Many lives follow a similar arc, the middle of which often involves a dramatic reevaluation of what the first forty or so years was all about and how the next forty years should be spent. The answer to this question frequently includes service of some kind, the beautiful paradox that the best way to fulfill yourself is to be of use to another. My first real girlfriend and I disagreed on a number of things, one of which was that I was not interested in joining any causes. This was the early eighties, and I was not inclined to march against nukes or for whales or what-have-you. “You have to be for something,” she told me. I said I couldn’t help it. I just wanted to tell stories.
I felt at the time, though I couldn’t express it, that telling stories was enough. I still feel that way. The normal explanation made by artists who feel the way I do is that we are doing our level best to bring a little beauty and joy into the world, and “in these troubling times” don’t we all need as much of that as we can? Fair enough, and certainly true, but still, in my mind, not the whole point.
To tell a story well, you must be in service to it, the story. That is, you cannot tell a story to prove what a great and clever writer you are or to make you lots of money or get you on The Daily Show. All the choices you make, every word, should be in service to the whole of the story you wish to share and nothing more. Nearly every writer I’ve interviewed reports a sense that a story came to him or her. That is, they didn’t invent the story, they found it, and then were charged with the task of translating it for the rest of the world.
Working in service to a story will not feed the hungry or dethrone the wicked, not directly anyway, but every time a person sets aside their ego to share something they love, another light in the darkness is lit. A perfect cure-all, if you ask me. To paraphrase Einstein, what we call darkness is merely the absence of light, and what we call evil is merely the absence of love.