Every community needs a big story, a story that frames our lives and our understanding of the world. . . that gives answers to questions of meaning and provides moral direction and social purpose. We need to know who we are. . ., where we are. . ., what went wrong (making sense of the poverty, pain, and injustice we see), what we must do (what must change and how it can be changed), and what time it is (how our past, present, and future fit into this picture. . . . Any vision of a better human future must have its roots in the story that makes sense of our lives.
—Bryant L. Myers, Walking with the Poor: Principles and Practices of Transformational Development (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1999), 20-21.
Why do we write? Why have there been one million books published every year in the US alone – and countless blogs? Why are there so many more, now that self-publishing is so easy? I suspect it's because we all have a "big story." We want to share the frame that gives us understanding of the world. Perhaps our vision will provide nourishing roots for a better human future.
As Bryant Myers suggests in the quote above, we need to know the following:
"Who we are?"
I see my angst, my caring, my joy reflected in the Hen House gang. I experience aging with my 13 year-old dogs. I want to reflect an awareness of things common to all life by creating alien characters in my fiction.
"Where are we?"
I thrill at the magnificence of the universe in new pictures from NASA and gorgeous photos of Earth on Pinterest. I want everyone to experience the awe I feel when hard evidence reveals the intricacies of how genes work, how cosmology and biophysics sustain life and mind. I shiver at the knowledge of complex systems that describe everything connected in nonlinear ways, providing the possibility for amplification of every effort, along with its price of unpredictability.
"What we must do."
This is the hard part. We not only see different solutions, we see different problems, because all our experiences differ. Perhaps the best we can do is focus. "Write what you know," say some pundits. Perhaps we should write from or out of what we have experienced. We can try to provide a positive vision, a way out, a dream scenario that reassures and guides.
"What time it is."
As we learn from the past, and look at what is happening now, can we paint in words a picture of the future grounded in realism, one that contributes to a moral direction and a nourishing social purpose, a story that provides faith or hope in questions of meaning.