Story of My Life

This essay by Galen Strawson grabs me for a few reasons. One, the cover pic is a Paul Klee face, which I always confuse with a Picasso face, and my mom had a print of it for years. Not in her last house though ~ so I have to wonder what happened to it. Not that I would have wanted it, but when I see the Klee face, mom-memories rush in.

Two, Strawson starts off by quoting awesome philosophers, like Velleman, a moral relativist. Strawson shows how many rigorous thinkers believe we write our lives into a story and become a character in our narrative. He says there’s a wide consensus that we create our life-story, living it while writing it.

But then he calls bullshit on that idea. He agrees that there are Narrativists among us [looking at my blogfans] but asserts that this state of being is far from universal. Strawson claims that many of us are fundamentally non-Narrative ~ our lives are a disordered pile of fragments that cannot be put into a coherent storyline.

He presents it as a dichotomy, but while reading the various quotes I couldn’t help but think… could a person be both? Maybe I’m a Narrativist and my story, such as it is, is composed of a jumbled mess that doesn’t actually hang together in a structured arc, but even so it is a story and I’m writing it while becoming it. I don’t see why that couldn’t be a third possibility.

And to go along with that, what about a sub-possibility that I’m an unreliable narrator of my life-story? That strikes me as not only cool, but very true for me personally. This may seem initially the same as being a non-Narrativist, but it isn’t at all. I’m absolutely writing the story and continually becoming the protag, shedding skin after skin to be more me, yet there isn’t really a me because some of the jumbled fragments I chose to include are false.

When I hold up a fragment to the light, I often wonder if it will mirror what I have been assuming. I think I know things. I must know what happened in my own life, at least some of the time. RIGHT? Yes, of course. Of course some pieces are 100% correct. But perhaps not that many, or there is no way of ascertaining. If I think about that, the story begins to fall apart. Sometimes it shapes itself into a different story, which necessarily changes the composition and direction of the protagonist.

It’s probably best not to think about this at all, now that I think about it. If I look into the me-abyss, idk what I’ll find, or if it’ll be different tomorrow. It should be the same every time, dammit. But it’s not. There’s no there there.

Interesting that I find this essay when I’m talking about not writing and also that my romance writing adventure had to do with my own failed attempt to write my own romance and make myself into a more idealized heroine. When I stopped writing my real story, I lost interest in writing the fictional ones as well. Now I play with fragments and put them into pomes, rather than try to make any sort of coherent plotline.

My story’s a poem
Sometimes it may rhyme
Or else it just roams
It’s a jumble of fragments
And does not have an arc
It stumbles and bruises
Itself in the dark
Some pieces are real
Some pieces are lies
I know not which is which
And my eyes have grown tired
Goodnight

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4 responses to “Story of My Life

  1. Very interesting! I’m definitely a Narrativist. Often I look at this crazy life and say I always wanted to live a novel. And it’s true. I crave novelty and adventure to go along with the comforting predictable sameness. Why, I dunno. Maybe when I was a kid I decided I was bored and boring and I’ve been the protagonist in a never-ending quest to fix that ever since.

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    • I haven’t given it much thought. It’s always been natural to try to organize my experiences into a storyline that hopefully leads somewhere… it’s only very recently I’ve realized that (1) some of the elements I’ve included aren’t true, and (2) it’s actually possible if not likely to go nowhere with the story.

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  2. Valid ideas, though I don’t think this is any way to divide people into categories, like left-brained people vs right-brained people. There are simply different ways to think about ourselves and our lives, different reasons to do so, and everything differing from one moment to the next. If you did everything with an eye toward furthering some sort of underlying narrative, like your life was a novel, it would probably drive you nuts after a short time. On the other hand, if you never thought about your past, and if somehow you managed to truly carry out every thought and action independently of everything you ever thought, or did, or were, that would be kind of psychotic.
    I agree–we would be both, if forced to define ourselves within these narrow definitions. More like, yeah big deal what’s your point?

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  3. Oh, play with it. I’ve lived fragments of several novels and they’ve all been fun. One was actually a film. (It was called “The American Woman”; my Brit Ex was really more excited by the cachet of boinking an AMERICAN WOMAN than he ever was in love with me, and the Novelist In My Head grokked this and scripted scenes from the film at 40,000 feet, preparing me to scarper and orchestrate a self-respecting exit scene when it became apparent one was necessary.) Life is Story.

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