Fiction in LIFE

I’ve had some amazing experiences in my life. I’ve eaten guinea pig under crystal-clear Milky Way nights at high-altitude on Lake Titicaca. I walked on The Great Wall of China. But some of my most memorable moments were not even real. They were pure fiction. Books, films, & TV shows that gave me sorrow, surprise & excitement – fictional moments that have stayed with me as indelibly as if they were real events. It is hilarious to admit, but the 13 year old me probably felt more engagement from watching “STAR WARS” than from any REAL event that happened to me in 1977. I suspect that I’m not unusual though. Homo sapiens is the story-telling animal, and fiction is a big part of any human life nowadays. 

fiction in life

Long before social media & the internet, TV & film, and the printing press, people enjoyed stories. Back when we average peasants were unable to read, people were likewise enthralled by storytellers, whether at the hearth, the tavern, the pulpit or the stage. However, when pre-literate people felt excitement, love, or horror it was mostly from primary sources. From a life actually lived. They were not so immersed in fiction as we are today. 

Nowadays, fiction can now actually be more durable than reality. My memories of “RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK may be sharper than my memories of long-ago actual visits to Machu Picchu, or bicycling through pagoda sunsets in Bagan. Simply because those real events from my own life can be never be re-experienced, but fictional events can be re-played simply by pressing a button. I could of course revisit Machu Picchu, but the crowded site of 2023 could not feel as in 1989, when it was empty. That particular moment continues only in the memories of the few who were there. 

As well as my years roaming the world & having real life adventures, I’ve also spent years doing the polar opposite, as a medical shut-in. When the scope of my actual world was severely limited, my life was enriched virtually by my access to streaming services. So I truly appreciate the life-saving power of fiction, and have thought a lot about its place in a real, lived human life. 

The human sensitivity to narrative enriches our lives, but leaves us vulnerable too. To manipulation – whether a spam email about a lost inheritance, a political grift about the ‘other’ coming to take your stuff, or someone you know trying to warp your perception of things – the con always begins with a story..

Do other social animals communicate with stories? Do Crows tell each-other legends? Do Dolphins lie to their pod-mates? Can Elephants spread gossip? Do Wolves boast? I’m not sure.. but it is certain that we humans carry a lot of narratives in our minds. We are the Fiction-Loving Animal. Constantly reinterpreting reality, with stories about others or ourselves, sometimes self-defeating. 

This is not to deride fiction itself. After all, I work in the story business – crafting ‘lies’ that will hopefully make people laugh, and feel, or think, and even question. Our ready access to fiction in the modern era can wonderfully broaden our human experience. We’ve all visited outer space, been terrified of creatures that don’t exist, & felt empathy over tragic events that never happened, and come to love (or loathe) non-existent people. Just as facts can be used selectively to lie, I believe that fiction can be used to expose truths

I love stories, and my life has been greatly enriched by art, in all its forms. A life devoid of art sounds horrible, but a life of only fiction would be empty too. The nutrition of human existence comes from living real experiences with real people. The art that moves us, does so because it has bottled that feeling, and was made by a human being who’d likewise experienced a lived-life. Fiction is one of the best inventions homo sapiens ever came up with, but must be balanced against living a REAL life. 

10 thoughts on “Fiction in LIFE”

  1. No surprise that this would appeal to me. This part, especially:

    “We’ve all visited outer space, been terrified of creatures that don’t exist, & felt empathy over tragic events that never happened, and come to love (or loathe) non-existent people.”

    I feel stories more than many real life things. An opening in the the trees on a regular hike evoke the way I felt in 4th grade reading The Hobbit and being enthralled as the party was about to enter Mirkwood. My father took me to see Taxi Driver, Dog Day Afternoon, and The Deerhunter as a kid, and the care and fear of fictional people (well, based on real in the case of Dog Day Afternoon) I felt lingers with me today. I’ve been considering yet another rewatch of Detectorists because I miss the characters like I miss friends I’ve not seen in some time.

    It’s never lost on me the importance of fiction, art, music, and so many other things. There are times art was all I felt I had, and it all got me through the darkest days (including some things you’ve worked on)…

    • Fiction has been a lifeline for me too. When I was travelling through countries where I didn’t speak the language well (or at all) and consequently didn’t have close REAL friendships, reading stories WAS my emotional world. And it helped me through the time that I was a shut-in too.

      During the pandemic/work-from-home era, EVERYONE was essentially a shut-in, just as I’d been, spending more time, and investing a larger amount of emotional real estate, in online & fictional worlds than real lives. So it is a very powerful thing.

