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Your life as a story

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Maybe you’re a rabbit in disguise. Perhaps you’ve eaten enough gummy worms that even earthworms are afraid of you. Or you’re Q masquerading as a human.

Most likely, you’re a normal person — as normal as it gets here — and your life is not a story. Not at all. The rain does not pour when you’re sad, birds don’t flock to you to symbolize any sort of inherent goodness in your body and there is no person going by the name of Fitzwilliam living in the giant house down the road.

But what if it was?

Consider for a moment that you have been cast into a fictional tale. Perhaps you are the friendly neighborhood baker who supplies fresh bread every day, or you are the professor who delights in asking morally difficult questions that prevent your students from sleeping well at night. Either way, you are the protagonist of your own story. Therefore, there must be a storyline. A conflict. Some problem that must be resolved and solved, with a dash of character growth added along the way. If there’s a story, there must be then some sort of symbolism. Maybe an interesting metaphor or two. And because it is 2018, royalty does not factor into this tale.

The as-of-yet-unknown author must be striving to raise questions (and not answers; that does not serve to produce the Great American Novel).

Let’s say you had bacon this morning for breakfast. Does your love of pork products point to the domination of humans over sentient, loving animals that the human race deigns to call pigs? Maybe you went ahead and had a bit of tomato salsa slathered on top of your fluffy frittata that is sorely lacking in green veggies. Do you simply dislike those green devilish foods young children often dislike — which is to say, is there some part of you that remains happily as a child? Or had you already decided to eat the steamed broccoli in prodigious amounts?

You’ve tripped over the stairs this morning. So, maybe you’ll trip over the mountain of homework awaiting you. Or perhaps the sheer lack of rain when you’re feeling down is an indication of your ability to control the weather — hello, future career as a weatherman. How wonderful life would be if we just knew the weather each day!

Perhaps you’ve just had it with me. My life is absolutely not a story, you might say. The blue curtains are blue because they are blue, not because the interior decorator had a fit of whimsy and decided upon something completely inappropriate for this university that loves the color red, which then implies that maybe this school does not love red as much as it seems to after all. Is everything a lie?

It’s a fun exercise, sometimes, to imagine your life as a story. It can be fun to overthink the significance of your food, the possible repercussions that result from eating one broccoli floret instead of two, or perhaps what seeing a hawk meant for the future. But it is also useful to view what life you have lived as a fantasy tale. Because, inevitably, there are turning points and significant messages and themes threaded throughout. There were obstacles and trolls and perhaps a Milkman running around.

Distancing yourself from the visceral connection, just a bit, may bring things clearer to the surface. It probably helps to view things from a detached perspective for a more objective perspective, and then to tune back in to make better plans for the future.

Or this has all been an elaborate hoax, and we are all jelly bears awakening from a collective dream.

 

Contact Angela Zhao at angezhao ‘at’ stanford.edu.