It’s been such a terrible couple of weeks for me – losing long-time, furry companions always is, not to mention being kicked by a horse to the extent that walking is currently a major enterprise – that I thought I’d like to lose myself in writing abut something different. I am constantly aware of the privilege of being a storyteller. If life doesn’t work temporarily, I have only to pick up my pen and I can be somewhere, some-time, else.
However, achieving that balance between reality and fantasy is never an easy task, I think. Even within the fantasy genre – of which I read lots in envy of the amazing creations on the page – the characters and scenarios have to have just enough elements of the world we live in for the reader to be able to connect with the story. And books that are supposedly about ‘true’ events and ‘real’ people must contain sufficient imaginary content to entertain.
There is, for me, a similar dialogue to be engaged in whenever I undertake any new enterprise. How realistic, for example, was it for me to consider setting up the annual Skills Share Day at the Weavers’ Guild (last Saturday), including tutoring a spinning workshop? A question which needs to be balanced with: what wonderful ideas which I’ve learned from You-Tube, can I convey to fellow-members, and entice them to have a go?
Any major or long-term achievement is inevitably going to include a unique blend of these two strands of perception. Dipping in and out of the Olympics over the last week or so, I have witnessed over and over, competitors who strive to achieve the unbelievable by believing in it – and then doing what it takes. The perfect combination of fantasy and reality.
When I started out writing fiction, just under three years ago, I began from a place mostly made up of fantasy. I went to a Creative Writing class because I wanted to see if I could do it. (Write fiction, that is; I’ve been writing academically for decades.) After a few weeks, a serious bout of reality kicked in. Completely unexpectedly, I found myself creating characters, relating stories and painting scenes – and I was told I was good at it!
Next bit of fantasy – could I complete a short story? An entire piece with a beginning, a middle and an end? the reality – I needed to create a discipline of writing every day. I discovered that by fulfilling the realistic part of the deal, the fantasy also became a reality. Wow, this is magic stuff!
So I tried a bigger fantasy. A novel. This concept was so far outside my realm of experience and aspiration that I couldn’t even address the work with that name to begin with. I called it ‘a longer piece of work’. What made it possible was sticking to the same piece of reality as before – writing every day.
It took me several weeks to put that first chapter together, allowing myself to ‘play’ inside a bubble that neatly placed all realistic expectations outside consideration when I was actually writing. By continuing to enter this world of ‘unreality’ on a daily basis, I gradually began to compile chapters – though I had no idea where they were heading – until, round about chapter 6 or 7, I think, I began to lay claim to the title of ‘novel’.
The reality was, the more I committed, the more my fantasy materialised. Until I discovered, I had, indeed, written an entire book. And no sooner had I accomplished that than my imagination was tapping me on the shoulder with a second. This is a fascinating process, one which never ceases to feel satisfying, astonishing and blessed.
As I move further into the reality I discover I have created for my life, I am conscious of the depths that fantasy allows. If one insists in always being realistic, life can become thin, tedious and devoid of joy. If, on the other hand, you choose only to fantasize – perhaps, constantly dreaming of a ‘better’ future or getting lost in nostalgia about a ‘perfect’ past – then life is continually a disappointment.
It is a strange and delicate balance of both wishing and doing that brings us the life of our dreams.