We all use narrative to tell ourselves (and other people) the story of our lives, to try to justify ourselves or make sense of the craziness. Have you ever had a friend who went from one crazy drama to the next? Sometimes all you can do is sit back and watch the soap-opera unfold from a safe distance, right? I was recently recalling the few friends that I have fallen out with over the years. Underneath from the incredible theatrics of our friendships ending, there were always similar tales they had confided in me: “Sarah and I used to be so close, then she betrayed me”, “Lucinda was my best friend, then she stabbed me in the back.” On reflection, it was the same story over and over. I’m so relieved not to have these people in my life anymore, especially when I hear through mutual acquaintances that even more shit has gone down. It does make me wonder about the narratives of my life – of everyone’s lives. What stories we are telling and repeating?
Listening to other peoples narratives
Have you ever reflected on the stories your parents tell you to make sense of their lives, or how your story is similar and different from theirs? Families often have repeating themes that cross generations: infidelity, wanting/trying to have children, failed career aspirations, trauma, being neglected or abused, winning, achieving, and so on. The way our parents make sense out of the world affects the way that we learn to see it as children, and sometimes it we never even question their truths. If we don’t question we just go on subconsciously living the same plot with the same villains, be they personal acquaintances, the government, rich people or criminals. We go on striving for the same goals without figuring out whether we actually want the things or not. It can be liberating to step out of ones family narrative and have a really good look at it. Are you stuck in the same kind of romance narrative trap or have you got your own unique brand?
Have you ever thought about the repeating stories your friends tell you? Are they the hero? Did they just discover the most awesome zombie apocalypse defense plan ever? Do they feel the urge to name drop in conversations and talk themselves up? Are they, maybe, overcompensating much? People sometimes feel the need to tell their story (at least outwardly) as if they are the best thing since sliced bread. This can be a bit exhausting if you want to chill and have genuine conversations about important things, like cats. But at least people who are telling you all these great stories, like how they saw Elijah Wood once in the cosmic corner in Cuba St and he was getting his head massaged by an Orgasmatron, and, wait, look at me, I’m talking… these kinds of people are a little less difficult than the opposite kind of narrative…
“Why does this always happen to me? I can’t believe he would do this?” Can you hear the cries of the victim? Perpetual victims are also very exhausting, and everyone has an inner-victim, everyone knows what it feels like to be victimised, to be mistreated, to be hurt: c’est la vie. Most likely, people who are incessant victims can’t see the pattern very clearly in themselves, and perhaps if they could the gained perspective would be an invaluable asset. Instead of projecting all that pain onto absolutely everyone who comes into their lives, maybe, just maybe, they could step slightly to the left and edge out of the vicious cycle consuming their lives. It’s an interesting thing to think about, anyway: everyone has an inner victim and an inner hero because everyone is the protagonist (main character) of his/her story. These character archetypes tend to fit easily into a genre and follow the same plots over and over until something changes.
Comedy or tragedy?
There are two meta-genres that date back to at least the ancient Greeks. They would go out, in their togas, to see a play like Oedipus – that was all murder and incest and suicide, followed (thankfully) by a ridiculous comedy like Lysistrata – that was all sexually frustrated husbands and giant erections. The tragedy plot is the one most sensible people want to avoid. It goes like this: Life is okay but a bit shit, oh it just got worse, oh dear, more worse, now it couldn’t possibly get any worse than that, but just when you think it might get better, from left field, comes something… something so horrendous you can’t even imagine, then it gets worse again. Sometimes it ends there, sometimes there is a bit of a resolution tacked onto the end. Think: 1984, Trainspotting, Requiem for a Dream, Biutiful, and just about every horror film ever made.
A comedy, on the other hand, is usually silly and amusing, much lighter and more palatable than it’s tragic cousin. A comedy used to be anything that wasn’t a tragedy, for instance, some Shakespearean comedies aren’t even funny, but no one dies, so it’s okay. Traditionally comedies end with people getting married or engaged À la Importance of Being Ernest, because marriage is funnier and more palatable than death, apparently. It seems pretty obvious that unless, you are a total martyr, you would prefer life to be a comedy than a tragedy, and probably if you are a very serious person who wants to be taken very seriously, you’d prefer a more contemporary genre, a modern drama perhaps. You could be the lead role in Grey’s Anatomy or something less medical but equally tense and pointless. Probably, you are too edgy for these kinds of mainstream things and are more like an indy/artsy film: some things happen, something is odd, there is food, roll credits.
What’s the plot?
The plot of one’s life tends to be a lot to do with aspiration, meaning and your ability to achieve. If you’re trying to figure your plot out, think about: what is important to you? What are you trying to do? Is it working? I have come across people who are always on the verge of a big break-through. Every time I see them it’s something else that is almost about to happen – they are just about to be famous, just about to be recognised, just about to actually do a thing, but it never works out. There is so much energy thrown into this unrealised destination thinking, this great hope and expectation and then, into dealing with yet another disappointment. This one seems to be a dysfunctional plot because instead of actually doing all the things, a huge amount of energy is wasted in unrealistic expectation. Other people have dysfunctional plots and sub-plots that center around always being too busy, being broken and trying to fix oneself *hem hem*, never being the one who is chosen, being left out, someone else is the bane of their existence, being betrayed/rejected/abandoned, being sick, being guilty/sneaky/a bad person, and so on.
Transformation and losing the plot
Obviously not all plots are a problem, but when they are, and when you start to see them in all their repetitive, cyclic glory, you have the opportunity to step back and get better perspective. Perspective helps, and when you start to change one part of a plot the rest will have to change too. Unfortunately you can’t fix other people’s plot dysfunctions, and most of the time, the really dysfuctional people are not interested in seeing outside of their circular universe because they’re so enthralled by the mounting drama, but you can try to point out the giant ice-berg beneath the water. Either way, if you don’t buy into the drama, it has less effect on your life… and then what? Well that is up to you. How do you want to write the story of your life?