I'll excuse your extraneous plot details...unless you're a movie.

We should all try to become worse at lying.

We should all try to become worse at lying.

A work as fiction—a narrative— is comprised of a story (a series of events that have been crafted to entertain) and narration (the voice, or medium, through which the audience comes to know of the story). This narrative can’t be created until the story begins to have some structure.

Reality, as it unfolds, does not work this way because the raw material is unedited. Facts in a story that have not been crafted for entertainment can be falsifiable. 

Imagine, for example, that I ask my husband: "How was your day at work?”, and he responds: “it was awful. I was in traffic for two hours, it was raining, and by the time I got to work, my boss was angry and screamed at me.” 

I assume that he is recounting events that actually took place. I do not suppose that my husband crafted the story for my entertainment alone, but rather, to get it off his chest and, perhaps, to gather my reaction. He may have already crafted his story in advance, including editing out the unnecessary parts. Nevertheless, the facts that are contained within his story can be either true or false.

On the other hand, imagine that I am watching a movie in which characters have the same conversation—even a documentary—I presume that all the events that I view are “there for a reason”. Each event should function as a buttress in a larger narrative structure.

In order to continue watching, I must retain at least some faith that the structure of the narrative will grow increasingly apparent as I continue to invest my time in it. If that structure never becomes apparent to me, and I hold reasonable expectations that it will, then that story fails. 

I do not blame my husband for adding in a few unnecessary details to the story. I may grow tired of listening to him, but I have at least a minimal obligation to remain civil. Extraneous or unnecessary details in a story are less forgivable, and presuming both that the narrator is not the storyteller and that the narrator is a mediated entity (that is, he or she is not standing directly in front of me and speaking to me), I have little reason be polite about my perceived failings of the story.

When I narrate my own story--the story of my life--what do I need to disclose to the reader and what can I leave out? Do I “become a better person” if I confess all of my sins, or should I construct my life in a more neutral light? Surely we do not want to deceive ourselves, but neither do we want to critique ourselves for every minor mistake.

I often think that this idea of “becoming a better person” is too abstract. I have little motivation to attain this goal because the idea has not sufficiently justified itself to me. To me, many “common sense” rules appear arbitrary. Sometimes I fear that if I try to adopt them, I will become boring. Because, I now realize, I don’t like rules. 

I don’t want to imagine that my life is just like everyone else’s life. Even though I know that it is, in the most fundamental sense. But if I am to accept conventional wisdom, I have to accept that there is nothing special about my life. For me, this entails that I may find it difficult to continue to find myself interesting. I can no longer surprise myself.

It seems odd to me that life is, in many ways, so predictable; that certain actions are almost never positive. It is never a good idea, for example, to dwell for too long on unrequited love. Why? Because it is better for us to live in the real world, to interact with other people on a daily basis, to try, fail, and try again. It is better for our longevity, for our overall state of mind.

And yet, why couldn't it ever be the case that someone loves unconditionally, does all the “wrong things”, becomes so vulnerable that everyone else sees it as masochism—and then be an exception to the rule? If I love someone strongly enough, in my mind, and that person never reciprocates, do I become Humbert Humbert?

Do I craft a story about what happened in order to make sense of this personal tragedy--to justify my behavior? Or is it always healthier for me to feel the naked truth of the situation in all of its stark, unfiltered reality?

Why is it always the case that when you love someone in the wrong way, the other person will not love you back in the same wrong way? Why is it that when I show my vulnerability to another human being, it must be the case that this other person uses my weakness to torment me? Couldn't we both be vulnerable and odd in the same way so that we form a bond that defies all “common sense” relationships? I’m beginning to doubt it. I am baffled by the logic of relationships and the associated truisms.

How can it be that: if I do X, then the result is Y in all cases? How could it be that this is universally true – that the same equation holds for all of humanity? This would mean that when anyone has ever done X, the result has always been Y, and for this reason, I must not ever do X? If this is the way that the world works, then the world—quite frankly—is a bit boring. If a set of rules do not give me any good reason to adopt them for myself, then I am foolish if I do. I don’t know if this makes me immoral, but I don’t think that it does.

 

-FRW