I can’t get stories out of my head. You’re a story in my head. You’re the whacky neighbor that pops into the middle of my day to tell me the crazy thing that impels my third act. You’re the best friend who is always up for getting lost while driving. You’re the lonely gargoyle perched high on a spire, looking down on all the tiny, small people below, so far beneath you; slowly turning to stone. You’re the one I’m pretty sure has a secret room somewhere in your house, that I don’t ever want to accidentally find while I’m looking for the bathroom. You’re the one I watch wondering, how will they fuck up their lives next?
I’m thinking about the stories we tell others about our lives. The stories, that really, are our lives. I recently met up with some people I hadn’t seen in a while and we caught up on the changes since last we’d met. New jobs, and new girlfriends, new houses and new hair. And new stories. The last few years, my life, it has been …stories. When you start telling some of the events from the last few years of my life, it sounds like TV, it sounds like a sit-com, or a political thriller, or a crime drama (it could be written in so many different ways). Mostly I think it would fit in as one of those quirky little Netflix dramas, about a madcap neighborhood. Or a travel documentary for people who hate travel. I have a lot of stories, weird stories. And that’s without the pandemic and the murder hornets. And that’s all your life is really, just a collection of your best stories. The things you talk about when you sit down with someone you haven’t seen in a while, the parts we show, because we’re all playing the highlight reel. The days that would have made for great TV. We’re all just a little bit convinced we’re the center of the universe. All events are ‘scene’ through the lens of how they affect us, whether they have anything to do with us or not. We live a little bit in the opinion that all stories are only relevant in how they intersect with our story.
But then, I’m a writer and I’m crazy. I’m a mediocre writer, to be sure, but I am excellently crazy. And more importantly, I am even better at editing, at seeing what parts of the story aren’t working, and ruthlessly removing them from the narrative. So I have a tendency to have more good stories than most, because I tend to write my life like it’s just a story and I’m in the drafts process of creating it. For instance, a romantic/friendship/working relationship is no longer amusing and is disrupting the storyline? Edit/ delete from contacts/remove from narrative, drop the non-working plotline. Move on to the next chapter. A person wrongs you, causes you aggravation? Feel the anger, assess the degree and assign it it’s narrative penalty value. Grievance status mild? Penalty: Forgive and forget. Move on to the next chapter. Grievance status Medium or Mild without apology? Penalty- Removal from the narrative altogether, full shunning, yeet them and move on. Grievance status -terminal in gravity? Penalty: Concocting a long-term plot that will bring about their inevitable downfall even if it takes years, conceive plan, execute plan and move on. But not with anger, enjoy it. Put a laughtrack on it. I write my life as sitcom. It’s just a story I’ll one day be telling. You’ll laugh about that time you got lost in the woods one day. Might as well laugh about it while you’re actually lost. Remind yourself it’s a story you’ll one day be telling. Look for the details that will make it a better story. Until the wolves eat you and end all your stories. But until your final story they’re all just ….things that happen. They’re not really that important. Delete the bits that aren’t working, that are dragging your story down. Highlight the parts that are lifting it up. Increase the narrative length on the parts where all the pieces of the plot are seamless and perfect.
When you’re writing the story of your life as you live it, you have the capacity to live in vastly better worlds, because you can re-shape your entire life to be more whimsical and fun. Of course you can also re-write it to be more dark, grim, miserable and wretched too, which is the downside of everyone being the author of their own narrative universe. I don’t really get people who live in long-term unhappiness. I mean I know for some it’s not a choice, it’s a chemical imbalance, but for some, it absolutely is a choice. It’s a choice to see the absolute worst in everything and in everyone. A choice to be unhappy and complacent in that unhappiness. To believe that there’s a mechanism greater than you responsible for your unhappiness, that you’re being hard-done by, that someone else’s got it better because of tricks, and not chance. I choose to believe something different. I choose to believe you’re all just here for my entertainment and your misery delights me so choose to be a grim miserable bastard, you’re just a plot for a story I’m writing in my head.
My husband often tells me that the problem with me is that I don’t understand human emotions, and he’s right. I don’t. Why be anxious? What purpose does it serve in your story? Why be nervous? Why be depressed? Joy, excitement, these are all emotions that add net positive value to your life- indulge, freely, but anxiety? It seems counterproductive, why bother with it. Analyze the cause, establish a plan to address the cause, move on. I’ve been told normal people don’t work this way and can’t just analyze themselves out of negative thought patterns. So apparently you’re just stuck in these repetitive cycles of negative emotion. That seems exhausting. You should try to become better writers. Or better editors, after the fact.
I don’t get the value of retaining things that drag down your plot. Negative emotions, it seems to me, are a key point of plot failure in many people’s lives. And there are some negative emotions that are fine and necessary in small doses and measured quantities, but not as constant experiences. Even sadness has a value, it gives you a period to transition between one phase of life and the next, between what was before, and what comes next, and can be restorative, but depression, no value in it at all. And what about embarrassment? This is the most ridiculous emotion on the emotional range. It serves absolutely no purpose. And people get embarrassed over the most dumbass, ridiculous things. Tripping and falling. Tripping and falling! Oh my god, the sheer embarrassing horror of doing something that literally every single person on the planet has done at least once, but somehow we’re supposed to be embarrassed if this happens to us …in public? Why? What precisely is the mortification factor? Are people not aware that gravity is a thing that exists, surfaces are uneven and bi-pedal locomotion is not the most stable of modalities ever designed? It’s not like falling on your ass is even anywhere close to the equivalent of you accidentally opening up your porn collection on your work Zoom call. But oh how we cringe when these moments occur, gasp, the utter mortification. “I was talking to Susan for ten minutes and I had spinach in my teeth, I’m so mortified!!” you think. Except I don’t. I think, “Man I was talking to that bitch Susan for ten minutes and she didn’t tell me I had spinach in my teeth. Cow”. I re-write that story. I’m not embarrassed I had a common occurrence occur to me. I use it to judge how people act, within a given situation and start writing their story, and start assigning them their narrative roles. Susan: Frenemy, bitch who will let you go out into the world with spinach in your teeth and your lipstick smeared. Category- trash. But I am not embarrassed I had spinach in my teeth nor am I embarrassed if Susan went around telling everyone I had spinach in my teeth. Really Susan, we’re at a party, and that’s the best thing you’ve got to talk about? You need to spice up your life narrative to with more interesting anecdotes if that’s the grandest conversational gambit you could come up with. Let me tell you about the time I overthrew an autocracy.
