H. A. Byrd

Those Strange Things That Happen

I dislike mysteries. I always have. Whodunit novels and films are fun, and many of my favorite stories are puzzles in some form, but in real life I can’t stand the unexplained. This is tough. Plenty of things in life are unexplained. The big existential questions have always driven me nuts. Who needs that kind of stress? But those little day-to-day enigmas, those too are maddening. I’m certain I left that paperwork right there on the dinner table. Yet it’s nowhere to be found.

My father grew up on 25th Ave in San Francisco. A while ago, for fun, I searched for the house on Google Street View. Not knowing the house number, I easily found the house on 25th Ave. I hadn’t seen my grandmother’s house since I was a young girl, but could picture it in detail: the stepped gables, the archway over the front steps, the position of the garage on such a steep hill.

I remember when I was five, playing with the family photographs from Grandma’s end table drawer and looking down to the street from her beautiful bay windows—this is where I learned the name of those projecting arcs of windows. She had them hung with Venetian blinds.

I sent the URL for the street view to my older sister. She emailed back, saying this wasn’t Grandma’s house, and sent me a photo showing the actual address. The house I remember is the house two doors uphill! Grandma’s had no bay windows. There is no answer for this.

Another time, the checkbook was missing. My husband Kevin and I had searched all the logical places, and the ridiculous ones too. Days passed. We searched. Finally, partly through desperation but mostly in fun, I found a forked stick and decided to water-witch the thing. Blindfolded, I turned around several times, and followed the quivering stick straight to the lost item. The checkbook had fallen through the back of a drawer and was stuck midway down behind a cabinet. Was finding it pure chance? My subconscious guiding me? Spirits? There’s much in this world which defies logic. I dislike mysteries.

There is always a gap that science can’t quite reach. The unexplained. Fantasy stories include this misty realm because it opens up possibilities. And in doing this, these stories sometimes touch a part of our mind that understands things which we don’t understand that we understand.

Some people miss the point of fantasy writing entirely:

“At least contemporary and historical fiction have roots in their circumstances. Even science fiction holds some possibilities of the future. Fantasy doesn’t have the slightest bit of chance of ever being realized.”--Cristina Hartmann, in the HuffPost

This woman's words have been out there floating around the internet for several years. I run across this article once in a while and it absolutely yanks my chain. It's true that fantasy isn't for everyone, which is the point of her article, but good fantasy writing is always quite real.

More than one thing can be true at the same time. Fantasy stories demonstrate this. Many fantasies aren’t about the world we live in. But they are, you see. All speculative fiction has roots in our reality. Otherwise, we would have no way to comprehend it.

Not only do fantasy stories spring from our day-to-day world, they inform us about how to live our lives. Human beings have been handing down knowledge through fantastic stories since time out of mind. Sometimes we can more willingly see the shortcomings of our society if it is viewed through the lens of make-believe. Stories, songs, and poetry all reach deeply into the complex consciousness. They have much to teach us.

Fantasy does indeed stand a chance of being realized. An army of elves might not show up at the last minute to save everyone, but a team of valiant software engineers might. Or a crowd of peaceful protesters. Stories translate to reality in many ways.

The magic of fantasy and the futuristic science of sci fi share tales that explore human nature. I have always loved Star Trek because the stories take place in a society which has evolved beyond our socio-economic disgraces. Stacey Abrams, the hero from Georgia, USA, is a big Star Trek fan. Stacey is interested in the fact that the franchise points out that those social issues can be addressed, yet conflict remains. In a 11/20 video on Nerdist.com she says. “How willing are we to find solutions when we think we have the answers?. . . .Even after Earth has become a utopia, humanity finds multiple reasons to disagree.” What interests her is how they integrate the diverse outlooks of the various federations and still “tackle those challenges.”

A fiction book is like a bonus lifetime in which to learn life lessons. The reader sees the world through someone else's eyes. Through the eyes of the narrator or protagonist, and of course the author. A person who reads a lot has a soul like a cut gemstone, many facets, many lifetimes of experience.

Fantasy is almost always about courage and honor or the spirit of adventure. Useful qualities for anyone. Magical elements of fiction tie in with our cultural memories of the monsters of yore, often the same monsters we face today. Self-absorption and greed, what nastier beast can there be! These power-hungry demons often steer the plot of a good story.

Fun and dreaming, creative thinking, joy de vive, these aren’t only for children. A life worth living is full of the fantastic! I think most people view the unknown as a vital element of what keeps life interesting. I love mysteries, I always have.

If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.

—Albert Einstein

I’m always irritated by people who imply that writing fiction is an escape from reality. It is a plunge into reality and it’s very shocking to the system.

—Flannery O’Connor
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Copyright © 2020 Harriet Arden Byrd