Ever had the experience of spending half of your day running around town, trying rental place after rental place, or library after bookstore looking for a certain movie or book that you just HAD to see or read now? How about skipping work or school to catch the latest release? How about being so lost in a good book, you don’t hear the doorbell or the pot on the stove boiling over? Stories are addicting, more so for some than others, and it is an addiction I have struggled with my whole life.
Stories are generally how humanity operates. It’s part of our basic operating system as people and how we get from point A to point B. Story telling is involved in cooking and recipes, project planning, package delivery, budgeting, insurance, and so on and so forth. Not only that, though, storytelling is a part our souls, a way we express our thoughts, and a way we relate to the people around and also to our Creator.
There is a big difference, however, between the everyday stories we need to hear and tell, and those that come out of our imagination, the fictions we make up. Modern life is awash in fictional stories to become immersed in, from TV shows to movies to novels to manga, and to even headline news. These days we also have near-instant access to any piece we want to read or show we want to watch, as long as we’re able to pay. For an addict like myself, these stories are too often instant fixes that I have to employ a lot of willpower to resist or I may not be able to pay my bills or put food on my table.
I’ll get to the good stuff later on, but I wanted to contemplate the bad first, or the dark side of story addiction. For a good story, I’ll do a lot. For even the promise of a good story, i.e., the blurb on the back of cover, I will plunk down my hard-earned money to end up all to often being disappointed. Sometimes, and I shudder, it is the opposite, where the story is great and there are five more seasons or twelve more books to go and I am tempted to buy and watch or read all of them in one fell swoop.
Spending money on addiction is child’s play. We’ve all done it, whether it’s on coffee, alcohol, new bags, new clothes, cars, and what have you. It’s a very basic part of an addiction, but it’s not really what makes an addiction so, so awful. The awful part about a story addiction is that one begins to replace one’s real life for a fictional one. Not true! You may say. Maybe not for you, but I have done ridiculous and despicable things all under the sway of a compelling story.
How did this addiction begin? I learned to read early and quickly started tearing through books of dubious moral quality. As I got older, this only increased and was a continual push and pull between and my parents. We like to think that books or movies don’t really affect us that much, but they can affect us in ways we barely understand. Let me explain the spell at work here:
A basic example can easily be found in the news, which is so often exaggerated from any side, political or not, to be considered if not outright fiction, very close to it. The people reading and watching stories from say, the Left side of politics have a world view drawn from what they consume. Same for the Right. It’s one of those “plank in the eye” examples, because everyone on one side just knows that the other side has been somewhat brainwashed in what they believe to be true. And that is often true. What the accusers fail to see, though, is how they themselves are under a similar spell, how they themselves are not thinking for themselves or questioning either. We are all to some degree seeing clothes on an emperor that he’s just not wearing. Some people see purple spandex, some a business suit, but it’s all a spell woven together by the media.
How did and does the spell work for me? As a teenager I not only had my nose in a book constantly, which was bad enough, but got seriously–seriously–addicted to watching movies, where I just had to watch them all the time. Where I would offer to walk on foot the ten blocks to the convenience store to rent a movie I just had to see and that I thought my family just had to see. During an ice storm. By the end of college, I was so enamored with Hollywood, their stories, and the actors, that I often considered what they had to say as people as vitally important. They were authorities to me, and a definite idol in my life. A common view they all shared was negativity and disdain towards God, his son Jesus, and his followers. A constant drum beat that I did not agree with, but nevertheless continued consuming at breakneck speed. I am old enough now that Hollywood’s stories have little hold on me anymore as I have developed a lot more discernment in what I watch. They are once again just stories or movies, but I’m sorry now that I spent so much time watching them and giving so, so much of my money away to those people.