I don’t care what people think about me in any kind of a broad sense. If something cringe is revealed about me or happens to me, the people who matter to me don’t care, and the people who care don’t matter. So what’s to be embarrassed about? Oh, you heard an embarrassing video of me has surfaced, and it’s of me getting drunk, dancing on a table, falling off a table, and then repeating that process, holy shit send me that video because that sounds like I had a hell of a time and I totally don’t remember that happening but if it did I want the memory. I would be cracking up. What do I care if people are laughing at it, I’d be laughing at it too. And aren’t you really just a little envious because you’re just a little bit too much of a stuck up jackass to really let yourself go and not give a shit for once in your life? If people aren’t hurting others, if they are minding their own and having their own good time, who cares? Right?
We all do, we all care, we all judge and we all put our hands to our chest and say, “Well I’m not one to judge but….” while doing it. As if we have a leg to stand on. As if our taste in fashion has always been impeccable. As if we haven’t walked out the house looking like utter hell. As if we have the only deciding voice in what’s considered worth doing or thinking or believing or in having fun. Whose music is good, which books are worth reading, because pop music is garbage and urban fantasy is mindless trash. We are all gatekeepers of something.
If someone wants to write a supernatural detective series where the characters are furries, who am I to judge? I’m me. That’s who I am, I’m me, hello, the Queen of Mean, and I’m totally going to judge. But how should I judge them? Should I judge them for their questionable taste and subject matter or should I only judge the book as I would any other subject and decide if it was well-written, with good plot and characterization and arc? Oh hell, you know, I am totally judging it on subject matter because there is no way I am ever going to read some furry shit to see if it has impeccable writing style. It’s not going to happen. Yes, I’m going to judge, I’m going to hard-core judge. But you do you, boo, write your weird little “I like getting heatstroke while getting off in costumes” shit. I don’t have to read it. Other people will, you will find your tribe.
I learned a long time ago, life gets a lot easier if you just don’t give a good goddamn what people think about you and do what you want, say what you want, be who you want to be. But I know most people aren’t like this. Most people are victims to the Cringe. They care very much what other people think of them. I watch them on vacation, I watch them on the beach, I watch them curate their moments, taking a hundred photos of themselves, trying to capture a perfect moment. They work so hard to have that moment look effortless. To have it look perfect.
We value appearances. We value the look of things. The way a thing looks, is often more important than its substance. And what people think of you, is of course your reputation, how you appear to the outside world. Which has value. So Susan isn’t going around telling everyone I have spinach in my teeth because her life is so lacking in any events of relevancy that she’s utterly dull and a sucking void of personality, it’s that she’s trying to decrease my value in the Social Market Exchange. Gossip is currency. Gossip is just stories. Stories are the reputational money-makers of life.
And I can’t stop thinking about stories. And vanity. In the writing industry, there’s different means to getting a book published. There’s traditional publishing where you write a book, you submit it to a publishing house and if you’re one of the !*CHOSEN*! (read that with the appropriate chorale of angels accompanying in the background, thank you) they will pay you to publish your book. Or you can self-publish, where you pay a nominal fee to a company to actually print the book, but you’re paying purely for the product and you have to do all the work in terms of promo and selling; or you can vanity publish where you pretend you’re not self-publishing, and pay a company to publish your book under an umbrella that everyone knows is basically a vanity press anyway so it’s like…all the downsides of self-publishing in that you’re going to have to do all your own promo, and all your own work, but you also lose money on it too. And then there are little individual presses that are basically vanity presses, where they specialize in niche subjects that traditional publications aren’t interested in printing a volume of books on, but hobbyists wanted to read volumes of books on. So seeing a vacancy, someone decides hey if I put together an entire publishing company, I can avoid the stigma of being called self-published, get a couple of my friends who are also sitting on books they can’t get published and voila, use the same crappy third rate production companies that the self-publication books use but Incorporated. And with the pretense of a different payment structure and respectability, you can look semi-legitimate and just churn out whatever crap comes out on your subject, and voila, Men and Words Publishing Ltd. But it’s still just a vanity press. But better, because it’s one step disguised. Ego. It can drive you. It can drive you to create things. It can drive you to destroy things. And goodness knows, I’m not a creationist.
I can’t stop thinking about stories. And I currently find myself in the middle of a story. And I’m at the fork in the road. The place where I choose the path. The place where I choose to walk away, to cut the thread and move on. Or I make the plan, and make the move and I decide nah, I’m going to become the villain in someone else’s story, and let’s see where that narrative goes. Because you are, you know. For every story you tell yourself, where you’re the hero, someone else is telling that story, and you’re the villain. And I should take the former path. Because the grievance isn’t great, and I don’t know that the reward would be either. And the consequences could be catastrophic.
But then too….It’s been a boring couple of years. And I’m looking for some new stories to tell….And let’s face it, the Villains always wear the most fabulous shoes.