Storytelling

I got excused from jury duty a couple years ago and celebrated by watching 12 Angry Men. That, for those of you that don’t know, is  film that in just over 90 minutes captures everything that is complex and beautiful about the American justice system. As a case study in the way that our own experiences and psychological biases can impact our ability to evaluate evidence, that film was decades ahead of its time. When it was made, many of the suppositions that the characters make in deconstructing the prosecution’s argument had yet to be corroborated by scientific studies and real-life trials. But as the O.J. Simpson trial showed, even if there is little reason to believe that the defendant is innocent, convicting them based on faulty evidence is not the American way. The burden of proof is on the prosecution, and if the only cause for certainty in the minds of those shouting “Guilty!” is the inherent human need to make everything fit together, acquittal is the only option. In this sense, the politics of 12 Angry Men are radical even today.

It’s something of a misconception that people go to the movies just to escape. They don’t just want fantasy; they want to see their world reflected back at them. Fiction provides us not just with comfort, but a reminder: Yes, happy endings are possible. Dr. Manhattan would counter that nothing ever ends, but the point is the universe does, in fact, have a shape to it. However, that shape reveals itself only after the fact. I’m getting very tired of losing friends, getting kicked out of apartments, and failing to get a date due to the same old bullshit happening over and over. Every time, I get just a little bit closer, but I never actually get there. It’s why I have such a complicated relationship with nostalgia. I’ve only had a couple of truly outstanding moments in my life. The night as a canvasser when I made quota with less than ten minutes to go on my last attempt before being let go, the moment when I learned I’d gotten into Columbia, I could go on. Each of these outstanding moments set me up for no end of heartache and stress. I was accepted into the school I’d dreamed about since high school, then spent the next few months losing sleep over whether or not I’d be able to find housing and come up with the money to pay for it all. I did, although not in the ways I’d hoped. I made quota as a canvasser, then spent the next few weeks desperately trying to repeat my success. They fired me. Not a happy ending, is it?

I think we need to dispense with the notion that storytelling serves no practical purpose. It challenges our preconceived notions and causes us to question our ability to make predictions. It’s not too difficult, at the outset of most books, films, and plays, to have some idea of how it will all end. But if the writer can surprise us with how, then he/she has achieved their purpose. When I complain about being single, people tell me, “You’ll find someone.” That’s not the point. How will I find someone, and when? (If your answer to that last one is, “When you’re least expecting it,” do me a favor and kill yourself.) I met a man slightly less than a year ago who managed to, in the space of five to ten minutes, make the voices in my head scream a bit softer. I kept hoping that we’d somehow meet again, but couldn’t make it happen. Oh, well. Now, I live in New York. God knows there’s no shortage of good-looking young men around there, right?

I have a talent for breaking down other people’s arguments, bit by bit, piece by piece. It’s difficult for me to put into words because most of the time, people think I’m just obsessing over petty details. I have grappled with OCD before, but that’s not the problem. When I played James Joyce in a play once, I spent an inordinate amount of time worrying about just what sort of Irish accent I should be attempting. Rural? Dublin? Should I seek out recordings of the real Joyce and imitate him? The answer turned out to be, “Just find something you like and stick with it.” Finding something I liked took awhile.

James Joyce and I have something in common. (No, it’s not his unusual fetish, and fuck you for even bringing that up.) Both of us have a need to take the entire world apart and put it back together again. Joyce, as portrayed in this play (Stoppard’s Travesties, in case you were wondering), is the sort of man who could go to a party and not hear a single word anyone says. He doesn’t care. All he can think about is his book. He’ll show up to social occasions to show respect for his friends, but if something about his work is out of joint, nothing else matters. That man spent ten years writing Ulysses and seventeen writing Finnegans Wake. I can’t make head or tail of either novel.

Pleasant surprises don’t happen very often. Unpleasant surprises happen all the time. Sometimes, I feel like I’m in free-fall. I’d like to say that I hope someone catches me, but I’m pretty sure I’ve hit rock bottom once or twice already. Doesn’t mean I couldn’t use a leg up. If anyone has a really hot friend they’d like me to meet, give him my phone number.

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