Actually, I Haven’t got any Opinions | KATARINA WEST

Actually, I Haven’t got any Opinions

There are people who have a way with opinions: I’m not one of them. 

This has been a marvellous year for me as an author, not the least because it has involved a number of big and small interviews I’ve given about Witchcraft Couture and my work as a writer. Doing each of those interviews has been a thrilling experience – and sort of weird too, because all of a sudden I, an observer before anything else, have been churning out opinions about anything and everything from my favourite seasons to my favourite fictional characters.

So I’ve found a new truth about myself. Namely, that I don’t have many opinions. Opinions don’t come naturally to me. There are people who have a way with opinions: I’m not one of them. I’m lucky to have only a few real opinions of my own, and even in that case I’ve incubated them for years before they really started to come to life.

So yes, opinions are not my forte. They make me nervous. Because do I know – I mean, really know – what I think about a given issue? Everything is so relative. And fluctuating: subject to mood changes, and life changes, and that ever-so kaleidoscopic perspective. That’s why even the simplest questions (Name three famous writers, dead or alive, you’d like to lunch with? What’s the best book you ever read?) are impossible to answer. Because, honestly, it depends. It always depends. Always.

Things get even more dicey if we step out of the framework of simple interview questions and think about the Big Issues – values, ideologies, principles, worldviews. There my indecision makes me a downright schizophrenic, because it’s wholly possible for me understand (and sometimes even support) opposite views of thinking. Where you stand depends on where you’re sitting, and if a person thinks a certain way, it’s because he or she has lived a certain kind of life. In that particular culture and period. Had I lived that same life, I’d think the same way too.

Yet the problem with opinions is that if you’ve got too many opposing opinions, it’s like having no opinions at all. You’ve got to choose. But it’s the act of choosing which is difficult for me.

Or wait a minute. It’s difficult to live without opinions, but in writing it comes in handy. Because storytelling is nothing but the act of withholding your opinions. It’s the antithesis of rating and judging – it’s about giving life to characters who may not think and act the way you do. Yet still, you must empathise with them, even if you don’t accept their choices.

Be that as it may, why do opinions come so slowly to me? One answer must be that writing is my way of forming a judgement: it’s my way of categorising and mapping the world, of understanding it. But writing requires time. It requires thinking and editing. Which is why opinions require time, too.

And then there’s the researcher in me, the one who spent years writing a doctorate (which, at the end of the day, is nothing but an outstandingly sophisticated system of verifiable opinions), insisting that in order to have an opinion, you must first know the facts. So forming an opinion is an amazingly slow procedure. You’ve got to read, got to do the research, got to know the statistics. Or live it through, first-hand, be the witness of your case.

Yet how many of us have the time to do that? With all the opinions bouncing around online and in society at large? Who has the time to track down the validity of various claims and sources? And what counts as reliable information?

Having said that, I do have one opinion, about having opinions. It goes like this: true opinions are like gems, and the more precious they are, the harder it is to obtain them. Plus not only is it hard to obtain them: it is just as hard to maintain them. You have to keep polishing them, you must hold them against the sunlight, and see if they shine as brightly and beautifully as they did a month or a year ago.

Still, there’s nothing like the pleasure of having an opinion that is yours, and yours alone.



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