“Lives are no longer feeling like stories” (Douglas Coupland)

They’re feeling like a lot of things: like problems and disappointments, a holding place, a position of observation; impotent, monotonous pleasantries as reality drifts past, but not stories. Nothing really touches us, transforms us. We are so busy trying to look good that we forget to feel it, making us more craftsman than character: creating a likeness of a world when we should be the world itself. They are stories – we are stories – of the most wonderful sort. It is our perception of what is narrative worthy that is changing rather than the quality of who we are and so it is time we reassessed our library.

Much of this discontent can be traced back to disappointed expectations, either those of ourselves or others; and the usual suspects – Film, TV, advertising, social media, cultural assumptions: anything that puts the gloss on edited lives – are easily found. Yet it is when these are internalised and become the means of self-evaluation, as they often are, that we lose sight of ourselves. Even when expectations are utterly unrealistic we can feel as though we’re failing by not achieving them. At the beginning of my time studying in Edinburgh I had an image of the entire process as an intense and glorious montage: shots of animatedly debating Foucault over glasses of whiskey in front of roaring fires, looking pensive in seminars, running along cobbled paths to meet friends, and furiously typing away behind a tower of books long after dark. What I hadn’t anticipated was the slow work that would get me between these points. Reading for a single class could require getting through three books a day, and rather than being an action shot, this is hours and hours of just reading in a room and occasionally jotting down a note. Even doing the most relevant and productive thing I could be doing felt like I was doing nothing, like missing something.

You’re not missing anything – this is life. Whenever you feel discontent with yourself or your existence then be sure to establish whether it’s because you wish it were different or because you feel it ought to be different. Letting go of that image revealed sources of dissatisfaction that I could change: early starts (ugh) were replaced by social, active days and long nights in the library – a 2am walk through the sleeping streets of Edinburgh is truly something to look forwards to – and I’ve never slept so well.

There is a significant difference between legitimate expressions of dissatisfaction and a need to become content with who you are and always have been. I used to run: for years I did something I truly hated because I felt I ought to like it, that not liking it was personal error. This is stupid. Rest assured you’re not about to have a wealth of motivational quotes thrown at you but if you don’t like something then change it, if you do like it then keep it. The point is that it isn’t until you let go of who and what you think you should be and adapt to who you are that the minutiae of your day can become an enduring pleasure. Not only will you enjoy it more, but you will achieve more.

We are all characters living wondrous stories and adventures; we’ve just lost touch with the experience. It’s time to live the story of which you are as much author as character rather than trying to be a character in somebody else’s. Even if that character spends hours doing nothing, if it makes you happier then you’re doing great.

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