Ever since I started to be self-analytical, I have realized that I use media as some kind of emotional anesthesia. A constant flow of *story* is one of the most reliable thing to keep my personal demons at a dull roar.
When I was younger, this meant I would sneak in reading pages of a book between school or work tasks. Then later, I’d listen to audio dramas and still later I’d sneak dvds in to work to have them playing in the background of my computer.
Modern technology has really opened up my ability to do this. I can just have a steady stream of podcasts, or netflix shows or youtube videos in my ear as I go about my daily business. Like some kind of a reverse Harrison Bergeron, the constant stream of distraction allows me to do more and live in greater peace.
I truly am more productive with it than without it. There are days when it’s all that keeps me from just falling into a giant pit of existentialism.
I have wondered if I could somehow break myself of this habit if it wouldn’t be better for me in the long-term, somehow, but it’s really difficult to value long-term growth over near-term functionality.
And maybe it wouldn’t be better after all. Who knows? It’s impossible to say, from here. And it’d certainly be a shame to do all the work to hollow myself out and build a different me if it turned out they were no better at achieving life goals than I am.
Narrative – especially character exploration and development – is my favorite drug. And probably it always will be.
Of course a given narrative, even a true one, is never the whole story. And I do worry, sometimes, if one of the main negative effects of feeding my addiction isn’t delusions of plot arc. Lives don’t go the way stories go. There’s no climax and denouement. There are no morals or lessons. There is character development, but it’s a strange, fungus-like outward creep rather than an arrow pointed at a particular goal.
It is difficult, maybe even impossible, to keep from looking at isolated sectional views of my life as narrative arcs. It doesn’t fit in well with the narrow, reactive day-to-day business of survival. It feels like…if life is to have meaning, it needs to have that arc. But life is bigger than that. It has all the details that get left out of a good story and lacks the interpretive thrust that gets put in to one.
Which isn’t to say that I will stop trying to spin stories out of my life – stories are how we teach and learn and understand. From ‘one train leaves St. Louis travelling at 40 miles and hour and another leaves Chicago travelling at 65’ to ‘What is Hecuba to him or he to Hecuba’ to even ‘in the beginning was the word’ or ‘a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away’ we use stories to give us new frameworks for our own lives, to interpret current and past events, to find the harmonic resonances in ourselves, to admonish, to grow, to learn and to teach.
A story doesn’t have to be true to contain Truth. And it doesn’t have to tell the whole truth and nothing but to elucidate important things.
After all, humanity is the storytelling animal. Our ability to draw sense out of chaotic events and bullshit our way into the truth is what separates us from other fauna.
If telling myself the story of my own life helps me to interpret it and understand myself better that isn’t a bad thing, nor a small one. It’s only when I bow under the weight of an old narrative and can’t create something newer that serves me that it becomes a problem.
A lifetime is a host of stories. They don’t all wrap up neatly and they don’t have a moral. They aren’t neat and pat and they intersect wildly. As long as I can hold onto the notion that I am not a story, but a rampaging herd of them, that framing is as useful as any to apply meaning to life.
I mean…probably, right?
I remember saying once to my therapist that trying to address my mental illness felt like living in a crumbling house while I was trying to fix it. And getting therapy felt like putting up scaffolding on the crumbling house – you feel safer on it than inside. It also makes it easier to work on the wreck of a house. It doesn’t mean it’s actually easy. Nor does it mean you won’t be envious of people whose houses already keep all the rain out.
It’s also a little like trying to read, write and market a novel at the same time as you’re constantly editing and polishing it. Nightmare. But feels better than getting no writing done at all….most days.
Anyhow. The metaphors are stories, too. So where do they end? They don’t. They’ll always be coming into me and going out till I cease to draw breath. And then they’ll still be happening everywhere else. Maybe even, if I’m lucky, about me…
In the meantime, if stories are what gets me through the day, I’m not going to avoid them out of some neo-Calvanist sense of self-denial equaling virtue. Whether they’re the ones I tell to myself or the ones I get other people to tell me, I’ll accept their smoothing of my road.