Someone, we shall call him (sigh) M, once said that my life was like a little storybook. I can’t seem to find the conversation in question but I do remember that my immediate response was a confused ‘But it’s so awful’. This was a sentiment I immediately regretted, for two reasons.
1) My life is not awful. There are aspects that are worse than others (ie. my job, my inability to understand maths, my somewhat crippling lack of self worth), but to categorize it as ‘awful’ sort of trivializes those who really do have it ‘awful’. Human trafficking victims come to mind.
And, 2) I understand it. I am always enthralled by the mundane; I see strange beauty in things that might not be considered beautiful at all, like crumbling builds on Carnegie and steel factories. But, mostly, I can’t say that I don’t understand the sentiment because I’ve felt the sentiment. There are a million and a half lives out there that are completely brilliant; interesting, exciting, happy, all those things. There are also equal amounts that are more than commonplace. The sort of day to day sadness inducing kind that result in mental breakdowns and/or sitting at home every night falling asleep in front of your television in your heated Stouffer’s dinner while your cat rubs against your leg demanding attention you’re too tired to give it. [Note: I am entirely convinced this is the sort of life most of the managers at work have, though to be fair some of them are falling asleep in their heated Stouffer’s dinners with husbands and/or children.] But those are extreme cases, most people will settle for… well, happy. Happy despite being busy and despite those around them who are more than migraine-inducing. And this, I imagine, is what he meant.
Sometimes (I wish I could say ‘I used to’ here but I’m afraid it’s a day to day thing) I imagine that the story of my life would read something like this:
Once upon a time there was a girl born in Cleveland, Ohio. She grew up, quite unremarkably, went to school and then got a job. Nothing very exciting ever happened to her.
It’s an accurate picture, yes, but it doesn’t take into account my actual… life. It doesn’t say anything about how my sister, K, and I used to explore the twelve foot space of trees in our backyard that we’d call the woods and build forts in. Or investigate the unreached corners of our cellar, attic, or crawl spaces. It doesn’t say about how gregarious we were about putting on our plays in the basement for an audience of our parents (sometimes we even rehearsed for days). There’s nothing about how entirely elaborate our games of Barbies would become, with plots and planning, dozens of characters and sets. How my sister and I would ride our bikes to school in the morning with a tape deck attached to my handlebars so we could listen to music as we went. How I used to tuck paperbacks into the pockets of my coat or read while walking. How as I got older I got a little bit more afraid of life, and how I didn’t want to stay in state for college because I knew it would be the first thing in my life that I settled for, and how desperately I never wanted to settle for anything. How I have been through so many styles and preoccupations with clothing and jewelry and accessories trying to find something that was right for me before realizing they all were, and probably will be. How I like my hair to look messy and it might be partly because a co-worker once said that Billie Piper always had the most perfect bed head. How I love horror movies and will see the ones that even look horrible just because it’s the genre, but rarely get scared. There’s nothing about how I’ll watch films and listen to the score and wonder if it’s been composed by Rachel Portman because every time my ears prick up it’s usually her.
Tiny things in people’s lives are what make them who they are; they are also the things that make the life worthwhile. It’s the stuff in between all the crap that’s the storybook. The day to day can become worth reading if the person telling the story is interesting enough. Not even just worth reading. The tiny stories of when this happened or that happened are everything, and you can sit in rapt attention while hearing about the entangling and elaborate plot to a video game, even though you have a distinct feeling that you should probably not care. And isn’t that enough? I know that it is. It’s enough to just be content in what you do, who you’re with, and how you feel. And that’s a sentiment that most certainly comes with age.
When I was little I wanted something exciting to happen to me. I wanted to discover that I was really some sort of princess or that I’d suddenly sprout fins and become a mermaid. Books and movies are designed that way, ordinary people discovering they are special. When you get older you want different things, and so the medium changes. You get epics. But I have never wanted an epic romance because they always have the same thing in common. Big love stories, the ones that people remember, are not happy. People die, people leave, and people give each other up for the greater good. I would rather just be happy. That’s enough of a feat.
For now I will continue being. Eating plums and walking around in my little shoes. I will wake up in five hours and forty one minutes and I will be tired and grumpy and angry at the world for making me do something I hate. But then it will end, and you know what? I’ll probably still be me.