We’ve all had those times after a conversation with someone. You know the ones I’m talking about. The “Oo, I should have said this” times. And of course, then, we replay the conversation in our heads but this time it goes in such a way that we’re a badass with all the right things to say.
The other thing about those moments is that they can stick with you for years down the road.
I was having a conversation in the break room with my boss years ago, we’ll call him Mike, and he’d heard about my (at the time) upcoming sabbatical. I never knew him all too personally, but my read on him was that he was a very left-brain sort of guy: math, numbers, engineering, logistics, factors, etc. He knew that I was trying to become a fiction writer and I think that he was just trying to find a way to relate, even if that meant communicating a lack of relation.
“I tried reading a bit of fiction before,” he laughed. “But once I was done, I was like, ‘What was the point of that?’ I just have all this useless information now.”
I’m loosely quoting him there, but the words I’m sure about are the ones of him referring to fiction as “useless information”. And again, I’m pretty sure he meant it kind-heartedly and jokingly, but whoa, bub, word choice. In the moment, I just laughed a bit awkwardly and agreed because I was twenty-five, not sure of what the heck I was doing (still not), and talking to the CEO of the company about a pursuit he just deigned “useless”.
Since then, I’ve found myself in odd moments here or there having that conversation again in my head and justifying the value of fiction to him. The first quote that came to mind to neatly and concisely encapsulate the sentiment I wish I’d had the presence of mind to communicate in the moment is one from Neil Gaiman:
“Fiction gives us empathy: it puts us inside the minds of other people and gives us the gifts of seeing the world through their eyes. Fiction is a lie that tells us true things, over and over.”
The ability to relate a situation in your life to another you know of, whether real or fantastical as found in fiction, that skill of being able to draw patterns and associations between those circumstances and draw wisdom, advice, inspiration, or answers from them is valuable. Characters found in novels or movies are just constructs in our own minds, but the beautiful part is that by their nature we forget about that fact. Those characters, for all intents and purposes, are people with real experiences that we can choose to relate to and learn from – if you just freakin’ choose to.
Don’t believe me? While thinking up this little piece you’re reading right now, I jotted down two names that, in very real, substantial, earth-changing ways have historically demonstrated the value of storytelling.
Jesus and Disney.
One can be a devoted church-goer and readily tell you of the impact that a powerfully delivered sermon had on their life, or be decidedly atheist and still see Christianity’s undeniable impact on world history and society today. And if money is the measure by which you choose to estimate success, Disney Enterprises–a massive corporation built off the back of selling fictional stories–could buy the moon, half of Western Europe, every truffle to come out of the earth from now until the collapse of society, and still have plenty left over to continue bankrupting the state of Florida to spite DeSantis.
And all of this cutting, razor-sharp wit is what I would have said to Mike…if I’d freaking thought of it in the moment.
Eh. There’s always next time.