Storytellers see the world just a little bit differently, I think. It has always seemed to me that the purpose of storytelling is to find one story, one little sliver of humanity juxtaposed against the vastness of the world or society, and from there show an essential truth about all of us. Often, I find this through Fantasy and Science Fiction (if you haven’t read The Sparrow, now would be a good time to start) – but not always.

Tonight I had the privilege of watching A State of Mind, a documentary that follows two girls, aged 11 and 13, as they train for the North Korean Mass Games (you’ve seen them, they’re the performances with thousands of gymnasts). Unlike the Olympic games, the Mass Games are not a competition; the express purpose is to teach the participants to become perfect communists, placing the needs of the collective of performers ahead of their own needs, and thereby create a show of perfect harmony.

At this juncture, I am simply going to have to recommend that you see the documentary yourself. (Americans, it is streaming on Netflix.) The filmmakers did an incredible job of showcasing the life of citizens in Pyongyang, touching on the hardships of those both inside and outside the privileged city, and showing – without comment – the fairly relentless barrage of propaganda. The girls and their families brought a human face to the (very recognizable) society in North Korea.

Anne Lamott has said that one of the best things about being a writer is being able to watch the world as a living tableau of inspiration. And the thing about inspiration is that it … waits. The images and scenes from A State of Mind will stay with me for some time, I think. I look forward to seeing the stories that emerge down the road!


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