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Genesis of a Historical Novel

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

what's your story?

This morning: rain. I've just opened the office blinds (the hexagonal acetate rod that controls the blinds still swings from the action). Across the wet greenery of the garden I see activity in the neighbors' window: the woman packing or unpacking something. There is a faint, slow percussion of raindrops hitting wood and plastic. Two floors up from me Kimmie is still getting ready for work.

Where are my thoughts these days. Well, on other than a purely personal front, I'm noticing how ideas are all around us. An idea, once formed, seems to remain part of the permanent stock of human culture, at least as long as there are records of the past. Whether a particular idea is regarded as true seems to be determined by the temper of the times. I was just reading, for instance, about how the Phoenicians circumnavigated Africa in the 7th century BC, and noted how the sun, in the course of their journey, came to rise and set in the north instead of the south--early evidence for the sphericity of the Earth, a theory which was to be developed by Greek philosophers soon after. When I was a child I was taught that it was Christopher Columbus who "proved" that the Earth was round in 1492, while in fact this had been proved at least 1,800 years earlier. "Spherical Earth" and "flat Earth" are two ideas, and they're no doubt held by different people to this day.

But the spherical Earth seems to be a matter of fact. What about other, more value-charged ideas? Those are perhaps the more interesting. Does God exist? What is the nature of consciousness? Why is there a universe? It seems the mere posing of such questions sparks ideas--suggestions, possibilities, guesses. Each of us chooses certain ones and decides to believe in these--to hold them as true.

A book I'm reading right now, by Neil Forsyth, The Old Enemy: Satan and the Combat Myth, contains an interesting, and for me, new, way of defining myth: "the stories we believe". When I read this I found it simple yet powerful and provocative. I hadn't thought about it in just that way before. It contains two elements: A myth is a story, and more particularly, a story we believe.

Think about it. What stories do you believe?

We have our own stories: the story of our life. The stories of particular events within it. We have stories that we believe about other people in our lives--stories they may or may not agree with.

Those might be called "personal myths". Then there are wider, more generally accepted stories. Some of these are termed scientific theories, such as the theory of evolution: the story of how humanity came to be from animal precursors. If you believe that story, then it's your myth--part of your mythology. We have the story of how the universe originated with the Big Bang and developed through impersonal forces into the vast, complex, and life-supporting thing it is today. If you believe that story, then it is part of your mythology.

Most of what we believe is on the basis of authority: we believe what we're told to believe. I've never measured the cosmic background radiation; experts tell me that the universe is expanding and must have originated in a Big Bang, so I believe it. People tell me there's a country called Venezuela; I've never been there, but I believe that.

Much depends, then, on whom we regard as authorities. Do I regard The Bible as an authority? If so, why do I? It will because someone else told me to. That person is an authority.

Of course, we can accept or reject an authority. I'm thinking that often the changing of an authority in our lives, switching from rejecting to accepting, or accepting to rejecting, is an epochal event: life-changing, empowering. Our beliefs then change, and with them our mythology.

So I'm asking myself: what stories do I believe? And maybe even more importantly: why do I believe them? I think somewhere around here one gets close to the beating heart of one's character.

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