It gets worse. There were times in the past that movies had such a hold on me that I would pick the movie over the people in my life. A good friend traveled from out of town to see me, but when she came to my house, she found out that instead of waiting to see her and catch up with her, I had instead gone to a movie. A stupid movie. And I knew full well she was coming over. Another time I was with friends and felt such a compulsion to see this superhero movie one more time in the theater, that I left the bar we were at, borrowed my friend’s car, went to see the movie all by myself, and then came back later to return the car, and only to return the car. When I say that stories, and in particular, movies cast a spell on me, I’m not kidding. Nowadays it’s easy to see the signs, but still a struggle for me to resist the pull to watch, watch, watch.
An exciting story–not necessarily a good story–can be a drug. Take the Twilight series, for example. It was impossible for me to put that book down, it was that interesting to me to find out what happens next. And it’s a story I barely think about now and will never read again, but while reading it, I just had to keep reading, I couldn’t stop. There were plenty of other things I wanted to do, daresay needed to do, in my life at the time, but I could not stop reading. If you are a reader, you’ve probably read a book at some point that is like playing an arcade game–you just can’t stop turning pages, just like you can’t stop putting more coins into the machine. And while that’s a credit to the storyteller, for the addict replacing their actual life by living in this story, it’s just one more day lost. One more day they could have spent with family or friends, or outside enjoying the weather, or planning for the future. Or even finally getting that story that they wanted to write written. The cool thing is, often with really good quality stories, they actually send you back into reality. You want to take a break from them, to contemplate the themes and concepts and consider how they match up to real life. I’m finding this while reading Crime and Punishment again. I can’t sit and read it all day, though it is great writing and a great story. The Classics are all like this, good stories and writing, but you don’t feel like you’re on crack or something while reading, and there’s a life in them, for lack of a better word, that stories like my own Trolls for Dust or Twilight cannot hold a candle to.
It is my belief that fiction story addiction is actually worse than being a dreamer. Dreamers may have their heads in the clouds half the time, but at least they are dreaming up their own dreams and their own stories. Fiction story addicts are spending their time in someone else’s world, someone else’s viewpoint. And if that someone else is a devil, while you’ve just given him a foothold, a great foothold into your life.
Really, I thought this article would be funnier, but I’ve finding it very sobering. So addicted to a story am I, that I will listen to the worst gossip, the most ridiculous conspiracy theories (you’re thinking of Q, but Q is actually far from ridiculous), and the most blatant liars, just to find out the ending of the story. Met this guy once who had every form of vileness spilling out of his mouth about ninety percent of the time, but he told good stories, and I would sit and listen to him while the people around me blanched from the terrible things he was saying. And all the time I knew that, but I just couldn’t let the story go. I didn’t believe his stories were true, but others may have thought that I did believe them. Nowadays I know to back away if I become so enthralled in another’s story telling that I am listening to things that gouge my conscience.
So, what’s the good side of all of this? The good side, in my opinion, is that story addicts, and in particular fiction story addicts, will listen. They’ll give you a listen, they’ll hear and consider your side. They’ll read your story. It may be all crap, but they will at least give you a chance. Right now I’m reading a story that I like, but the writing, although not terrible, is just not my style. But the story is good, so I’ll continue reading it.
To put this in an even more positive perspective, there are quite often times when the truth really is stranger than fiction, and someone, someone needs to believe you, or at the very least hear you out. That person might very well be a story addict. In an age where a media spell covers the land in lies, it may be story addicts that actually latch onto the truth and share it. But it’s not as if they are thinking outside of the box; no, they are following their story addiction. Like the Kennedy Assassination, for example. Every few years, I just want to read and watch stuff by Jim Garrison, the attorney who investigated the events, and watch movies like Oliver Stone’s JFK and just really wallow in the whole conspiracy. Over the years I’ve read and watched so many different theories about what happened, and the biggest take from it all is simply that the official story must not and cannot be true. That’s kind of as far as a story addict can go. The addiction is about consuming stories, not using them as a benefit for oneself or other people.
Next week I’ll consider more the actual workings of story addiction and some of the ways in which it does spur people to action in a positive way and also how the love of story connects to my faith as a Christian. As pathetic as some of my memories above are, a love of story tempered and put in its proper place can actually be quite a jewel in one’s life, just like an exquisite wine adds flavor to the meals of those not enslaved to alcohol addiction.