Here’s a revolutionary thought: Stop Believing.
I’ve been making up stories since I was a precocious little girly-boy, spending my weekends pretending the abandoned rooms of my grandfather’s collapsing home In Libertytown were the skyscrapers of Manhattan where I lived in a penthouse and was a huge Broadway musical star with whom everyone was in love.
I believed this would happen in real life. It did not. I was sad.
Congratulations. You are now a literary agent; the sole qualification being that you’ve just read a synopsis of the book I have taken to calling “Libertytown: The Unsold Novel” and I’ve not managed to interest you in reading its remaining six-hundred pages.
Which is a story that has made me sad. Really sad. Deliriously fucking sad. So sad that I…… had to decide between writing “The End” or getting myself some new stories.
Joan Didion wrote, “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” Actually, she says quite a bit more:
“We tell ourselves stories in order to live. The princess is caged in the consulate. The man with the candy will lead the children into the sea. The naked woman on the ledge outside the window on the sixteenth floor is a victim of accidie, or the naked woman is an exhibitionist, and it would be ‘interesting’ to know which. We tell ourselves that it makes some difference whether the naked woman is about to commit a mortal sin or is about to register a political protest or is about to be, the Aristophanic view, snatched back to the human condition by the fireman in priest’s clothing just visible in the window behind her, the one smiling at the telephoto lens. We look for the sermon in the suicide, for the social or moral lesson in the murder of five. We interpret what we see, select the most workable of the multiple choices. We live entirely… by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the ‘ideas’ with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria — which is our actual experience.”
Joan Didion, THE WHITE ALBUM
I don’t disagree. I make it a practice never to disagree with Joan Didion because she is a genius with a unique world view, a point of view earned through years of self-eviscerative, detail-illuminating introspection into and examination of the assumptions and conventions of the zeitgeist.
We tell ourselves stories. My problem is, most of them are based on what I call THE BIG LIES. Here they are:
BIG LIE 1: Happiness consists of a romantic love story in which two soul-mates of spectacular sexual and emotional compatibility meet, meld, and mojo-it up through eternity COMBINED WITH a Horatio Alger mythical experience on a follow-your-bliss career-path where one becomes rich and sometimes famous and always powerful; thus does one achieve “happily-ever-after.”
BIG LIE 2: Almost no one manages to accomplish BIG LIE 1, so nearly everyone is telling themselves this story: BECAUSE I HAVE NOT MANAGED “HAPPILY EVER AFTER” – I HAVE FAILED.
It takes years and a great deal of courage to realize that perhaps, just perhaps, the failure is in the story, not in ourselves. Shakespeare sort of had Cassius say it in “Julius Caesar” with: “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, / But in ourselves, that we are underlings.” Of course, he was trying to convince Brutus to knife his bro in the back, but, the point was that it’s the stories we tell ourselves that define the narrative, and if we’ve been brainwashed into a set of senseless, harmful parameters, then we need to re-write the story.
I got that. But then the question became; How could I – no penthouse in Manhattan, no musical theatre stardom, largely unemployed and fairly un-employable in any of my “follow-your-bliss” fields, without romantic partner (or much hope of finding one), and unpublished, much rejected book – learn to ignore the constant bombardment of entrenched, traditional culture, entertainment/ news media, and social networking feeds that shaped my expectations and concept of “happily ever after.”
Here’s how I’ve started. Small. It’s my daily (Okay – not daily – hell, sometimes I’m lucky to remember to do it once a year) devotion to me and my own story.
STEP ONE: Start with a pebble. That huge, seemingly insurmountable wall of “I’M A FAILURE” didn’t appear fully grown, I built it with lots of tiny little failure-mind thoughts: Pebbles. Take one. I re-visit one time that something I did (or didn’t) do resulted in someone else feeling pain that reinforced the BIG LIES. For example; let’s say, hypothetically, I couldn’t do or say the things required of me by someone else’s story – maybe I couldn’t return the feelings they had, or I wasn’t able to be truthful to myself or fulfill my needs by doing the things they wanted to do. My inability to go along with their story wasn’t a malicious act, but it did result in their pain. I didn’t sin, I acted in a way that was my truth, but that was not conducive to their version of the BIG LIES.
STEP TWO: Another pebble. This time, however, I re-visit one time that something someone else did (or didn’t) do resulted in me feeling pain that reinforced the BIG LIES. For example; let’s say, hypothetically, they couldn’t return the feelings I had for them, or their truth involved them doing things I found to be disloyal. Here’s the hard part: instead of holding on to the pain of that, instead of blaming them for keeping me from living in the BIG LIES, I apply STEP ONE to their actions. I acknowledge their truth; that their actions were not malicious, not sins. I get to the place of realization with these two pebbles that people, almost always, are doing the best they can and the difficult beyond difficult truth that if I want others to see me in the story as someone who has operated from the truth of my Love and Light as best I could in the moment in the story – well, I have to extend that same belief to them.
The only things we are ever really victims of, are our own stories and our brainwashed compulsion to live the BIG LIES.
The secret is not about re-envisioning your life and manifesting this or that; the secret is not that you’ve just been seeing everything wrong and a little meditation or cosmo-spectacles will suddenly clear it all up for you; the secret is not that some omniscient greater power is testing you or foiling you; the secret is that there is no secret.
It’s all a story; a story we tell ourselves in order to live, an interpretation we’ve imposed on the narrative of shifting phantasmagoria; a wall of personal reality we have built one pebble at a time. We didn’t build it overnight, and it’s not likely to disappear overnight either. But if we can re-examine the pebbles, one at a time, we can maybe – just maybe – stack them in a new formation, let go of the guilty-mind concepts of sin and wrong and fail and loss and pain, and teach ourselves a new story. We don’t deny that the pebbles are there or that they stung and hurt us along the way, because, you know, it is what it is, but we see them as pebbles in a story we are telling, not as a wall blocking us from walking the path we’d like to explore.
We stop believing the wall is a huge, unconquerable monolith of our “not good enough-ness.” We start reminding ourselves that the wall is just a story we are telling ourselves, made out of lies. Little lie-pebbles we put there not because we were malicious, or stupid, or failed or pathetic or un-holy – but because we were living the best truth we knew at the time in the best way we knew how.
So, isn’t it time we forgot everything they taught us and learned to tell ourselves some better stories? Don’t we deserve better stories? We do. Come with me, here . . . where we are going.