The Benefits of Reading Fiction

Reading fiction has surprising benefits. We get entertained, identify with characters and experience empathy. We follow characters’ paths through trials and difficulties we sometimes haven’t encountered ourselves.

Watching characters go through their daily lives, readers may come to understand that they aren’t alone with their problems. Everyone has difficulties, whether with parents, siblings, friends, or bosses. Stories often help us realize there are alternatives to what characters experience and  alternatives for us as well. Visualization in problem solving trains our minds and enhances our imaginations (Brain Connectivity, Emory University).

Identifying with characters we read about helps us understand that we’re not alone in our lives.  Pretty much all stages of life appear in fiction: aging and its problems, the quarrels and betrayals of youth, lovers’ crises like jealousy, break-ups, divorce, grief, illness, even loneliness.

There is no better feeling than sitting in a chair by a window or in front of the fireplace reading a book. The time is ours alone. If nothing else, reading makes us comfortable with being alone and that in itself is a valuable life lesson.

Reading can put our brains into a pleasurable trance-like state, kind of like meditation, and reading can bring the benefits of deep relaxation and inner calm. A research study at the University of Sussex in 2009,revealed that  regular readers slept better, had lower stress levels, higher self-esteem, and lower rates of depression than non-readers. Why is that so? Because reading fiction lets us escape from ourselves and vicariously enter the world of the characters, and that’s something we all need on occasion (Carol Fitzgerald, Book Report Network).

Reading fiction helps us disengage from life’s problems and slows our heart rates. Researchers have found that people “…desire to unplug from a constant stream of visual information.”

What’s interesting about reading stories is that we have the unique opportunity to share vicariously in the characters’ longings and frustrations, guess at their hidden motives, and track their encounters with friends, enemies, neighbours, and others around them. A readers, we engage in empathy as we step into a character’s skin. Fiction simulates reality, lets us identify with problems and successes, helps us prepare for our own interactions in life. As professor Keith Oakley, a University of Toronto Cognitive Psychologist, says, “… novels, stories and dramas can help us understand the complexities of social life”.

Fiction readers also tend to tolerate life’s uncertainties better. Stories often present characters with dilemmas for which there are no obvious solutions or, alternatively, a variety of solutions. Watching characters evaluate their choices, we evaluate with them. In that way, we understand how different circumstances present different problems. As readers, we become more tolerant of others, less judgmental.

Science Fiction, whether scientific or fantastic, presents ideas that go beyond known boundaries. It postulates that change is all around us. It shows us changed worlds and fosters the idea that we can live through change and survive. It presents social models, utopian or dystopian or something in the middle that’s more like us. Through its polar social visions, science Fiction helps us understand our place in our particular world and offers models of future possibility. That expands our perception of the changes that are possible.

Reading fiction  keeps our brains active: readers anticipate events and outcomes, piece together possibilities, and learn what characters learn. “It’s a mind stimulant”, says Jerome Boateng. “I love being exposed to ideas and being able to experience so many times, places and events.”

That’s not to say that non-fiction reading doesn’t have benefits. Of course, it does. We all read manuals, textbooks, newspapers, magazines like the Economist, articles on specific topics, but reading fiction gives us a time-out. We’re allowed to suspend our sensibilities and sink into the story.

Fiction contains tons of facts, only they’re packaged differently. It presents information in the guise of entertainment. Readers can relax and keep their minds open. The benefits of reading stories range from improving mental agility, processing information better, and acquiring a richer vocabulary. Reading fiction makes us more rounded as human beings and therefore happier.

 

Metaphor

I’ve been thinking about metaphor. But to talk about it, I have to at least mention simile. As I understand it, a simile is simply a comparison: something is like something else. And usually, at least in literature, similes are used to link something concrete to something abstract, like a feeling or an idea. Although there’s a big difference between a rose and a feeling, a simile can suggest what the feeling is like by comparing it with the rose. For example: My love is like a red, red rose. Something of how we respond to roses, their beauty, their colour, gets linked to a feeling: love. And in that comparison we pass meaning to someone else, however fuzzy the translation may be.

Metaphor is different. It doesn’t develop a comparison, it establishes an identity. One thing is another thing. Consider what happens if I change the line we’re using to the following: My love is a red, red rose. The sentence says that the rose is his love, it’s identified with it. And that’s a different thing altogether. A simile, based in comparison, is logical enough for us. A metaphor, on the other hand, requires more since it makes the abstraction and the object a single reality. It’s not an objective correlative, an object used to suggest a feeling. It’s a fusion of the two.

