“Instead, he processed new issues in the language of his old tradition, and now you’ve got young adults filling stadiums, knowing every word to songs written 20 years before they were born, about places they’ll never see.” -NY Times, The Power of the Particular by David Brooks.
The above comment was found, of all places, in the Op-Ed section of the Times. David Brooks was commenting on a Bruce Springsteen European tour. Attending several of the tour concerts in Europe, Brooks was amazed to see all the young people singing along with the Springsteen anthems authored years before their birth and telling stories of places they never knew or were unlikely to ever know.
His explanation used a child psychology term Paracosms.
“When we are children, we invent these detailed imaginary worlds that the child psychologists call “paracosms.” These landscapes, sometimes complete with imaginary beasts, heroes and laws, help us orient ourselves in reality. They are structured mental communities that help us understand the wider world.”
Sounds like a novel to me!
In my journey to reinvention, this unlikely connection from a New York Times columnists seems particularly relevant, even powerfully evocative. It’s also comfortable to associate with the gravely warmth and passion of The Boss!
“All my life I fought this fight, the fight that no man can ever win
Every day it just gets harder to live this dream I’m believing in
Thunder Road, oh baby you were so right
Thunder Road, there’s somethin’ dyin’ down on the highway tonight” – The Promise, Bruce Springsteen
I know the goal of my reinvention is to write. The issue, of course, is how. I have danced from book to book and article to article about writing, all of which seem too formulaic, despite the veracity of the oldest of formulas – Aristotle, a beginning, a middle, and an end.
However, Mr. Brooks paracosms seems more in keeping with Aristotle than any of the prescriptions for a novel or blockbuster film. Stories are landscapes with peoples, laws, heroes and even monsters that help us understand the wider world. Landscapes are at once the backstory, the foreground and perhaps the destiny of every character trodding their pages. The lyrics above are well served by location, Thunder Road speaks to the endless highway…
But, here’s the kicker, the climax that may point me in the right direction for a writing approach. Brooks speaks of Springsteen’s insane commercial choice to continue telling stories of Jersey in the days of his early life. The more logical choice, says Brooks, is to adapt become more contemporary.
“Instead, he processed new issues in the language of his old tradition, and now you’ve got young adults filling stadiums, knowing every word to songs written 20 years before they were born, about places they’ll never see.”
What a wonderful illustration for “Write what you know.” This doesn’t mean you’re limited by the little corner of your world. Not at all. We process these new issues in the language of the landscape we know best, and in doing so, we lend authenticity to substance of our story.
During my years of working in non-profit theaters and education, I have rubbed elbows with many businessmen. If I’ve heard this mantra once… well, you know the quote. I have heard that in business the three most important criteria are Location, Location, and Location. Let me offer the Paracosm Corollary: the three most impostant aspects of any story are Landscape, Landscape, and Landscape. This is the best place to start for any story, or for any approach to writing a story.