It has been a while since I’ve poked my nose in here and wrote something. It’s not like I haven’t got anything to say. Anyone who knows me at all will agree, I always have a story to tell. Sometimes, ignoring my husband’s protests, I tell the same stories over and over again. They are good stories, and should be told and re-told. Anecdotes from times past to make you laugh and cry and laugh again. If they’re not re-told, they will be forgotten in the obscurity of days gone by, and bring a heavy feeling to my heart.
Story telling is an art on the brink of extinction. The ancients knew the value of a good story. Just think of the Greeks, the Roman, Norse or any other ancient civilization with a wonderfully developed mythology heritage. The bards of the day could put us to shame. Their stories, or myths, are still re-told somewhere in the world on a daily basis. They’re the same myths re-told for a thousand years, only the audience changed drastically. These days the great Greek or Roman mythology is mostly told to bored students crowded in a stuffy classroom, more interested in Facebooking on their iPhones than learning of Sisyphus. Ironically, this particular myth would be more than appropriate, as one can say, today's bards have a Sisyphean task assigned to them. The task to re-tell their stories and have them fall on death ears, again and again.
Today’s bards hail to different gods. They are rulers of media and electronic arts. CGI allows us to recreate whole worlds to the most minute and intricate detail. I remember sitting through Avatar in eye popping awe, watching the splendor of 3D Pandora jump out at me from every take. Avatar is one man’s vision, one man’s story, taken up and worked on by a battalion of 3D artists, editors, advisors, consultants and experts on all things digital. James Cameron’s official budget for the movie was $237 million dollars, but estimates make it closer to $300 million, with a further $150 million in promotion & advertising. Let’s stick to the modest official version. That sum alone would have been enough to feed a small third world country for a significant period of time, not to mention the amount the movie earned at the box office. And it was seen by immense number of people in the world, hailed a huge success and a first in many aspects of cinematography. It is a masterpiece in its own right. Still, I can’t help but ask myself, in a thousand years, when we do master space flight and discover real life equivalent of Pandora, will Avatar the movie be on everyone’s tongues? Chances are, the answer is no.
So what secret did the ancients possess, that made their stories so immortal in the eyes of humanity? Were they just better at it? In a way, I think so. The ancient bards didn’t have the help of a platoon of advisors, designers and consultants. Yet they told stories that captivated king and peasant alike for generations. Their tales relied on their own imaginations, and perhaps on the imaginations and lives of these around them. I like to imagine the great Homer yielding a giant goose quill, scratching his words of wisdom on rolls of parchment, dressed in robes appropriate to his time, deep in thought between each line. Maybe the image I have built in my head is completely wrong, misguided by romantic notions of today’s entertainment, but it’s mine. To me this is the beauty of a written or a spoken word. It allows your imagination to build the scenery around it, instead of having all the work done for you and ready to consume image thrust in your face. People no longer feed their imaginations. Some claim they haven’t got one. Seems the mighty tool of imagination is one of the latest victims of humanity’s progress. But what happened to “practice makes perfect”? Doesn’t it apply? Is “use it or lose it” better suited? I always promise myself, the next person to tell me they won’t read a book, they’ll wait for the movie will get a reality check from me. But it never happens. I silently pity the fool and move on.
So maybe it’s not the ancient bards that are different to our contemporary ones. Maybe it’s the audience. Have we become too distracted? So caught in the rat race of everyday worries that we no longer can afford the energy to power the most powerful tool we have, our imagination? In our modern world, our stories and books are being replaced by digital media, movies and YouTube. Every day we face a complete deluge of information pouring at us from computers, iPhones and Androids and media at ever increasing speeds. Facebook limits your messages to 400 characters, Twitter to 140. With such limitations in place, we need more posts, more input to allow us to absorb the constant messages bombarded at us. When was the last time any of us sat around and re-told a story? I can’t remember the last time I sat under a tree with a good book. We are constantly distracted, constantly fed new information. “A picture speaks a thousand words”, as the saying goes. Imagine how many words a movie can tell in an average screening! Isn’t it easier to just let the experts do the work, while we sit glued to a flickering screen and let them scare, inspire or move us to tears? It’s almost a victimless crime. The only thing to suffer is your imagination. Collateral damage.
When I was younger, I was told a story, one that luckily had stuck with me through many years until I finally understood it’s meaning. I’d like to share this story with, my reader, in hope that it will stay with you in similar fashion. Don’t worry, it’s only short.
It was a warm summer afternoon in a quaint town. The town dogs half-heartily fulfilled their barking duties as they lazily lay under fruit trees along the fences. An elderly couple sit on their porch, slowly sipping tea and sharing a fresh baked cookie. They watch the street just beyond their fence. Distance, longing and sadness hiding in their eyes. Their faces light up slightly at a first glimpse of a stranger coming around the street corner into their view. A shimmer of hope crosses their wrinkled faces, only to disappear as fast as it came to life. They sip their teas from the seemingly bottomless teapot, and bite into their never ending cookies. The warm summer afternoon is drawing on endlessly. Time has stood still. A young passerby comes around the corner, walks past the house with the porch and disappears off into the distance. Another passerby appears in view and just as fast disappears down the street. The elderly couple look out with hope at every new silhouette in the distance with astounding perseverance and dedication. Until their gaze falls upon a familiar face and joy fills in their eyes and souls.
The young girl suddenly stops and looks on confused. You could excuse her for appearing as if she just seen a ghost, as it turns out she has. This is because, my friends, she is. Startled she looks at her grandparents, who have departed the world of the living many moons ago. Slowly she waves and swallows back her tears and manages to speak. The avalanche of questions and feelings overwhelms them all. They watch as their endless, lazy afternoon takes on a new light. The dogs get up and dart around their yards, eager for their masters to return home. The street fills with colorful cars rushing to their destinations drowning words with blaring radios playing upbeat music. Suddenly a vibrant energy fills the town. For this is not an ordinary town, my dear reader. It is where your imagination and memories live. This is where all the stories and people who have touched your life reside. It is a sad and lonely world without you, so visit it often. People, events and memories that have passed are easily brought back to life with little effort. Keep them alive inside you, and they’ll be alive in that not so ordinary town – your mind.
It took me years to grasp the true meaning of this story, but I now see that imagination is not the only victim of today’s technology rush. They are too. Don't let them wait, and don't let them die with you!