On the stories we tell
It’s been a busy week, there was so much to do that I was worried it wasn’t going to all get done, but here we are! Things got done, mental health was prioritized, and I figure it’s a good time to talk about words. Or rather the stories they form, it’s a complex topic and this is really more for me than anything, a friendly reminder that I really enjoy writing. After all, while this blog is meant to help others, it’s also a message in a bottle to my future self, a reminder that I was really here and actually did the work. An ever growing time capsule of my thoughts if you will.
Being in a PhD program is challenging in ways I didn’t think were possible. Sure, I’m not the first to talk about mental health and how most PhD programs break you to the point that you either quit because it’s so toxic or you barely survive. It’s one thing to read it, it’s another to live it. Neuroengineering isn’t easy and making the jump from mechanical engineering to neuroengineering probably wasn’t the smartest choice I’ve ever made, but things have never been easy so I guess I’m okay with not taking the easiest path. I’ve done a lot these past few years, outreach projects, mentoring, and writing, so, so much writing.
Dear diary… haha I’ve really wanted to start a post off like that.
Have you ever thought about how versatile writing really is? You could read a blog *waves* which feels like a private conversation between me and you, the reader. It’s a clumsy kind of writing, more like a written train of thought, wild and sometimes disjoint. The texture of the words feel different than say, a work of fiction. You may have a vivid picture painted for you. One where the words chosen carefully for their meanings and each sentence is planned well in advance of the ink hitting paper. Biographies on the other hand, have a gritty realness to the words. The cadence feels different, the stories told are tangible and often times relatable, if not tragic. Technical writing is a different beast altogether. Somewhat dry, but still very story-like. A how-to guide that, if done correctly, makes you excited to hear about the work. In each case, the words themselves have a different grain and rhythm to them as they run across your brain. Stories have a song, painted by their purpose, a song that sounds differently to each of us.
I’ve had to think a lot about writing lately. Between the book chapter I’m writing about myself, the R21 grant I just finished, this blog, and even the halloween fiction I wrote, I’ve tried my hand at a little bit of everything. Stories are how we communicate to each other, the life we lived, the ideas we have, the characters we build. Words are a perfect medium for an imperfect world. A movie shows you what it wants to convey and while it is very much an artform all on its own, it leaves very little to the imagination. Words on the other hand force you to paint the picture of the world I’m describing. If I told you to imagine a blue rose, instead of showing it to you, your blue rose would almost certainly look very different from mine. That’s why words are perfect, but also so unruly.
In technical writing the vague nature of words makes it very difficult to tell you a precise story. In my experience we combat this by having multiple people read the text to make sure that we are all in agreement that the story it tells is tightly controlled and with little to no ambiguity. This doesn’t need to be the case in most forms of writing, the ambiguity can make a good work of fiction great. It leaves you, the reader, to build the world yourself a world built around the rules and descriptions given to you. Certain details are painted more vividly than others, on purpose, to give you a seed that you feed and grown as you continue the story.
I love writing, even when it feels like a chore. It’s an exercise in world building, even if it’s a work of non-fiction or technical writing, you’re still creating a world to share with your reader. While movies are a recent invention in the history of humans, we’ve always told stories in one way or another. It’s a little humbling to think that we all take part in that tradition in one way or another, even if it’s just a conversation or an email to a friend.
Words are powerful, stories are powerful. It’s why conquering armies over history burned libraries or books. I’m not sure that there is a point to today’s post other than that we all have that power. We all have stories to tell, and worlds to build. While not everyone has the same circumstances given to them at birth, we all still wield a great power within us. I am an atheist through and through, but if there were such a thing as a soul, it would live in words, in our stories, in our books, and it would bleed ink.