Metaphor is more than simile because it creates an identity: one thing is another thing; thus it defies everyday logic, or at least makes us stretch it a bit. So instead of saying my love is like a red, red rose, saying my love is a red, red rose changes things. That’s not a comparison, implied or otherwise; it’s something quite different.

Symbols are metaphors, sort of silent powers that fuse the world of things with the world of ideas. Think of it this way: All roses are manifestations in time and space of “roseness,” an abstraction that is more real than any manifestation of it, i.e. the rose itself. Plato argues that the idea of something represents the  reality and that the world of things is illusory. All things are simply manifestations of the reality, which lies outside time and space and thus is not transitory but eternal. The symbol is more powerful, more real, than the thing it appears to be. Yup! The manifestation is just an expression in time and space of the reality, the abstraction.

Metaphors affect our daily lives much more than we realize. I have distant cousins; she’s not up to seeing you just now; he’s feeling down today. These spatial expressions mean something quite different here than what up and down and distant usually mean. He’s a cold and distant man adds even more. Notice that these are not comparisons; they are identities: one thing is the other.

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Literature and Identity

Literature and Identity

Exposure to reading fiction provides a foundation that initiates in us greater awareness of ourselves and of our culture; that helps to liberate us from provincialism; and that provides the potential for the kind of personal growth that leads to mature identity.

We learn through familiarity, through repeated exposure, and it’s important to expose ourselves to the best that has been thought and said. Such exposure fosters a quality of open-mindedness, a respect for the integrity of systems of thought, and through analogous application, alleviates our own moral ambiguity by developing in us a disinclination to too readily accept a pervasive utilitarian relativism which tends to ignore moral issues.

If we learn by example, by repeated exposure, is not the literary work under consideration then the best teacher for us? It is infinitely more patient; it repeats the same words, however often one consults it; its hero commits the same acts, articulates the same dilemmas, and discovers in the same manner the nature of his world, the limitations to which he is subject as a man, and the wisdom to which he can aspire.

To sift and file and sort through the vicarious experience literature provides, for example, helps us gain sophistication in the use of language in order to articulate our experience, to convert it, to use it to better comprehend the environment in which we find ourselves and our place in it.

Those who never have that exposure often have difficulty forming a meaningful relationship between themselves and the world around them. Many are rendered inarticulate and can only turn within themselves in silence. Such people remain unable to judge the morality of Dostoevsky’s inquisitor because they are unable to judge the morality or immorality of their own acts. They see Dostoevsky’s Jesus simply as a man who smiles within his cell, and the Christian archetypal figure simply as a man who died in a particularly nasty way.

In the literary universe, providing our exposure is long enough, we can gain in awareness as we discover a coherent pattern in experience. If we can learn to imitate Coleridge and suspend our disbelief, we will discover that a work of literature is a total body of verbal creation, that it has a shape, that there are elements of formal design like the circle and the cross that have become cornerstones of literary creation. We will discover that literature builds allusively, by reference to itself, and that this allusiveness is significant because it proves that we don’t just read one novel after another, but that we enter into a total universe, as Frye suggests, of which every work of literature forms a part.

We will, through exposure, develop a healthy tolerance for the integrity of the completed form, and will sense that judgement depends on how well the images and metaphors an author uses to build up his meaning validate themselves. We will discover in our investigations some of the reasons why literature does not develop; we will discover that nature never really changes much, that the human mind tends to react in a uniform manner when faced with a problem of design. We will discover that the material the writer uses is essentially simple and visual, that in visual terms, at least, both we and the writer continue to live on a flat earth where the sun rises and sets, and where there are four seasons that continually repeat themselves.

A French-Canadian philosopher[1] has defined human identity as a form of coherence attainable only by osmosis in some sort of universe or environment that is itself coherent. Individual identity can be fostered, by osmosis if by no other way, through a study of such a universe, for it brings order and relationship to human activity and engenders in us a quality of open-mindedness, an attitude that recognizes the integrity of systems and patterns, and a new sensitivity toward our own values, capacities, and limitations.

 

[1] Jacques Dufresne, Education and Indifference, Canada Studies Cultural Exchange, Montreal, Quebec, January, 1973.

