Stories are who we are.
We tell stories all the time. We construct narratives about our lives. I tell you about my day, about what I did on vacation. I pick and choose details to give these stores structure and meaning.
Our lives are not the narratives we make of them, but our identities become intertwined with the stories we tell about ourselves.
There’s a dichotomy between who we think we are and who we really are. Stories bridge that gap. They are the fictions that hold us together, for better or for worse.
Even those who have an honest grasp of who they are, who can bridge that gap between who they think they are and who they really are, rely on stories.
It’s impossible to hold an entire life in your mind. It’s impossible to simultaneously be the person who farts under the covers, who cries at stupid TV commercials, who remembers moments of the past with joy or with sadness, who gets wrapped up in the day-to-day bullshit of email and meetings, who spends entirely too much time scrolling Reddit.
(Even this brief description was character sketch, a fragment of a narrative meant to convey a point.)
This is why stories matter. Stories are how we make sense of our lives, how we choose to define ourselves. We pick and choose the details that are pertinent to the story of who we are, even if that story changes from one day to the next.
And it’s okay that the story changes, because we are enormously complex, filled with a sea of different stories about ourselves, able to be retold in a million different ways and each way a new a different narrative. One day I am an outsider philosopher hungry to travel the world and taste every new culture. Another day I am happy to nestle at home in front of the television and gorge myself on immersive video games. Different stories, but both true, both me, along with many others.
I think this is one of the reasons that fiction is so appealing, such a pleasure to read (when done well). We recognize in the characters the same kinds of experiences that we have in our own lives. That recognition happens through elements of story – painful losses, moments of joy, flashes of anxiety – the same things we experience in our own lives. It isn’t the only reason – fiction also offers the pleasures of safely escaping into another world, another life – but I believe it is one of the reasons. In fact, I believe it is the reason fiction exists.