I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how we (as artists, as audience, and as humans) can sometimes self-program to hunt for dramatic elements – all those important “Gotta Hit This” Rising Action/Climax/New World Order/etc. points – in life.
And how screwed up that is.
Because life is not story. Even when we think in chapters, even when we impose our own impractical markers – I should accomplish X by graduation, I should be married/have a house/own my car by now, I should travel the world before I’m 60, I should start the New Year (every New Year) weighing less and able to buy more – we are not in control of the overlying structure of our life experience in the same way that a book or film shapes its characters.
Yet, we still try to mark time in story beats… in progressions… in dramatic arcs.
And when those “life markers” don’t happen at the right time, or if they don’t happen in the right sequence, we seize the drama of it! We grab tight to the conflict, and we try to anticipate where the climax will come and what results it will yield – If I take this path, fight that demon, drink this potion, and climb that wall… I might find that solution and get the girl/boy/new house/great job/pot of gold/etc. and my life will get easier… it will be rosy sunshine happiness and only minor hiccups from here on out!
But the truth is, life doesn’t follow the dramatic arc… it’s life. It just keeps going until it stops and your job isn’t to try and anticipate the hurdles and pay offs and story-ness of it all, it’s to just live.
Which is why we find ourselves picking up books and siting in the audience along the way – We want to watch someone have a contained experience that we can understand! We want to feel, for the moment at least, that we understand the human experience a little bit better. We want to walk away from the story feeling a little more in control of our own world view and the things that color it.
And I think that’s what I love about writing – I love diving in, getting messy, and then closing up shop with some renewed feeling of accomplishment, even if in my own life I often find myself desperately looking up to the big Author in the sky and shaking my fist at her/him for not following the arc I wanted to follow…
Because there is no happily ever after – we keep going – we get married and lose our house, or we get the dream job only to find that it’s awful… We are constantly fighting a thousand little battles that either go our way or don’t, but no matter the result, we keep moving forward into new, challenging situations that merge and swirl and carry us on, ever on, in this world without structure.
As artists, we spend so much time crafting and plotting and embracing made up worlds… sometimes we need to remind ourselves to love this one just as much, despite it’s uncertainty – to stop looking for meaning or the next dramatic “trick” around every corner, and just live.