I just finished binge-watching “Station Eleven” on HBOMax. It was a weird but strangely compelling story. It jumped all over the globe and the timeline, but everything came together perfectly in the final episode. As the final credits were rolling, I realized that all stories are just one story: the search for connection and meaning, the survival of loss, the mill of trauma, and “the show must go on.”
We are all looking to the past for answers and projecting any grain of truth we find there into the future as prophecy. Our pain inflicts us on the world like weapons, creating more trauma and cycles of pain. When we are able to develop empathy–really feel the pain of others, put ourselves in their shoes–then we are able to forgive, let go, and move on. We are all passengers on the wheel of time and life, each doing the work we were meant to do, whether that’s writing a book, illustrating stories, making music, conducting symphonies, acting, directing plays, turning on the lights, or just walking someone home.
“Station Eleven,” weird as it was, was the perfect story. It made a full circle and closed the circle, not only on the lives of the characters in the story but also on the human story. It played out why the works of Shakespeare are still alive and vibrant four hundred years after his death. Shakespeare tells us our own stories over and over again, because all stories are just one story: the stories we connect with are the ones in which we see not only ourselves but all of humanity, from the flawed to the heroic. In the end, it’s as Ram Dass said: “We’re all just walking each other home.”
That’s how one
rights…I shouldn’t have crossed that out. I meant to write, “That’s how one writes a truly good story,” but I made a Freudian slip. Isn’t that what all of our struggle, pain, striving, and creating are really all about? We are trying to right our stories; fix them; write out the errors; redeem ourselves and our existence.
So, as I write my own story I need to be wary of who I cast as villains. There are true villains in that story (my story), and there is actual evil in the world; but not all of the villains are Voldemort. Some of them are just…well, that’s what we’re going to find out, isn’t it? I think J.K. Rowling did a pretty good job of identifying psychopathy and the lengths it can go to in her books; but, in fact, most psychopaths don’t get that far. Hitlers are rare, and most often defeated once their agendas are revealed (if only because they are so rare that they are easily outnumbered if identified early enough). But most psychopaths are hidden among us, acting out their own pain in small side-shows “off the strip.” Most of them have small roles but leave wide swaths of destruction in our lives.
The key to a good story is focusing on the right things and the right characters.
Side note: I can’t believe that I don’t own the complete works of William Shakespeare. I thought I did but I couldn’t find it (I just went through every bookshelf in my house–it must have gotten lost in one of the moves). Aunt Wynn would be appalled. I just bought it on Kindle for thirteen cents (William Shakespeare would be appalled).
“Station Eleven” seemed at first like a depressing story, but it ended up being exactly what I needed to bump me out of a creative funk. Every part of that story was relevant to me; especially the part about the writer of “Station Eleven” not caring whether anyone saw her work. She only printed five copies, and only delivered two. Those two copies changed the lives of hundreds of people, long after she died.
How will my work change the lives of anyone? I need not concern myself with that. I only need to concern myself with making my work and releasing it into the world. What happens after that isn’t up to me. All art is ultimately a message in a bottle thrown upon the waves of a tumultuous ocean of humanity. We have no control over where the message goes or how it is received. It is merely our job to create and release; which it now occurs to me is the exact opposite of catch and release. Well, maybe not the exact opposite. Catch and release is what I have done with “Station Eleven” (what I am doing now). The artist and author created the story and tossed it onto the waves. I was standing on a distant shore when it washed up at my feet. I read the message, added a note of my own, and now I’m tossing it back. Who knows where it will go now? Only the wind and the waves.
Times like these in my Morning Pages are rare and to be savored. I want to linger because they are so fleeting, but I already feel the brilliance and intensity of the moment fading, and I have my own art to make today.
“And miles to go before I sleep. And miles to go before I sleep.”1
1Robert Frost, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” from The Poetry of Robert Frost, edited by Edward Connery Lathem. Copyright 1923, © 1969 by Henry Holt and Company, Inc., renewed 1951, by Robert Frost.