      Grappling with the difficulties of living a REAL life provides the nutritious, health-giving secret ingredients of fiction. Of any art form.. Art feeds life, and life feeds art, I guess? (and thanks for reminding me of DETECTORISTS. I might be ready for a RE-watch too!)

      Thanks for offering your perspective, Christopher!

  2. For some reason this pulled up some really vivid thoughts: Why my modern ass self felt so connected to the description of GRASS that opens up the book My Antonia.

    How on the inauguration day of 2020, I vividly remembered the ubiquitous quicksand of so many 1970s movies and tv shows.. which were made real as I plopped my way through the weird bogs trying to cross a watershed on my first adventure in the bay.

    How the wizard of oz, and the sound of music, and singing to Jesus Christ Superstar all give me the same sense of grounding. No matter how crap I feel.

    Anyways, I love it when you write. Thank you.

    • Oh, thank you. I’ve enjoyed writing autobiographical stories and random musings over the past few years, and glad if any of it actually connects with anyone else.

      I have become much more conscious of my own relationship to fiction over the past few years. I love it, of course. I couldn’t do what I do otherwise. But the FAKE NEWS/DISINFO era has highlighted how our sensitivity to narrative can be exploited. Fiction can become a problem when something we believe to be TRUE is actually a fiction, and our belief is exploited by others. Which might be the case more than we think.

      Thanks so much for commenting!

  3. Hi James. Great post.
    The only bloke I’ve ever read who seems to come close to explaining or at least illustrating the job of finding that balance between ‘REAL’ life and fictional story is C.G.Jung. If you’ve never read ‘Man and his Symbols’ , or ‘The Undiscovered Self’ , I reckon you’d find them interesting.

  4. Hi James, I Love Your works in Pixar and Laika’s BoxTrolls with Tony Stacchi
    But there’s a Work made in Colossal Pictures for MTV Latin America for a Show which began as a pre-taped top 15 countdown called Los 15+ Pedidos broadcast in 90s since MTVLA Launch Before renamed into Los 10+ Pedidos in August 2nd 1999

    According to Me in Lost Media Archive
    – You Directed the entire Graphic package
    – a Argentine Animation Studio called Jaime Diaz Producciones made the Characters Designs by 14 to 18 Years-Old Junior Animators(which i Can’t named thoses because DreadXP wants Blackmailed Me saying that all of their Horror Games are Rip-offs of Famous Video Games) and Also animated thoses
    – Phil Robinson, John Hays, Gordon Clark, Peter Chung, Carl Willat, J.G. Sheldrew, Mike Smith, Chris Hauge, George Evelyn, Denis Morella, Charlie Canfield, Ed Bell, Robin Steele, John Stevenson directed each Number Bumpers
    – Adam Savage did the Scenery Set with PaperCrafts under Managent of his partner Jamie Hyneman

    The Anthophomic/Furries Characters in Los 15+ Pedidos are as follows:
    15 – Deer♂
    14 – Two Cows ♂♀
    13 – Shark ♂
    12 – Racoon ♂
    11 – Monkey ♂
    10 – Fox ♀
    9 – Frog ♂
    8 – Otter ♂
    7 – Ragdoll Kitty ♂
    6 – Dragon♂
    5 – Bear♂
    4 – Holland Lop Bunny ♀
    3 – Mice ♂
    2 – Squirrel ♂
    1 – Welsh Corgi Dog♂

    i leave you how the First Countdown looks like:
    Los 15+ Pedidos
    Monday, October 4th 1993
    Hosted by Gonzalo Morales

    #15. Los Fantasmas Del Caribe – “Muchacha Triste” [DEBUT]
    #14. Amistades Peligrosos – “Me Haces Tanto Bien” [DEBUT]
    #13. Pet Shop Boys – “Go West” [DEBUT]
    #12. Miguel Bose – “Si Tu No Vuelves” [DEBUT]
    #11. U2 – “Numb” [DEBUT]
    #10. Roxette – “Almost Unreal” [DEBUT]
    #09. Ace OF Base – “All That She Wants” [DEBUT]
    #08. Aleks Syntek – “Mis Impulsos Sobre Ti” [DEBUT]
    #07. Maltida Vencidad – “Pachuco”[DEBUT]
    #06. Haddaway – “What is Love” [DEBUT]
    #05. Los Rodriguez – “Sin Documentos” [DEBUT]
    #04. Timbiriche – “Muriendo Lento” [DEBUT]
    #03. Los Prisoneros – “We Are Sudamerican Rockers” [DEBUT]
    #02. Duran Duran – “Ordinary World” [DEBUT]
    #01. Nirvana – “Heart-Shaped Box” [DEBUT]


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