Monday, May 27


there are no closed systems. everything influences everything else. all of us play roles in all the others' lives. the cast and the script and the plot and the setting are all so complex we can hardly fit the hugeness of it in our brains. so intricate our explanations, synopses, always feel thin and stretched.

we try anyway. we want to tell stories with our lives. we want there to be a beginning, a middle, and an end.

but when that doesn't work out, at least we can tell stories about our lives. we can carve our memories into neat narratives. I am one of the guiltiest. or am I? sometimes I look for the story before a moment has time to become a memory. sometimes I start hunting for the perfect description of this or that event before it is even over. before I have even crossed through it. I start bending my experience through some kind of lens as soon as I can think to, as if pinning the glory of now into some evokative, poetic phrase will make it keepable somehow. as if boxing each tiny split second into place as part of a meaningful chain of events will make it easier to leave the past behind.
I don't think it's bad to turn our lives into stories. I'm not sure what our reasons are, exactly (a way to hold on to slippery moments? a method of honoring the ever-changing present?), but we seem to like stories a lot. true stories, fantasy stories, short stories, epic stories. something in them can be incredibly engaging. addicting, even. storytelling is a very human, very beautiful pastime.

last weekend, I watched The Fall. friend Melanie had painted it so invitingly and gorgeously, as she tends to do with films, and I looked forward to seeing it. Melanie has excellent, well-justified taste, in my opinion, at least. The Fall was just as lovely as she made it seem.

the trailer:

all of it was great. for me, the most intense, tear-jerking point arrives when the little girl, with bandaged head and a face full of frustration, asks, "Why are you making everybody die?" (the clip at 1:45 shows the line, if you're curious.)

in response, Roy says to her, "It's my story!"

she responds, "Mine too!"

and then you know it isn't only the story they're talking about. it isn't only the silly imaginative story these two have shared, but life. it's not only the plot of his fiction Roy has partially surrendered to this young girl, it's the plot of his own existence. she has a stake in him, now. he can't pretend his actions won't affect her. friend Melanie linked to this analysis in her review, which picks at this idea a bit more. stories. lives. neither of these things can ever be single-author creations, no matter how pervasive the myth of independent, solitary genius. nobody can be the sole creator of anything, can they?

whether we are storytellers or story-consumers, to be in a place of so much power--with so much freedom to see and re-see the world and yet to still be obliged to make affordances for others and their visions--takes a massive, almost paradoxical sort of balancing act. our own imaginations are capricious enough, I think. who knows what someone else is going to re-imagine our stories? we can't predict exactly--but we know it's going to happen. that's part of the magic and the risk.

everything influences everything else. is it butterfly effect, or just particle physics, or what? and is this always true, even in stories? maybe not. but to quote friend Melanie about The Fall: "The genius of the story is when Alexandria pushes her way into it and we wonder how much influence she can exert, paralleling her influence over Roy, himself. The story is both a symbol and a product of the relationship between these two people." nobody owns the story. nobody can force anyone to read it the same way. it kind of reminds me of this old post talking about books as meeting places (or battle grounds). if stories are ways of drawing lines around the chaotic things that happen, ways of making sense of life itself, then the conventional ways of building stories and interpreting stories matter a lot. luckily none of it is completely set in stone.

and if we can say there is magic and risk in sharing a story--in putting it out there to be imagined and re-imagined beyond our control-- then how much more magical and risky is living a life? one life, co-authored in concert with a million other lives?


Chris said...

I think I'm going to have to see this film.

amelia chesley said...

yes, you should. it's neat.

Janeheiress said...

I have so much love for this post, and I promise it's not because you quoted me. But maybe it's because you built on ideas I already had and made me think more about how far they extend.

I think the reason many of us love to tell stories is because we want our lives to matter. Mattering means thinking about cause and effect, how different instances interrelate. But since everything interrelates beyond the capacity of our minds to grasp, we have to come up with an abstraction.

I'm obsessed with abstractions. Sometimes I love memories more than I love the moment, itself. I take pictures and videos (and Cathy writes quotes). Enjoying certain moments for me has to include preserving them. Otherwise, I feel like I'm grasping at fog.

I think one of the reasons I hate writing about events in my life (in blog or journal) is that the abstraction is way too much work for the pale shadow of truth I'm able to capture. That's one of the reasons I do fiction. It's like taking a few aspects of reality and experimenting with them in a controlled environment. We isolate parts of ourselves in order to explore and understand them in a mental vacuum, without the distraction and frustration of all the interrelations.

I think one day we'll be able to look at our lives in the context of the story of the entire human family, and see ALL the meaning. Every sub-story, and how they interrelate, how each of our actions refracts into someone else's tale. This is one of the things I most look forward to about eternity.

amelia chesley said...

I don't know if I've thought about the preservation as an element of enjoyment, but that makes sense in a way. most people think it's a distraction-- the need to record or filter or whatever. hm.

and cool thoughts on abstractions and isolated bits. yeah... so much more I could write, eventually...