Thursday, January 5, 2012

Big Ideas

Recently, I finished a book that, while assuming the guise of a more articulate/literary version of chick lit, posed some questions about how we view and conduct our lives. Perhaps the most profound observation was about how we (as humans) attempt to fit the story of our lives into a traditional narrative structure—where every major event seems to have a distinct beginning, middle, and end. There is the exposition, the obstacle, and the resolution, all of which are only truly visible in hindsight. Everything happens to move the plot along, no matter how small that action happens to be. We each should be the heroes of our own stories, and each story should have some greater impact on the surrounding world if it is to be one at all worthwhile.

But, does life ever really fit into such a neat, tidy construction? Not really.  Indeed, much of what we do is meaningless, at least in the sense of contributing to some universal narrative If life were like a novel, my choice to drive to work via Main Street versus Gillham would have a huge impact on not only the rest of my day but my entire life and potentially, the lives of others (I would show up to work late, have to park in a space far, far from the building, further delaying me from reaching my desk on time, which would mean I miss an important phone call from my manager, etc.).  In real life, all of these things may still happen, but there would not be some ulterior reason, no grand cosmic scheme that drove these events. It wouldn’t be the day that my life changed for a grander purpose. It would just be a day that happened to be awful.

Life cannot really be narrowed down to such a fine point. It is far too complicated, far too messy for that. Yet, try as we might to avoid such a conceit, we still have a tendency to see our lives as one big adventure. Or, as I shouldn’t speak for everyone else, I know that I do.  Why do I do it? It gives me a sense of purpose. It makes me feel like there is order in the world. Random events make me nervous because I want to understand…indeed there is a need to understand. I don’t like mystery, I don’t like uncertainty. I unconsciously seek out patterns and connections, and maybe, I tend to create connections that really are not there. I want to believe that some of my more irrational choices were not so irrational, that I knew one decision would change the entire course of my life.

I like the idea of being a hero. It is far more exciting to think in those terms than it is to recognize yourself as simply another cog in the corporate wheel. Maybe that is why I tend to seek out different experiences, like traveling to Kazakhstan or hiking in Croatia. It isn’t only because I want to see these places for myself, but also because I am writing my own story in a way to make it more exciting, more intriguing for some invisible audience.  So, in a sense, in buying into the whole idea that life is one great novel (or movie if you prefer to think in those terms), I make major life decisions based on audience appeal.  If I am bored with my life, then certainly my invisible audience is, too, and that requires a major shake up. I need to change just for changes sake, not necessarily because things are not working as they are. Hmm…

Most likely, I have given this idea way too much thought. I tend to do that with ideas that intrigue me.  And, the longer I think about an idea, the more muddled and tangential my musings on it become, as has happened with this piece. Still, it cannot hurt to ponder some of these things. Granted, it isn’t going to change how I live my life, but it does help me keep my mind fresh. I think mulling over ideas isn’t so much about giving credence to them or rejecting them outright…it is more to keep our mind alive and open to possibilities. It helps remind us that the world is infinitely more fascinating and complex than we will ever be able to fathom.  Or it means absolutely nothing, and it would be better for all if I leave this kind of thinking to those far more intellectual…

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