 

Plot

I was listening to the radio a while ago and heard a writer talking about plotting a novel, a crime novel. He stressed the fact that he wrote out scene details on pieces of paper, different colours for different sub plots, and stuck them up all over the walls of the room he wrote in. He spent some time rearranging them periodically to see how the parts balanced and to discover what the order should be. He said, as well, that many writers use the technique.

All of this was news to me.  I don’t plot anything, and I don’t use little pieces of paper to check balance or order. I do, however, carry a little book in my car, so when I’m stopped, enjoying a cup of coffee in some park or other, I jot down ideas that have been floating around, usually concerning a problem I haven’t yet solved.  The results are often less than stunning, but the process seems to focus my attention on something I should pay attention to and don’t want to.

I’ve written  novels without solving one of these problems. For instance, in my second novel, I don’t know what my murderer does with the clothes of the girls he murders. I won’t go into why the clothes aren’t with the girl. Just accept that they aren’t since my killer took them with him. I have to find out why he did that and where they went. At least he’d been consistent, doing that every time he killed. So there’s a pattern anybody could see. I see it alright, I just can’t account for it. I’m sometimes as much in the dark about my character’s motivation as any reader would be, and I’m the one who created him in the first place!  I know, I know. that makes little sense, but there it is. So for me, plotting on paper beforehand or even during, doesn’t help. I let the character become who he is, sometimes in spite of me, and then I have to try to understand why his actions are as they are. It’s frustrating.

I haven’t solved that little problem of the clothes yet, and the novel’s finished and in its second edit. I’m still messing with it, of course, and I have to solve the clothes thing somehow. Since I couldn’t in the second novel, I had my killer escape the final attempt to catch him. That meant a third novel, which is now over half done, and I’m no closer to an answer.  A recent plan was to have the character caught and when questioned about the clothes, have him explain it to the dumb cops. But that doesn’t get me out of the jam since I still don’t know why the clothes must go or where they must go to. Now, I’ve decided to kill him off in a large park somewhere, a big shootout and a really exciting ending! If I can’t explain his actions, at least I can distract my readers and maybe they’ll ignore that little point.

I’m not sure whether what I’ve been talking about has anything to do with plotting, but I feel that narrative structure evolves: no excessive plotting, characters sometimes out of my control, and problems, lots of problems. Somehow, though, things eventually right themselves.

I do have to admit, however, that I spend a lot of time rearranging sections of my novels to try to fit the stuff together in a way that will make sense to a reader. Maybe if I planned a little beforehand, I’d save myself some time and stress. But it just isn’t how I work, so I don’t plan much, other than a vague outline of what I intend. Sometime when I feel stuck, I’ll maybe give the panning thing a try.

 

Narrative

Narrative is simply the flow of time in a novel or short story. Sounds simple, but it’s not, really. Writers can shrink time, stretch it out, make it bigger (more significant), make it smaller (less significant), fracture it, bend it, turn it upon itself, and so on. Writers can do whatever they want with time in the interests of story.

The one thing time isn’t is linear and progressive.  Well, it is but it isn’t. It’s progressive in the sense that cause and effect can’t function if it isn’t linear. If any act carries consequences, then those consequences must be laid out in time somehow.  And usually that means sequence, progression. Not always, but usually.

One of the simplest ways to understand what writers can do with time is to look at a waveform on an oscilloscope, say a 60-cycle wave. The waveform flows along a time line and that line can be controlled by reducing or lengthening it. Make it shorter and the waveform bunches up, make it longer and the waveform stretches out. Visually, then, the waveform looks different depending on what the operator does with the time function. It’s the same waveform; it hasn’t changed; only the time function has.

There’s also an amplitude control. If the operator increases the amplitude, the wave gets higher and lower in relation to the time line. If he decreases the amplitude, the wave gets squished down around the time line. Again, the waveform hasn’t changed at all; it just looks as if it has.

As an example of how complex time function can be when a writer gets going with it, consider the novels of Charles Williams: Many Dimensions, Descent into Hell, All Hallows’ Eve, to name a few. In All Hallows’ Eve, we meet the central character walking across London Bridge. The problem is he’s already dead. A single hill in one of the novels exists in a number of time-space dimensions all extant at the same  time. There’s only one hill, just several expressions of it as if all of those separate hills in their own time can exist together in a single moment. Williams is a confusing writer. Reading him is like looking at Escher’s staircase. It’s hard to make logical sense of anything.

