At the start of the year, I wrote a post about telling a better story. It’s a hard task. There are two problems that I’ve run across already. I have a blog so I get to share these things. It’s a nice arrangement.
1) I should take every opportunity to tell a good story. I was listening to The Moth, one of my favorite podcasts, today. The Moth is a series that features true stories told live without notes, and it’s awesome. Today, I listened to a story from Salman Rushdie, best-selling author of several novels including The Satanic Verses. His story took place while he was working on Verses. He ended up getting writer’s block and traveled to Nicaragua to “experience a revolution.” His story was about war and about the inequality that existed in that country. But he told it with an insane amount of humor and poise, and I had two thoughts: First, should he really be telling the story like that? Shouldn’t he be talking about how horrible it was and how bad war is and all that? But then I realized that this story was decades in the past. Humanity needs to laugh at itself. Second, sometimes we need to tell a sad story happily.
I started thinking about what my life would be like if I stopped dealing in failure and started dealing in success. What if, instead of talking about how many things Freud got wrong, I talked about all of the things he got right? I suppose people would start to call me a Freudian, but perhaps that’s just because they don’t understand.
2) To tell a better story, you have to know who the main character is. Spoiler alert: it’s you. This is not to say you need to know exactly who you are. That’s never going to happen. This is to say that you need to know a few things about yourself and you need to live knowing those things are true. My heart is different than yours. And your heart is different than mine, and that effects how we live our lives.
If you want to know more about telling a better story, I feel like you should visit Donald Miller’s blog. All of my ideas are reflections on his.
As I have taken my first, cautious steps into the new year, I have been reading a lot of Donald Miller. He’s really good to read when starting a new year because he is all about living a better story. I have been thinking a lot about stories, and I have resolved to live a better one this year.
But part of living a better story, I think, is telling a better story.
I was home on break for most of December, and I think it was the longest amount of time I’ve spent there in perhaps a year. With that came running into and interacting with some people I hadn’t really seen since high school. One night, while reflecting on these interactions, I had a horrible realization – I was still judging a lot of these people based on things they did in middle school. That worried me.
It worried me because it seemed childish. It is childish.
At some point, I need to let go of that story. I need to let go of my junior high story, of my peers’ junior high stories. It’s boring.
My friend recently got rid of all of her young adult fiction. Not the good stuff, like Catcher in the Rye or anything like that. The faux-dark, teenage-angst stuff. She sent me a picture of all of the books boxed up. She was making room for new literature.
I think I don’t do that enough with my life. I hold on to all of the silly young adult theatrics, and because of that, I can’t live a better story. So this year, I’m going to recognize that while my first 21 years have been freakin’ awesome, they are perhaps little more than the first chapter of my life story. And that’s a pretty cool place to be.
I have a quote hanging on my wall from the awesome Donald Miller. It says:
Everybody wants to be fancy and new. Nobody wants to be themselves, but they want to be different with different clothes or shorter hair or less fat. It’s a fact. If there was a guy who just liked being himself and didn’t want to be anyone else, that guy would be the most different guy in the world and everybody would want to be him.
I look at it every morning when I wake up. It’s helpful.
It’s pretty interesting to think that if we stopped concentrating on one form of “different” we would be another form of “different.” I wonder what it would be like to live a life without cues where interactions with people aren’t just artful re-imaginings of television shows or movies we’ve seen.
I found this video the other day. It’s a promo for TLC’s new show Virgin Diaries. It follows people who have saved sex for marriage getting married and doing other adult things.
A lot of people find this clip funny, and I guess I do too. But the reason we find it funny is because we think we know what the perfect kiss looks like. Really, though? We know what the perfect kiss should look like? Where’d we get that information? When we kiss, we aren’t watching; we are doing. And so that means our ideas of the perfect kiss come from when we observe kisses. We don’t typically go around watching our friends kiss so that means we learn what kissing looks like from movies and television shows.
All of this just seems really silly. Kissing isn’t about what it looks like to others. It’s about two people enjoying each other. And that’s really nice.
That’s why I think the above clip is probably a purer kiss than I will ever experience (even barring the fact that they were each other’s first kiss). These two people are not trying to live up to an ideal. They are doing what they want. They are different.
I wish I talked to people more. I chatter with people all day, but it’s useless noise. I don’t ask hard questions. I don’t want to offend. Instead, I spend my time complaining and gossiping. Which is great if your friends are one-dimensional stock television characters. (Hint: They aren’t!)
Most of the people I know want to change the world. But we think it’s going to come from raging against the machine. It won’t. We think if we yell loud enough, cry often enough, complain ferociously enough that we will one day change everything. But that’s never going to happen.
I have mentor crushes on two Christian bloggers, Jon Acuff and Donald Miller. Some people know that if a specific person popped the question, they would say yes. I know that if either of these two offered to be my mentor and teacher, I would move wherever they told me to and do whatever they told me to. By no means are either of them perfect. I have followed them through several missteps and foot-in-mouths. But there is something really important about both of them. They love people’s stories.
In one of Donald Miller’s books, he talks about a group of five or six guys who didn’t know each other. He thought they should, though. So he invited them all to breakfast and said something like, “Listen, you are all really creative and passionate people. You can be important to each other. We should be friends.” And just like that, friendships were born. They met biweekly for breakfast and a couple of years later, they were serving as groomsmen in each other’s weddings.
I live in my own apartment now. And one of my favorite parts about it is that when I invite people over or plan a lunch or dinner with someone, it means something. I can talk to them. I don’t have to chatter. It’s not enough, though. I want all of my interactions with others to be important, to be meaningful, to be real.
Let’s get coffee. Let’s talk. Even if I don’t know you. Even if you don’t like coffee. Shoot me an e-mail if that sounds like a plan.
Some days I don’t feel like writing. Those are typically the days when I most need to write.
I started writing today with a post in mind. I was going to write about crushes and mushy stuff like that. Then I texted my friend and was trying to find this quote for my post, and I realized I didn’t want to write about crushes and mushy stuff. What I wanted to write about was life and allowing yourself to experience it.
I am a person. I am a person who wants to be something. I am not currently that something. But I believe that I have a responsibility to the people around me to continue to be the person I currently am. And so I refuse change and stay away from things that I know would be difficult for me or that would challenge me.
This is all kind of deep. Donald Miller says it much better.
No, life cannot be understood flat on a page. It has to be lived; a person has to get out of his head, has to fall in love, has to memorize poems, has to jump off bridges into rivers, has to stand in an empty desert and whisper sonnets under his breath… We get one story, you and I, and one story alone. God has established the elements, the setting and the climax and resolution. It would be a crime not to venture out, wouldn’t it? – Through Painted Deserts
I asked a friend once if I take risks. And she said, “no.” Then I tried giving her counterexamples. What about the time I kept that library book until the last minute? What about the time I skipped class? What about the time I spent $10 on a book I wanted? First, she laughed. Then she told me that those were all calculated risks – that I was taking risks that ultimately didn’t matter, that had no impact on how people saw me, that didn’t affect me in any significant way. She was right.
If there is something I really want and the only way I can get it is by taking a risk, then I don’t do it. That’s silly. Life’s too short and all that jazz.
Help me take risks and leave your encouraging risk-taking story in the comments!