Her only concession to writerly appearance was her
thick-framed black glasses, which were absolutely the height of
chic. Kate Hepburn comes to Chapel Hill after a stay onBald Head
writers who are basking in the glow, she seemed happy and
perfectly at ease in front of the packed house, and fielded
questions such as whether her characters took on a life of their
own and told her things. "I'm pretty sure I'm making my
characters say things," Strout said, eyebrow raised.
event for me was Strout's take on the importance of fiction--
that is, well-written stories on a page, electronic or not. You'd
think that this would be obvious, but it isn't anymore, what with
everyone crazy for reality shows, video games, and anything other
than a book.
She began by
pointing out how whenever people come out of the subway or their
plane has landed, they immediately call someone on their cell
phones. "I'm here, I exist," is what people want to tell someone.
Everyone is craving connection, a sense that they matter, that
they are not alone.
Strout says, helps people to locate themselves in the world.
Whenever a reader identifies with a character in a story, it
creates a connection, community, and a sense that the reader
matters, regardless of who and where they are.
I have been
attempting throughout my career on writing about mythology to
point this out, especially in myonline
courseon Greek mythology. Good
stories make people connect and cohere.
Now, I have
focused mainly on the tribal aspects of good stories. I define
mythology as a set of good stories that are good for a particular
culture. Each culture tells its own stories as a way of setting
itself apart from others, of creating and maintaining its
character, its ethos. A culture's myths do not necessarily
translate to other parts of the world. In other words, I do not
subscribe to the idea of the archetype-- the notion that
characters and stories are basically the same the world
there no universal stories?" Bob asked me as we walked back to
the parking lot in the late summer sun.
that wouldn't be myth," I said. "That would be..."
What would it be?
be fiction," I finally decided.
realized that like Elizabeth Strout, I did feel that the role of
the author, the novelist, the short story writer, was very
important to the world.
author attempts to connect us as human beings, rather than as
members of a tribe, that, to me, is an act of love. It is so easy
for us to sort ourselves into groups, into us versus them. I
think it's perfectly natural.
difficult is to reach out to other groups and acknowledge what
makes us the same.
other benefits, too, that Strout did not mention. Maybe the most
important is depth and thoughtfulness. In myth, you are looking
to have people say yes to your world view as quickly as possible
and over and over again. With fiction, an author is trying to say
that things are complicated, messy, and take time to resolve-- if
they can be resolved.
aspect of fiction is probably a significant reason why, in our
nanosecond culture, no one wants to read books anymore.
Maybe all of
this is just a snobby and underhanded way of saying that High
Literature ("fiction") is better than Popular and Pulp Junk
If it is,
that's okay with me. I do like both myth and fiction, as I've
defined them here (or myth and author, as I suggest
elsewhere). But I salute those
who are writing that definition of fiction. It's a losing battle
for us to try to find our humanity rather than our tribalness.
Still, it's worth it.