Imitation of Life

I think we need to get something cleared up here. You might be wondering why I blog so much. It’s not because I can’t stop myself; it’s because it’s a useful way to make the dogs in my head bark softer. And I don’t do it at the rate that I used to. I wrote my 100th post exactly eight months after I started. It’s been slightly over ten months since then, and this is my 200th. You could say I’m emphasizing quality over quantity. See, I’ve always believed that the only way to possess something is to detach oneself from it. (It’s kinda Zen.) If you want a good job, you have to show people that you are a productive and hardworking employee, and maybe, just maybe, they’ll hire you. If you want a romantic partner, you must show people that you are sympathetic and independent, and maybe, just maybe, they’ll date you. If you want good friends, a nice apartment, or what have you, similar rules apply. Jesus said that if you want to be saved, you must sell all your possessions and follow him. It’s not capitalism that he was opposed to, just selfishness. What I’m talking about is either selflessness or solipsism, depending on your point of view.

It might surprise you to learn that while I spend a lot of my time writing, I don’t consider myself an artist. It’s not because I can’t stand labels. (Frankly, I’m tired of people saying that they don’t believe in labels. You know your name is a label, right? It’s alright if you don’t want to be confined by an arbitrary signifier, but labels aren’t supposed to tell us who people are, just what they are. The problem is that people misuse them so much.) No, it’s because I could give this up if I wanted to. Blogging is by turns fun, cathartic, and stressful. There have been multiple incidents of real world drama due to something I’ve said here over the past year and a half. You’d think I’d learn not to crack sick jokes or bash people whom I know personally after a while, but it’s not my fault that I like to rape babies and my mom is a whore. (I don’t and she isn’t.) I just think that no matter what I’m talking about, I had better be honest. Sometimes, that means offending people. Winston Churchill said that having enemies means you’ve stood up for something, but I don’t set out to make enemies, and if you’re even reading this, you aren’t one of them.

vonnegutKurt Vonnegut mentioned this in his rules of writing fiction, but it’s a dirty little secret of storytelling that the ending doesn’t have to be a surprise. Shakespeare is a prime example. If it’s a tragedy, just assume that everyone will die. If it’s a comedy, assume they’ll all be married. That covers about 2/3 of his plays right there. Everyone loves a good surprise twist (“An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”, The Sixth Sense), but sometimes, it’s comforting, even enlightening, to see everything play out exactly as you thought it would. My favorite writing manual (and there are some good ones out there) is called How Not to Write a Novel. The authors realized that telling people how to write fiction is silly, because great art is all about breaking rules, and the established classics all became that why by doing things that everyone said couldn’t be done. Instead, they list things that, in their experience, just don’t work. Don’t, for example, write 80% of a romantic comedy, then switch to sci-fi/horror in the last act. Gear shifts can work (the Japanese film Audition comes to mind), but it’s more important that you play by the rules of your own universe.

I had a friend growing up who infuriated me. For one thing, he was a selfish, two-faced asshole who would stop by my house uninvited and step inside the instant I opened the door but would literally slam the door in my face if I dropped by his place unannounced. For another, his family had significantly more money than mine did. His father was a successful businessman who, thanks to his connections, had met several famous people (he had pictures of him trying on an NFL star’s Super Bowl ring and sitting in the DeLorean from Back to the Future). He was a nice guy. But back to my friend. Viewed from the outside, my friend’s life was infinitely more exciting than mine. His parents bought him his own computer at a time when the rest of us had to take turns on the family computer. (When I remarked upon what an expensive gift it was, his response–I swear–was, “It was only, like, $1500.”) His mother seemed like the model of a perfect housewife, and whenever I hung out with him, we would do cool stuff like go berry picking or play in their fancy treehouse or play video games on a console that my parents refused to buy me.

Why am I telling you this? Simple: If you want to live a life that is not just happy but, let’s say, spiritually fulfilling, you have to walk the fine line between looking out for yourself and still acknowledging the needs of others. It sounds easy, but since there are infinite ways to get it wrong (and comparatively few ways to get it right), it’s tricky. The better I got to know my friend, the more I realized how fucked up his family truly was. His mother could turn on a dime from sweet and charming to a vicious bitch resembling something out of a Bette Davis movie. His father was fun and friendly, but kind of ineffectual. My family…well, they are certainly more trustworthy than my friend’s, I will say that for them. I don’t pretend to be anything I’m not. But that doesn’t mean I broadcast everything about me, either. Privacy is an oft-misunderstood concept. It’s not about drawing a line in the sand between your private life and your public life. It’s about realizing that the barrier between the two is permeable, and telling people only what they need to know. So, you know, keep plugging away. It’s not easy, but it can be rewarding.

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