I remember once, a long time ago, someone asked me what the point of fiction was. Why waste your time reading (let alone writing) novels when nonfiction is so much more instructive? It wasn’t a mean or spiteful question. They were just curious. They didn’t get it.
I remember I was taken aback. I didn’t know what to say. It was like trying to explain why I breathe. I think I said something about how you can learn from fiction, too. Maybe something about how reading fiction is fun, enjoyable. But I knew that I was missing the point, that none of it got to the heart of why I read (let alone write).
That was then, this is now. Certain recent events have reminded me that – how can I put this? – life is occasionally shitty.
Of course bad things happen; we know this; some people are reminded of it much more often than others. But if you are cheerful enough or strong enough or British enough, you can deal with it in a positive frame of mind. “Life is occasionally shitty,” you brightly opine, “but I’ll make the best of it.”
The alternative is that the external becomes internal, that Bad Stuff enters your mind and shakes hands with your soul and kicks off its shoes and helps itself to a cup of coffee and gets comfortable in your recliner. This is when you go from having a bad mood to a bad month, from thinking that “life is shitty” to “life is shit.” It is a withdraw, a deadening, an irrational hatred, an anti-enlightenment.
Here’s something you already know, but it bears repeating: this Bad Mental Stuff, this brain poison, is bullshit. Not bullshit in the sense that it doesn’t exist, or doesn’t matter, but bullshit in the sense that, if you let it, it will destroy you.
Fuck it. Seriously. Fuck. That. Shit.
Perhaps at some point you have asked yourself this question: what is the meaning of life? Helpfully, I have the answer: the meaning of life is to create and protect beauty. Heavy stuff on a Thursday morning, I know, but stay with me for just a second longer and then you can look at cat videos again.
Beauty is the opposite of bullshit. Life is the opposite of death. Fundamentally they are both about the same thing: never giving up. It is a battle and it is a war and both sides have their weapons.
Fiction is not about teaching you facts or making you feel better. Of course it does both these things, and they are good and important things to do, but they are accessories, accoutrements, nonessential.
Here’s the essence. Fiction is beautiful; fiction is life; and that is all.