There was nothing off about him. Except his behavior. In a sea full of seats, he chose the second row. Close enough to listen, too far away to be noticed.
Grey jeans, checkered shirt, with an almost adamant aura of attention. I could tell he was soaking up every word of the panelists like a sponge. He wasn’t on his phone. Or wearing headphones. He just listened.
On three occasions during the 45-minute-discussion, he pulled out a notepad. Nothing fancy. The same kind a waiter would carry. He jotted down a single line each time. And a question mark. I could tell by the swivel of his hand.
I was expecting his hand to shoot up the second they opened for Q&A. But it didn’t. He waited. Only after five other questions, he slowly raised his hand. I neither understood the content of his question nor what he was getting at with it.
The speakers did, because one of them smiled, two had an “I don’t know”-look on their face, and one seemed concerned. They responded with a few areas they’d continue to work on and talked about issues to solve.
I think he found what he was looking for. A new problem to chew on. Not that you could’ve told by his reaction. No notepad needed this time. He politely thanked the panel. Then, he got up and left.
As silently as he’d entered, he was gone.
Who was that man? A devoted supporter of an important project? A computer hacker looking for his next target? A scientist about to solve a global crisis?
I have no idea, even though I invented him. But that’s the whole point:
He could be anyone. Including you and me.
In The Artist’s Journey, Steven Pressfield says:
Truth is not the truth.
Fiction is the truth.
What he means to tell writers is: forget writing what you know. Write what you don’t know. Because that way, your truth will work itself into the story in ways you could never have come up with if you’d been trying to tell what happened in reality.
Making sense of life is hard. It can be hard to relate to a character who feels far away from us when we know they’re real. But if it’s fiction? No boundaries.
It can be easier to recognize yourself in fiction because you can’t make excuses. There are no real-world limitations. “He had money.” “She had the looks.” But if the hero doesn’t exist? Why not? Could be us, right?
That’s why fiction is so important.
It gives us permission to be curious. To imagine. To see potential in ourselves.
Even in the real world, true genius knows that’s what it’s about.
“Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.” ― Albert Einstein
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