In days of yore, storytelling was an important contribution to society. Storytelling preserved and communicated the deeds and ethics of a society. Some were literal and some were allegorical. Literal does not mean “just like” or any such thing; literal means “actual, without metaphor or allegory” as in “Some were actual events and some were allegories.” Allegory means the content is to be interpreted; this means that myths, for example, are considered allegories because it is assumed that these gods do not exist in reality and their actions and communications, therefore, a representative of a culture’s moral and survival beliefs. (I’m told I’m wrong about this, that stories were entertainment and that there are lots of stories with no real arc to them, no resolution, no underlying message. I’m thinking about this.)
As a child I created stories, in my head, to make sense of a world in which the rules were shaky and motile. Here I’m using motile in the zoological sense: capable of motion. I wrote poetry because poetry seemed to be more about the true core of an issue rather than window dressing or extolling. I didn’t have much experience with the wider world of poetry and was being trained to always look at a poem as an allegory. The only book I was trained to not question, and the training did not take, was the christian bible (or rather a specific version of the christian bible…how something can be literally true and have variations in content was way beyond me).
The stories I created as a child helped me navigate a strange world. I was raised in a house with a secret: mental illness. We didn’t know what it was then, just a difficult person in our midst, someone we felt loyalty towards, someone of authority in the house. This miasma of secrecy and hidden truths forced me to look for the story under the events, to find out what was really happening; apparently I thought I could cope better if I understood the underlying story. I don’t know if that’s true, I look at others and see they’ve used very different methods and I’m not sure who is coping better and with what.
This urge to understand the underlying story has affected my own writing. My poetry tends to be spare. I hope it’s tight and focused. My stories are a different kettle of fish. Stories are terribly difficult for me to finish. Part of that is a strand of my PTSD. The part that isn’t is this: I don’t know what the moral is. I don’t know what the lesson, the outcome that best fits the story and the underlying story. Life has not provided any good samples. Conflict generally results in more conflict rather than resolutions. Fiction can be so satisfying this way. Even histories and biographies look for the lesson at the end of the run.