“The miracle of your mind isn’t that you can see the world as it is. It’s that you can see the world as it isn’t.” -Kathryn Schulz, from her TED Talk “On Being Wrong”
It has been said that humans are the only creatures on Earth which can place ourselves in situations that don’t exist. That could mean fantasizing about the future or thinking back on alternate routes we might have taken in the past.
Does it mean we are the only creatures which can experience regret? Or the only ones who can experience hope? Does it mean we are the only ones who can envision a world that is better than it is now or a life different from the one we’re living?
I think it may mean we are the only creatures who tell stories, for whom the line between what’s fact and what’s fiction is often quite fuzzy.
One of my favorite films goes by the tile Big Fish, by Director Tim Burton. It’s the story of a man telling the story of his life, and the story of a son grappling with the definition of truth. Because, you see, this man’s stories are whimsical and fantastic and strange and beautiful, driven by hope and fear and dreams and love rather than logic or practicality. The characters don’t always have names and locations don’t always correlate to a specific point on a map. Time slows down and time speeds up and jumps from past to present to future and back. The lines aren’t straight and the pieces don’t fit together with perfect angles and this the son resents. And this he struggles to understand, until he follows the footsteps of these stories himself and realizes that fiction may indeed be closer to the truth than fact.
Because – after all – we don’t see the world as it is, we see it as we are. And all we ever know and all we can ever tell is the story of our lives as we know it, and the stories of the events and places and people that have intersected with ours.
And those stories don’t always have a clear beginning. Or if they do have a beginning it’s not one we can pinpoint and often occurred long before any of the characters even existed. So there’s nothing left to do but pick a spot and start telling from there. And inevitably we have to hop back and forth into earlier and later times to get the details right. But that’s okay because life isn’t so easily segmented into moments than can be traced like a connect-the-dots. And unless you’re looking at a clock, I’m quite sure that time doesn’t move in a straight line either, and certainly not at a constant speed, at least not from where I’m looking.
And now I’m reading a book, the first book translated from the Kurdish language to English. I’ve been reading this same book for months now, and I swear that the more pages I read the more pages add on to the end. I pick it up and put it down and read other books in the times in between. The timeline is upside down and rightside up and its settings don’t exist and it contradicts itself and admits that it really makes no sense at all. And the entire book is about imagination. And it’s one of the truest stories I’ve ever read.
We are creatures on strange journeys, guided and followed by hearts and minds all our own. And as such, we are storytellers.
“I believe that all strange journeys begin with a step in an unknown direction. To become an imaginative creature you first need to take a step and follow a route without knowing where it goes.”- I Stared at the Night of the City – a novel written by Bachtyar Ali, translated by Kareem Abdulrahman