The soft sounds of the of the Pacific waves washed over my ears and caressed my yearning for the Hawaiian Islands. The day was full of screams from the Giant Dipper in Santa Cruz, the smell of funnel cake meandering around the Boardwalk, the hot burning sand, volleyball, ultimate frisbee, and the all too common sunburns. Twenty of us had met up for a full day at the beach, which was something I needed.
Toward the end of the day, some dude had made the statement that he doesn't read fiction anymore because it was a waste of time.
If he was going to spend time doing something, he'd rather watch documentaries because they were both entertaining and educational. He was all about education and fun. But I guess you can't do one without the other, in his world anyway.
Immediately, I asked him, "So you think art isn't important?"
"It is." Then he talked about his love for ballet. And that basically shoved my ego back where it belonged. Not sure where that would be.
Being a writer, I can be sensitive when someone tells me that fiction is a waste of time. I had to remind myself that not everyone reads fiction, not everyone who loves art is going to love every form of art (I certainly don't), and everyone connects to different forms and that can change as they grow as a human being.
My best friend had succinctly defined art by asking the question, "How does it make you feel?"
Story is the epitome of feeling, emotion being a subset of that. According to Wikipedia, feelings are the subjective perception of emotion. But emotion doesn't necessarily dictate how we feel. I imagine President Abraham Lincoln having happy emotions after getting the 13th Amendment passed and winning the Civil War, but feeling sad and spent from the effort and the sacrifice of human life.
So the question becomes: Why tell stories, specifically the written word?
As Robert McKee stated in his Big Think interview, novels can focus in on characters' specific inner conflict, something that movies, and yes, even ballet, can have a hard time doing.
What the esteemed gentleman, who graciously stated that fiction was a waste of time, doesn't understand is that fiction allows us, the readers, to process our own inner conflicts through story. If someone had lost a child, they may read my book to see how my main character handles those feelings of loss. Whether readers agree with my character's choices or not is not the point. Seeing a character go through that horrible event, forcing him to go through the ups and downs of life afterward, making wrong choices as a result of that event can help readers look at themselves and say, "I'm not crazy for feeling guilty, blaming others for my loss, or having thoughts of anger and suicide."
Reading fiction can also help us feel when were forced not to during the one place most us spend our lives: work. And most people work in the corporate world where having emotions or individualism is really frowned upon. Corporate leaders may deny this, offering the importance of work/life balance. But once we get pissed off, show some balls (not literally), or express individualistic ideas and opinions, we're forced back into the line of conformity. But that's for another post.
No where is the need to feel more prevalent than the genre of Romance. When I tell people that at least half of the money spent on fiction is on romance novels, they're very surprised. So much attention is on fantasy type books like Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Divergent, superhero movies, and other spectacles that romance novels get glazed over in our minds. Women clamor to feel needed and loved and wanted and most don't get this in their real lives, so they delve into books. Most men don't see this and realize their women have needs, and it's not a surprise that women cheat just as much as men do for the exact reasons I've listed.
Obviously, the esteemed gentleman made a very ignorant comment because fiction has affected our way of life in more ways than he'll ever allow himself to know. Look at Christmas. It's a well known fact that writers Washington Irving and Charles Dickens helped influence the way the world celebrates Christmas. Family gatherings, gift giving, peace and love and thankfulness are emphasized in their stories.
I didn't put up much of a fight after my ego-laced 'Do ya 'preciate art' comment. I don't know why I took myself so seriously. Maybe because the guy was ignant and smug when he hated on fiction. But then he was rambling on about his travels, his knowledge of other cultures, his appreciation of ballet, and how great his life was in an effort to impress a young woman. And I'm not one to try and cock block anyone unless I was interested in that person as well. So I backed off and turned back toward the soft waves, the velvety breeze, and the smell of meat cooking from a nearby barbecue. And I realized that maybe ignorance for him was bliss.