My favorite writing quote

The excerpt that I use an epigraph under my webpage title is the quote about writing that has become a kind of mantra for me. It is by the 18th-century Hasidic rabbi known as the Ba’al Shem Tov. It speaks to what I think is the healing power of stories.

“When the bond between heaven and earth is broken, even prayer is not enough; only a story can mend it.”

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One of my favorite writers, the neurologist Oliver Sacks, said something very similar in his book Hallucinations.

“To live on a day to day basis is insufficient for human beings; we need to transcend, transport, escape; we need meaning, understanding, and explanation; we need to see overall patterns in our lives.”

This is the power of Story, with a capital S.

In the 1990’s television series Northern Exposure, there was a recurring character named Leonard Quinhagak, a native American shaman, or healer, in the quirky Alaska town in which the series is set. The local doctor and main protagonist, Joel Fleischman, is a firm believer in the power of Western medicine and bristles at first when his patients call in Leonard instead. But Leonard doesn’t see himself as being in competition with Joel. I vividly remember one bar scene where Leonard explained what he did. He said that in order to cure his patients of the ills they were experiencing, he first had to get to know them—so he could discover the true Story of their lives, and tell it to them. Once they heard their Story, and believed it, they would be healed.

That is why I write: because I hope that in some small way I can be like Leonard, too. In connecting with my characters, uncovering their stories and sharing them in my books, perhaps readers I will never know can have an “aha!” moment and recognize their Story—and thus be healed.

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