How much does our story matter? In a world with billions of people and billions of other stories, why spend time and effort shouting ours into the aether? Will it not be drowned out by the shrieking multitude, so aptly portrayed by the human zoo we find online?
Storytelling is part of our basic nature, of course, but we overthink it. We think our story is only worth telling if it’s inspirational enough, or shocking enough, or has enough commercial value. And after we’ve told it, we think it’s not good enough unless it’s promoted enough and gets enough positive responses. We idolize a select few paid storytellers, aspiring to be like them and seeing ourselves as failures if we aren’t.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be a better storyteller! There’s nothing wrong with lusting to be the person who makes the tribespeople whisper excitedly that you’re going to be at the gathering tonight, and they’ve heard that you have a new story, and everyone can’t wait to hear it. Being that person is awesome–where we go wrong is in thinking that only that person gets to tell any stories.
The Romulans have the right idea. Yes, we’re off to science fiction; the original Star Trek series to be exact. In one episode, (The Enterprise Incident, if you want to know, and there are about to be spoilers) Spock is caught in an act of espionage aboard a Romulan ship and is about to be executed. As part of the formalities, he asks for and is granted the Romulan Right of Statement. A recording device is turned on and he is allowed to speak about what he did, why he did it and any other thoughts he has.
In the episode, Spock is using this speech to stall, and his executioner gets impatient because she knows it. Spock points out that there is no time limit on the Right. (By the way, there’s a Star Trek novel in which McCoy, standing trial on the Romulan world, uses this fact to conduct an outright filibuster–by the time he’s rescued, he’s rendered his listeners glassy-eyed with hours of rhapsodies about everything from his med school pranks to his pursuit of the perfect chili recipe.)
Putting aside the potential impracticalities (many wouldn’t be in a hurry to die, so would it just turn out that they talk until they fall down, having soiled themselves at some point because they can’t stop to go to the bathroom?) we’re still left with my basic point: the Romulans believed that even a condemned criminal’s story was important.
In the ongoing trial that takes place inside my head, the condition of our planet and culture is often used by the prosecution if they run out of material relating to my personal unworthiness. Placing my witnesses for the defense on the stand, they harangue them with questions designed to leech the meaning from any reasons the defense tries to give for going on, trying, creating for one more day. Declaring my evidence irrelevant or insufficient, the prosecution moves that it be stricken from the record and a verdict rendered.
I have always hated the idea of departing without telling my story. When I was close to the end, and believed I was out of options, the thing that bothered me the most was not having written the things I dreamed of writing. It tortured me more than the simple fear of death, or the shame, or the regret about other things unseen and undone.
Now I have a second chance–well, a millionth chance, really. No one forced me to keep my mouth shut and my fingers still for all of those years. It was my choice, no matter what sickness affected me. Today I can face the question: how badly do I want to speak my story? Am I willing to do it imperfectly? Am I willing to do it even if it’s not deemed important? While I stand (as we all do) awaiting my death, am I willing to put passion into my statement, even if it might only be filed away with a myriad of others?
I am an addict in recovery; I have a temporary and contingent reprieve from the worst consequences of my addiction. I live with another condition that drastically increases my risk of self-harm. I live on a world in peril; a world with an uncertain future. Perhaps I am only stalling and extending my trial. Perhaps everything I’ve been writing, and everything I will write in the years I have left, is only my version of the Romulan Right of Statement.
We’re back to the idea that I have certain illogical beliefs keeping me alive. Beliefs that tell me it does matter; that our stories matter even they only serve to contribute to a mass shriek of consciousness emanating from some future wreckage. Consciousness matters, my words matter, your words matter, and screw anyone who tries to tell us they don’t. Today, I will claim the Right.