Around three months ago now I finished full-time work in order to have the time to focus on two endeavours. The first was my fiction writing, this had been tainted by working in a role that eschewed imagination, and moving to the country has given me wider horizons in which to let my imagination gallop and play. The second was my supporting role in a new company, a venture whose goals were more compatible with my morality and world views. A business which believed in the cultural value of stories.
I’m a huge believer in the power of a good story. That’s both blessing and curse as a writer, as it inspires me to want to write great books, but it means that rather than simply telling a tale, want to weave ideas through the text which might inspire, transform, or at the very least inform, rather than structuring them like a film and hoping for a movie deal. I feel a need to honour all those story tellers that came before me, because I know how important their contribution was to my world.
When we are young, if we are fortunate, then we had a relative who would induct us into the world of guided imagination. They might have told us stories from their past, or stories from their imagination. They might have read us tales from thick books, compilations of fables curated by Aesop or the Grimm brother’s, maybe they ad-libbed a little as they read, or added in sound effects or frights, perhaps they changed voices for the talking bear, the frustrated witch, or General Woundwort. Those recited words can play a huge role in our development, helping us counter arachnophobia (Charlotte…), inspiring us to travel (every Irish, Norse and Navajo legend I ever heard), or simply inspiring us to learn to read ourselves, so that there was never ‘one last story’. Not while there was a functioning flashlight in the house.
As we get a little older many of us learn to read ourselves, and we begin to choose our own stories. I remember finding a copy of Peter Benchley’s ‘Jaws’ on the book shelves of a holiday house one wet summer. The thick book had the infamous movie poster on the cover, gaping shark jaws open below that late night swimmer. I’d anticipated sharks and drama, I hadn’t expected sexual explicitness. I took to reading it outside or at night, where my blushing resisted invocation or at least detection. And when we leave school in order to become the protagonist in our own tales, hopefully we continue to read. I have found solace, wisdom and inspiration in books my whole life, worlds to escape into, and things to bring back from them, into my own narrative. Including a little from Jaws.
The company I’m working with exists to assist with people with the preservation of stories. We work to create copies of items of enduring cultural value, and enable those copies to be shared with people separated by time or distance. We make detailed copies of cave paintings, maps, books, artworks and carvings. Similar endeavours around the world are mapping ancient civilisations from the sky, or using technology to help rebuild the walls of ancient temples, jigsaw puzzles with one tonne pieces. Efforts are being made to capture everything from baseball cards and comics to death warrants and viking longboats, as they’re all vessels for stories.
My daily tasks for the company vary, sometimes I’m driving to small coastal towns to capture fragile maps, more frequently I’m processing thousands of images, from fashion drawings to diary entries. But a two things I’ve encountered in the past week helped me understand the value in capturing so many aspects of culture, as I colour correct yet another photo. First I was reading through the ‘About us’ page on ‘WikiLeaks’ for information for an article, and amongst their principles was ‘the improvement of our common historical record’, and this idea sat with me. Then last night I was reading a few passages from a book called ‘Woman who run with the wolves’, by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. She talks of the importance of information passed from generation, as myths and stories, and how so many of these have been altered by the dominant society, stripped or altered so suit the dominant religion, or sense of morality of the time. And in the process we lose important elements of the original story. And I realised, we can’t let the recording of history be the province of a select minority. That has led to one-sided tales, to distortion, to the eradication of cultural elements, and often to the elimination of the female perspective. Instead we need to capture as wide a gamut of society, of culture, as possible. The hauntings, the messiahs, the sasquatch, the unicorns, the trolls, the elves, the barbarians, the werewolves, they are so much of who we were, and who we might be.
So I’m proud of my two paths. I’m pleased to have continued to write every day, to try to improve my story-telling craft. And I’m proud to be working with Heritage Studios, with creative people, helping capture other people’s stories across the Pacific.
If anyone would like to support Heritage Studios in their story-saving mission, please look us up on Facebook, and like us if you like what we’re trying to do!