Usually, time function is a little less complicated, but it can be stretched or compressed like that 60-cycle wave. In William Golding‘s Pincher Martin, good old Pincher is blown off his ship in the middle of the Atlantic. He washes up on a barren rock in the empty sea and we spend some tortuous times with him as he tries to survive, and it isn’t fun for him or for us. At the very end of the novel, we learn that Martin hit the water and drowned. That few seconds between hitting and drowning is the time of the whole novel: an instant stretched into a long nasty life on a barren rock.

Time can be compressed in the same way, and writers often do so because they can’t do everything at once. Consider, for example, a mystery writer dealing with a murder. He can do a number of things with time. He can describe the murderer actually committing the murder. He can describe the victim’s reaction. He can describe the setting in which the murder takes place. He can even describe what either the victim or the murderer is thinking and feeling, but  he can’t do all these things at the same time even though they’re all happening together. Writers jump back and forth in time to accomplish what they need to accomplish and the importance of the event determines how duration is presented.

In the world of the novel, many things go on simultaneously as they do in life. The writer, though, has to sort of slice up what’s going on and present fragments of that totality to the reader by messing with time. He might use flashbacks, or he might just jump about and present chunks in the order he thinks the reader will accept.

Experience in life is different. Were we to see a murder, we’d see it all at once laid out in a quick sequence. For a writer to describe a murder, he has to take that experience and present slices of it in a way that seems logical to a reader. That’s a different kind of  experience.

Then there’s memory. Time is strange in human memory. For instance,  eventless time, although it should seem long in the mind, barely registers at all. Duration needs events, like Christmases or weddings, to give it substance and meaning. Events are like fence posts to hold the fence up. It’s the events that give time its importance and its place in memory. Duration is just like that time line on the oscilloscope: nothing means anything until something passes along it.

Time is one of the very flexible tools a writer has. He can play with it, expand it, contract it, vary its importance, lose it entirely or make a moment a lifetime.

 

 

Which Person?

Which person, first or third, works best?

I suppose it depends on the writer and what’s being written, but for mystery writers person poses a problem.

Here’s where I run into just that kind of situation. Let’s say I’m about to write a section that involves two people equally; that is, both have the same weight in the scene. The rule for point of view is that only one of them can be dominant; that is, the scene should be seen though the dominant person’s eyes only.

If the writer is using  first-person narration there isn’t a problem. Every scene is through the eyes of the protagonist. But if the novel is in third person, every scene has its own narrator and it is through his eyes only that we see. That’s where my problem lies.

Third-person doesn’t give me the same sense of immediacy as first person would, I don’t think, but it does provide opportunities that I’m told I’m not supposed to take. So it raises the problem I’ve mentioned. If I want both characters in a scene to express how they’re feeling, and I often do, I want both to reveal what they think about the other. Now how can I do that if only one of them is allowed to think and express himself?

Sure, I can give him a kind of omnipotence, but that’s sort of phony, don’t you think? I can give him the sort of background that would make his understanding of the other fairly complete, say the way a brother knows what his sibling is thinking, or the way a psychopath thinks he knows what others are thinking and feeling. There are all sorts of ways I can set up the situation, but none of them comes close to allowing both characters the freedom to express themselves.

The guys who edit my manuscripts, however, say that giving both characters the right of full expression would give the reader a kind of verbal whiplash, sort of like watching a tennis match, back and forth, back and forth.

I just read a novel entirely in the first person. Tiny short chapters, lots of them, and first person narration. In the case of this writer, the main character in any scene limits what can be revealed about the others. For the author I’m reading now, that’s not much of a problem. Every scene works well.

But I can’t help thinking that things might be better if the reader did have to stretch a bit to handle two minds at once expressing themselves in a single scene. Anyone out there working on the same problems? Maybe it’s just me. After all I’m new at this, and without a lot of writing experience, perhaps problems that plague me are only little hiccoughs for others.

 

Exposition

I’ve been thinking about exposition, prehistory, that part of the story that comes before the story actually opens and how writers handle it. If you read stuff that has to do with story structure, you find that most writers who describe exposition have it coming at the beginning of the story, a kind of pre-chapter if you will.

