I’m pleased to present this guest post by the always-remarkable Brian Holers as part of the Relationships Blog Hop. It’s a neat thing I’m participating in this week with three other lit fic authors. We each chose a different type of relationship to celebrate, and I chose friendship. Here’s what Brian has to say about that (and I whole-heartedly concur):
Human nature compels us to compare ourselves to others. We often hear we shouldn’t, that it’s pointless, that we must simply learn to be content with who we are. I contend that this comparison, our need for validation, is less a function of envy than a demonstration of the fundamental meaning of being human; the draw to look into another’s world.
In this place lies the ultimate value of fiction. A detailed story about a person we don’t know, one who doesn’t exist anyway, pulls us in and makes us care, just like our own real friendships do. We care about, we value characters in books, as we do our real friends, because we get to know them. We come to understand what they want, and how hard they have to work to get it. We cheer for them. We hope and wonder, and keep reading because we want to know what will happen. Even though they aren’t real, they touch us. As with our real friendships, we learn from characters in stories, and take what we learn back into our lives. At times we even point to fictitious people in a search for authority.
We all have early experiences in our families. The psychiatrist Freud once said that everything about a person is determined by the age of 5. What happens early, we fix it deep. We set our view of the world, and flesh it out in a long list of assumptions. The lengthy, sometimes lifelong, process of maturing takes place as we grow and learn to live with others, compare and contrast with those who come to be friends, and with some we barely know. All of them people, real or imagined, whose first few years may have been categorically different from our own. Yet whose desires, needs and yearnings are just as deep-set as our own, and just as valid.
Somehow, almost by magic, both in life and in the stories we love, we are drawn to the people we need. And just as real people do, characters work things out in relationships with one another. They strive to improve themselves. They accept the gifts friends offer them, and put forth their own strengths and hopes to share. In my first novel Doxology, Jody Davidson, long separated from his Louisiana family due to a series of tragedies, finds himself part of a new family in Chicago, one that appears different from his own. When he chooses to return to his home, he takes with him lessons learned from his new friends, and in the process helps the bunch of them put some of their own pains behind them. He and his friends compare and contrast, yes, a country bumpkin from the small-town South and a Jewish family from Chicago. In the end, all are made better by it.
As part of this lifelong process of growth, people both real and imagined choose to improve their relationships. We strive to advance our assessments of one another, from comparisons of better and worse, to simple examinations of joy. As imaginary people do, we as real people learn to value our friendships, take what we can get, offer up what we have, and choose to be grateful.
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