When I was a verra wee lassie, I was often quite distressed, because people were always asking me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I had no idea, dear Watson, but I supposed I had to tell them something (they had expectations, you know) so for quite a while I said, “I will be an accountant.” (It was the maths, Watson, that did it. Dangerous thing, math.) This was a lie, though I did not know it yet.
I think it is easy to forget the importance of stories. Now, if I had looked up into their adult eyes and said, “I think the ideal job for me would be as a troubadour,” they would have probably laughed; but the story they would not know was that I thought for many years and read too many books as a small child and destroyed my ocular facilities and loved music and wanted to travel, but even as a small child, one knows that travelling storytellers only exist in stories. Real people have jobs, and go to work on weekdays, and if they work hard they will get rich, and someday they will retire. That is how it works.
That’s the story I grew up believing in, I guess. Lots of us tell it, and many of us try to live it; this is good if we are living a story we believe in, and are willing to invest ourselves in it.
My story diverged from that one probably somewhere along the time I started failing college. That didn’t fit into any narrative of success I knew, at least not for normal people like me. People who thought about leaving college weren’t Great Successes; mostly they just ended up flipping burgers. (This was another story I once believed, very untrue, which is that flipping burgers was a job only for people who can’t do any better in life. Nope nope nope. If you try to convince me of this again, I will kick you with regrettable violence, in the kneecaps. Some of the best life advice I’ve gotten came from my manager at the pizza place I worked at through high school.)
The stories we tell shape our realities, and our stories about where we come from are just as important as the stories we tell about the present. You, as a human being, are the star of a tangled web of narratives that are mostly all in your head. If you tell yourself you’re a failure, or some of the people around you see you as a failure, it’s very hard to break out of that framework; but it’s a story, and one of the most incredible abilities that we have as human beings is the ability to write our own stories.
Here are some facts: I live in the woods in a tent, and have no reliable source of income, and smell very bad most of the time, because showers are far away. I am outside in the rain and hurricane dregs, and the cold, and eventually the snow, and one can hope not ever the hail or the lightning, because Aaarrgh. My shirt is becoming thin and threadbare in places, because I usually only wear the one, and both my pairs of socks have holes, and I carry much of my life in a heavy bag on my back, which is wearing through my shirt more. There are thousands of people like me, and then thousands who aspire to become what I just described to you, which is strange, because by the story our society ostensibly tells, I am an almost penniless vagrant.
Luckily for us all, I can shout, “GREAT SUCCESS!!” into the vast mountaintops before and behind me, and, “THIS IS THE DREAM, ISN’T IT,” into the fluttering leaves of the wood, and then tell you stories of adventure and bears which you mostly believe*, and my life is wonderful. The best part of being human is our ability to make our own story.
The reason I’m writing is because sometimes all you can hear in your head are others’ stories, and it’s easy for your own tiny scrawl to be submerged. Some of them have a firm basis in reality; some do not. Sometimes stories need only a twist in perspective to be good; others ought to be rewritten, or squelched like mad hotcakes**; but every good one will tell us something about the world inside of us, or outside of us, that we didn’t know before.
In other news, I love stories. That’s why I spent all day reading books in my tent in the middle of the woods instead of hiking.
*Watson, I said mostly. Calm down***
**I totally just made up that phrase just now that is my favorite phrase. Like Little Debbie ones, the chocolate ones you can heat up in the microwave, but for squashing.