Thursday, November 02, 2006

Mending the world

I’m sitting in the arts lab again. There’s the hum of unused computers, a few people typing, and a smell like old cheeseburger. I’ve been trying to work out where it’s coming from, but I’m not succeeding. I glance at the other people, but I can’t glance too long, of course. Because then they’d notice and want to know why, and I don’t want to end up saying, I’m trying to work out whether you’re the cheeseburger person. Because then I’d look even worse than someone who goes around smelling like old cheeseburger, if that’s possible.

I’m meant to be studying, but I felt the sudden need to write a post. Not even necessarily a post about anything much. Possibly even a post about what I’m studying, because it’s more fun to post about what you’re studying than to actually study it. I’m studying the tv series Dark Angel at the moment, which means that I can go to the Short Loan and borrow the dvd and spend a couple of hours just sitting around watching it – and this still counts as studying. (Leila says, now that’s what studying should be like.)

I never watched that much Dark Angel when it was on tv, but I remember being intrigued by it. I’m always intrigued by things where there’s someone with special powers and they have to cover them up and survive; they are hidden and magical and separate and mysterious. They are the sort of person I pretend to be when no one’s looking.

A vain part of my brain says, oh, that’s because you’ve always been a writer, and to be a writer is always a hidden power. You sit slightly separate to things a lot, because part of your head is already writing them. Sometimes the real world is slightly too fictional, and things happen and you can’t believe them. You can pour anyone who hurts you into words, and they can’t do anything about it. You can transform things; you can make things happen.

But in a way, being a writer isn’t really the same. You don’t get to do the cool scenes where your characters are in a dark city, flying from building to building; you don’t necessarily get the happy endings, even if you write them. I remember as a kid trying to write stories where I was a character in the story, where I could change things, significant things. Well, significant to me, anyway. There was one story where a girl arrived at my school who had been orphaned by a major earthquake in Wellington, and she became my best friend. She wore a blue dress and her name was Hope. She was the main character. (I was usually the main character’s best friend, as opposed to the main character, I’m not sure why). And having her as a best friend made it stop mattering that my best friend Katherine had abandoned me and the intense, addictive make-believe we used to play, because she’d rather spend lunchtimes with Miriam, who hated me. In the story, I had Hope, and it stopped being agony. (Being a ten year old girl abandoned by her best friend is always complete agony. Trust me.)

And making up a story didn’t fix anything, but I still hadn’t totally learnt where the line was between the story world and the real world, even though the logical part of my head knew. I sat in class and waited for her to turn up one morning, in her blue dress, and my teacher would say, Leila, can you show Hope around? And then the story would begin, and it would be like I imagined it. I waited and waited but she never came. The story stayed in my head for a while though. It was beautiful, and it tidied up the world in a way that I couldn’t manage. (In the end, Katherine and I ended up friends again, because make-believe with anyone else wasn’t quite the same.)

There was another story where I was the main character’s best friend again, but I had a golden pen which I wore on a string around my neck, and everything I wrote with it would be in golden ink, and everything I wrote with it would come true. The metaphor was totally unconscious, believe it or not. I never noticed that I was really the character in control of events, or that to have a pen which controlled things showed that even when I was a character in my own story, I was still its writer. Blame my subconscious. It’s responsible for all the interesting stuff.

But often, I think we come up with fantasy because we want to transform the world, which is what Sartre argues. We can turn the world darker, more messed up. We can make earthquakes happen in Wellington; we can turn the US into a third world country with a terrorist attack from an electromagnetic pulse. But we can also turn ourselves into the people who save it. The main character of Dark Angel, Max, has been transformed into the being she is by a sinister organisation who have changed her genetics; but at the same time, she transforms herself all the time. She puts on a disguise and slips past security to save people. And when things go wrong, she can always fly through the air and beat everyone up. Who hasn’t wanted to be like that at some point? Who hasn’t wanted to be the person who is magical and fixes everything?

There are always a thousand things wrong with the world, it seems, and people often argue that fantasy exists because we want to escape from them. I think that the opposite is the case. Fantasy is a way of mending things, even if it is only a make-believe way. A fantasy world only works because we hold it up next to our own world, because, in a way, it is part of our own world. The things we make up can affect our lives just as much as the real things. We write our problems into fantasy, and we solve them. And the solution is often simple and beautiful, because it is the magic we want but can’t have. In the world of Dark Angel, a girl really can sneak past armed guards and rescue a child who is being held hostage, and fight off almost anyone who attacks her.

The world I live in is a more comfortable one, most of the time. If a sensible person chose, they wouldn't choose to live in a dangerous world unless they were particularly brave. But even so, that wouldn't necessarily stop them from wanting it. Even if I had a choice, I wouldn’t put myself in that much danger because I am not a tv character, so I can't be sure that I’d survive it. Afterall, I don’t have any magic tricks other than words. But I want magic all the same, even though I'll never really get it. I suspect I always will.