Thursday, 21 June 2012

Your life is not a story, not even a tragic one

This is probably going to be a short post, owing to the tremendous writer's block tying me down at the moment. I COULD review something, anything, but to be honest I haven't done enough yet to review enough to make a full-ish post. So I'll just keep things short and sweet.
EDIT: It didn't turn out to be all that short after all. Hooray!

We all know at some intrinsic level that we want our lives to be a story - generally a happy story, or a rollercoaster ride at least, but regardless of that, any story will suffice. People can even find meaning out of tragic stories, filled with unimaginable harshness. But the reality is, life is not a story. Things do not work out in a way that can easily be parsed by a human mind. Things are predetermined (or else random, even worse), but predetermined in a random way, or at least in a way that is not at all meaningful to the human psyche. So while we can make TV shows and books and the like showing what our hearts truly desire - for us to be entrapped in a reality is interesting from start to finish, or that always sticks to a particular formula.

But even if we can pretend so, or if we sincerely hope so, lives are not stories. Stories are well-defined from start to finish, and have a definite plot. They are not made by random number generation, nor by atoms colliding in a particular way. Why is it that human lives are not stories, exactly? Because (a they have long periods of nothingness (e.g. sleep) and long periods of relentless boredom. And while stories may often be boring, they do not contain constant boredom. Only boredom to serve a plot point that progresses the character of the story. Tragic stories do not even contain boredom, because it is not as suffering-heavy as other forms of suffering out there. Boredom is the most meaningless emotion, I think. Having most of our days (whether through work or school) filled with boredom does not a story make. If the rest of our lives did in fact fit the story pattern, there would be so little of that pattern that you could not consider it anything more than negligible.

But what if you still argued that lives were still stories even if the vast majority of them were filled by long spans of trash and unintelligible low-level suffering? The problem with that is that most of them still do not resemble anything meaningful. A typical life may contain divorce or an unhappy marriage, or at least a slow extremely painful decline into old age riddled with tubes and drugs and tears. Are all lives tragedies then? No, because they contain happy moments, and the ending is certainly not happy. Also the protagonists feel that their lives are good usually. Are all lives protest stories about how things can go wrong? No because they often get a lot better, then get worse, then get better again. Things just happen. Randomly. Are all lives roller-coaster rides then? No, because they are filled with much of the mundane. Only a few moments are actually charged with particular emotion. Add in the fact that most of us spend little of our lives now actually living and instead entertaining ourselves with REAL stories and you have a recipe, not for disaster, but for nothing at all.

Thanks to Sister Y, for introducing (as far as I know) the idea that people accept suffering because it makes their life into a story, here and in a few other places too, I think.


  1. Other thing that goes againsy life being considered a story:

    - in stories the protagonist is the "hero" and other people are just in the way. In real life, everyone is potentially the hero, so there´s more confusion because everyone tries to get their place at the sun. Hence conflict arises.

    And lots of other examples.

  2. People who keep pushing the "life is wonderful" line seem to forget that for the vast majority of people, most of what we do in life is not enjoyable. I don't necessarily mean that it is painful or we hate it, but that it is something neutral or boring we try to get through on a daily basis. The times of great enjoyment are very small compared to the huge amounts of time that are mundane or worse. I like how you point this out in your post.

  3. Yeah, Gary (inmendham) also often stresses the point that there is a lot of mediocrity in our lives.