But mystery writers don’t usually do that, and here’s why: mysteries open, usually, with some extreme event, a murder, an accident, something to catch a reader’s interest. At least that’s what I’ve been told by people who should know, like Penguin editors. Maybe it has something to do with our short attention spans these days, or how easily we get bored, or even our apathy which seems to require some extraordinary impulse to penetrate.

I know my own manuscript was sent back for a number of reasons, among them the lack of a satisfactory opening grizzly enough to catch and keep the  reader reading. The other dissatisfactions I’ll consider in another post.

So what do mystery writers do? A whole lot of things. Some don’t even bother with exposition, some put it in the novel much later on where it helps the current action, and some introduce it in bits when necessary. In “Harry One Sigh,” some gets in at the beginning with the murder of the researcher and her assistant in the university library. And that requires some prehistory of the assistant and even a little about the researcher. It gets complicated sometimes. The rest of what needs to get in there to give a character greater depth gets in in bits and pieces, and usually is required to explain some current action or event and the character’s reaction to it.

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To Be or Not To Be

We use the verb “to be” a lot mostly because it’s easier than looking around for a verb that’s more accurate. But “to be” is a passive verb; it doesn’t do anything but join parts of a sentence together. Take this sentence: “The road was wet and shiny.” It provides information, sure, but it’s a bit bland. If we use an active verb rather than “was”, we get something more satisfying. “The wet road glistened in the pools of light thrown down by the occasional street light.” I added a bit of detail and using “glistened” rather than “was” seems to me to add more life to the event. As well, I moved the word “wet” in front of the subject, the road, rather than leaving it after the verb “was”. In the original sentence, the verb “was” carries what grammarians call a subjective completion. They call it that because it literally completes the subject by linking “wet” back to “road”, so putting “wet” in front of “road” as an adjective makes sense. Once I did that, however, I didn’t need the verb “was” anymore to link parts of the sentence together, and I had a chance to make the sentence really work hard.

That’s part of what makes my life difficult: removing passive verbs and searching for active ones in what I write. Make no mistake, though, the verb “to be” in all its forms is so damn useful I can’t avoid using it.  No one can. The problem comes when I get lazy and use it far too much.

Overuse drains the life out of any prose. One time, my partner and editor, Renee, said to me when I got stuck, “Just start with ‘It was a dark and stormy night,’ and go from there.” So I did. But I had to do something with that verb “was”. I thought a bit and came up with “Storm clouds driven by heavy winds washed sheets of rain over the road, narrowing my vision to two feeble cones of light from my headlights.”  Again, once I had the verbs I couldn’t resist adding some detail. And that’s the point I’m making. Once you start using active verbs, details follow. With the details come texture and atmosphere.

The best way to see how this works is to write a paragraph of your own. It’ll have a lot of passive verbs. Describe a park near you. Then go back and start changing passive to active ones wherever possible. You’ll find that the urge to add detail is impossible to ignore, and you’ll start writing much more interesting prose.

I used to make my students do that, and it annoyed the hell out of them. But they wrote better stuff. It was selfish of me. I just got tired of reading the usual dull stuff and thought it would make my life easier if they leaned to use a few more active verbs. I got happier and their grades improved. And they had more fun writing. A win-win situation if ever there was one.

So to wrap this up: Not to be is better than to be as far as prose is concerned. My apologies to Shakespeare.

Write What You Know

I’ve heard this idea expressed by numerous people, critics and writers especially, and it makes sense. However, to understand what it means to “write what you know,” I have to look at my experiences and then examine what I write to see what the connection really is. And that brings up some interesting insights and viewpoints on writing.

What strikes me immediately when I look at my fiction and the places I’ve been that get into my stories is the way the places get transformed. They’re not used literally at all; that is, they’re not used as they are. The sense of place is moulded to the story. It’s not simply lifted from nature and plopped down wherever needed.

Let me give you an example from my first novel.  I’d been writing for a couple of hours one morning and wanted a break, so I drove out of my temporary home in Vancouver, took Canada Way to a small street called Deer Lake Drive. Two blocks in, Deer Lake Park opens up and I pulled into the small parking lot. I walked to the water’s edge and sat, drinking in the solitude the lake and its surroundings presented.  That sense of solitude seemed to permeate the very air and I luxuriated in it as I watched the Vancouver skyline hover over the lush green park. The quiet, the smell, the visual tranquility were astounding. It was suddenly broken by a pair of motorcyclists on large Harleys roaring into the lot.

