Is life stranger than fiction?

Elif autographI’ve always lived by the motto that life is stranger than fiction and more interesting. That’s why I have personally always pursued knowledge and read books that I could learn something from rather than fiction, which I often saw as a waste of time, like watching TV something that will give you no intellectual benefit, but just hollow entertainment.

But Elif Shafak in her King’s lecture last week reminded me that fiction can indeed bring knowledge in an indirect and sometimes unintentional way.

In her talk Elif said that she saw herself as a story teller not as a teacher or someone who tells people what they should think. Her stories are purely fictional and based on her imagination.

However, I have found that despite her intentions, I have actually learnt a lot form Elif’s books. My favourite of her books is Forty Rules of Love which is based on the story of Rumi and Shams and their relationship.

Although it’s a fictional book, I learn a lot about Sufism from it, or Sufism as Elif sees it. The forty rules of love that are in the book, are not from Shams as I originally thought they were, but they are from Elif herself. The rules a very beautiful, profound and moving, and I have learnt a lot from them.

My belief is that every individual is connected to the whole universe and if they are guided by their intuition they can tap into knowledge that is universal. Being led by intuition is often easier when writing fiction, rather than factual writing. When writing about facts there is not much room to tap into that universal knowledge that can be felt by us to be true if we are open to it, but cannot always be proven methodologically. This is the benefit that fiction has over factual books for the writer and the reader.

Once about ten years ago, someone asked me ‘why do you like to read so much?’ And I thought about it, and I said ‘because I try and learn something from what I read,  I want to glimpse the truth in it.’  This more significant something that brings a sudden realisation or inspiration can be heard in songs, lyrics, paintings, poems, movies or any kind of art really, and I guess that’s why it’s appreciated so much.

Writing about facts is also easier than writing fiction, because you can hide behind the facts, you are just merely giving your interpretation to someone else’s work. Writing fiction or poetry cannot help but be partly biographical, it comes from your thoughts and feelings your anxieties and fears.

Writing fiction or your own ideas makes you more vulnerable than writing about facts. I often feel like when I am writing blog posts it’s easier to write about a book, rather than coming up with my own material from scratch. After all, in that way I can hide behind the knowledge that is already out there without revealing too much of myself, but as Rumi himself said:

“Run from what’s comfortable. Forget safety. Live where you fear to live. Destroy your reputation. Be notorious.”

And that is hard motto, but one to live by if we want to be true to ourselves….



About Maia

My name is Maia, I live in London, UK, and I originally come from the Czech Republic. Maia's World is my blog where I write about life in general, personal development, and about ideas, beliefs and discoveries on how to live a fuller life.
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2 Responses to Is life stranger than fiction?

  1. T says:

    The quote by Rumi offers some insight into conquering our fears. . . but imagine for a minute if everyone lived that passionately and care free? We’d be a pretty self-indulgent, narcissistic society don’t you think? I think quotes like these can mean more (and we can give them more credit) then they deserve.

    A famous line from a Yeats poem says something like “the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity”. There are so many bloated egos, so many people already destroying their reputations and living notoriously. . .but you know what. . .the ones we need to listen to, the ones that change the world are also the ones we least expect–the ones least visible. I still maintain that the most outwardly boring people are also the most interesting.

    Anyway. . .you are gorgeous and I think Czech women are beautiful. . .and I am totally led by the nose to respond here when I see your blond hair and the fact that you have something interesting to say.


    • Maia says:

      Thanks for the comment T.

      I see the Rumi quote as you say as motivating us to conquer our fears and stop fearing what society will think of us, encouraging us to embrace change and differences.

      You’re right that it could also be interpreted as advocating that everyone becomes uncaring, selfish and egotistic. I guess it depends which way the notoriousness develops in a positive or in a destructive way..

      That’s a very interesting Yeats quote you mention, me and my friend where just talking yesterday about how it’s easy to be contrary all the time and think one thing one minute and another thing the next (I do this all the time), this is usually seen as a sign of weakness in our society, where it is seen that strong personalities have concrete opinions which they never let go of and defend constantly.

      You are right that often the most boring and uninteresting people on the outside are the most fascinating, spiritual and knowledgeable on the inside. Because being outwardly different, is an often an expression of the ego.

      There is contradiction in this also though because often boring people are boring because they are afraid to speak up and differentiate themselves from society, they want to but they there is something stopping them, they are afraid to be notorious and risk their reputation.

      So I guess this makes two types of boring people, the ones that don’t care what others think of them and so they don’t care that they appear boring and they are often the ones who are more interesting on the inside when you get to know them.

      Then there are the boring ones, who are actually afraid to explore different possibilities and they need to loosen up a bit and risk their reputation by expressing themselves in order to find themselves and not care what others think of them.

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