At that time in my story I needed some place for Harry, my protagonist, to wait for Sabina as she did her cloud stuff. As I resumed writing, Deer Park fit the bill.  I used it all, even the two Hell’s Angels, but saw everything through Harry’s mind.

The description was accurate enough, but it’s the pastoral nature of the setting that gets to him, not the solitude, not even the lake. He spent his time looking at the meadows on the far side and the apartment towers that framed the view.  The park for Harry became a contrast to the business of the stroll and east-end traffic. I used it not only as somewhere for Harry to wait, but also as a juxtaposed setting to balance my story. It gave me a chance to emphasize that contrast, the wasteland of the city versus the gardenlike park, before the action of my story resumed. I’ll have more to write about that wasteland-garden pattern later.

Vision is a very strong element.  It provides the story’s setting, but we must remember that the setting are tempered by whoever the narrator is since it’s seen through his or her eyes.

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Indifference: Does Life Have Meaning?

An existential philosopher once wrote about the benign indifference of the universe, i.e. the meaning in life, and the dread that idea caused in most people, the existentialist excepted, of course.  Richard Dawkins has taken that one step further suggesting that if the universe is not only indifferent but also has no purpose, then human life must be equally meaningless and without purpose. That doesn’t preclude, I don’t think, the obvious drive in life to become, to realize potential. We see that every spring in renewal. We see it in the drive in everything to reach full potential. Perhaps that isn’t purpose exactly, but it’s something other than indifference. To me, it offers some assurance even if it is a rote response, an instinctive drive.

A corollary to this idea is the age-old question of meaning: does life have meaning or not?  Social systems certainly subscribe to the idea that life has meaning as do religious systems, albeit with very different outcomes. But if the universe is indifferent as the existential philosopher suggests, and life is without purpose as Dawkins suggests, perhaps meaning and significance and purpose are all a product of the human imagination. Thus reality is determined, as far as purpose and significance go, by each of us if we so choose.

Of course, most of us escape into custom, habit, or the expectations inherent in social norms, which Beckett’s Vladimir says are only “a great deadener”. Maybe too, his characters are right: all we can do is wait for Godot who will never come, and we play all the games we have to while away the hours and days while waiting. It’s a pretty pessimistic view and dovetails nicely with the idea of an indifferent universe and the idea of purposelessness.

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Cyclic Theory

Every Heard of Cyclic Theory?

When I was teaching classes in literary structure, one of the things I looked at was the idea that seasonal and solar flux impacted literature whether writers intended it to or not.  If one stood back a little from the narrative, one could sense the structure of images on which the narrative depended. Each of the seasons, then, provided a kind of objective correlative for abstractions like the feelings and inner nature of characters.

At its simplest, villains were always dark, heroes always blue-eyed and blond. At its most complex, the story produced a rain of images that gave it its strength, its universality.

Okay, if that idea has merit, I should be able to see it in what I write myself. And when I look at my first novel, sure enough, colouration comes from the setting most definitely. The first time Harry runs into trouble, it happens in an alley. When he’s beaten, it happens in an alley. Both of these places are negative in nature, dirty, littered, filled with the detritus of illicit love. The center of the book, the war in Chinatown where darkness and death are concentrated, also happens in an alley, and the description is indeed an objective correlative for the mass of emotions flooding the place.

Sometimes the settings are subtle, sometimes more blatant, but I’m convinced the idea of seasonal and solar flux has merit. I suspect many of our social institutions stem from the same source: erecting a green tree with lights on it in the depths of winter at the darkest time of the year, holding weddings in June, putting parks, green spaces in the cities, on land that is immensely valuable. All these things stem from the link between our imaginations and the cyclic world around us: spring into summer into fall into winter, then rebirth into spring again, morning into afternoon, then evening and night, only to have the sun reborn each morning.

No wonder our central myths contain images of  death and rebirth, wasteland and garden.  The dark has always made us uneasy; it robs us of knowledge because we can’t see. Eeven though there is nothing to fear, the dark echoes our uneasiness and becomes a material representation of how we feel.

Storms have been used forever to symbolize violence of one sort or another, sometimes foreshadowing, sometimes part of the action.  And the juxtaposition of garden and wasteland, so central to our biblical myth, seems to be a part of every city I’ve ever been in.

So maybe we should read that way, a little deeper than simple narrative. Let the images and symbols work, be more conscious of them. wouldn’t that make the experience richer?