story of your life
August 1, 2014 3:38 PM   Subscribe

My Cousin is Not a Hero: "But it’s not fiction, it’s real life. It’s the night of his dad’s funeral and we’re standing there together, and neither of us is a hero. Neither of us is on an epic journey... Our plot points are weird ones, and our stories don’t add up to some amazing narrative of personal growth and enlightenment — but they do matter, because they’re ours."

Wait But Why: Life is a Picture, But You Live in a Pixel
Jack sees his life as a rich picture depicting an epic story and assumes that the key to his happiness lies in the broad components of the image. But this is a mistake, because Jack doesn’t live in the picture’s broad strokes, he lives at all times in a single pixel of the image—a single Today. So while thousands of Jack’s Todays will, to an outsider from far away, begin to look like a complete picture, Jack spends each moment of his actual reality in one unremarkable Today pixel or another. Jack’s error is brushing off his mundane Wednesday and focusing entirely on the big picture, when in fact the mundane Wednesday is the experience of his actual life.

And his assumption that his future Todays would be as vibrant and rich as the broad picture of his life is misunderstanding the unremarkable nature of a pixel, no matter what one’s life looks like in broad strokes. This assumption leads Jack to feel like his uneventful Today must be an unsatisfactory temporary relationship, when in reality it’s an inevitable and permanent marriage that he must accept and embrace in order to be happy.
Thought Catalog: Sorry, An Epiphany Isn’t What’s Going To Change Your Life
Epiphanies are bullshit. People think it’s some momentous wake up call that leads to innovation, identity crises, insight or breakthroughs... But the people who think that are mostly people who haven’t done anything like that. And probably never will. They haven’t had to walk away from a big job or a lot of money...

I think movies and television are partially responsible for this total misconception about the world. Because they can only show scenes, because they can’t get us inside the character’s head, we’ve started to think that’s how our lives should be. [...] So if you’re staring some life changing decision in the face right now, you need to understand this. It is always going to be inscrutable. There will not be clarity. Not before, not during, not until well, well after.
*The Emotion Machine - The Just World Fallacy: When Bad Things Happen to Good People
*The Frenemy - Your Life Is Not A Movie
*NYT - This Is Your Life (and How You Tell It)
*Raptitude - Does Your Story Have This Common Weakness?

previously - life is a game; this is your strategy guide
posted by flex (16 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
The Hero's Journey is a very specific story and it often serves more as propaganda than enlightenment. There are other stories, some more worthwhile, some just depicting those unheroic pixels, and often quite worth reading.
posted by localroger at 4:38 PM on August 1, 2014

Oh god: Sometimes what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, okay, but sometimes what doesn’t kill you leaves you diminished, depressed, binge-watching The West Wing and eating Lucky Charms out of the box.

Yes, that.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 4:59 PM on August 1, 2014 [6 favorites]

Yep. Sometimes what doesn't kill you just leaves you mangled up and on the verge of death. But then, tomorrow's another day, and if you're really living in the moment, you're still not dead, so hey, that's good enough.

But then again, why is this a thing? Why do some people seem to hate narratives (heroic or otherwise) so much these days when there's tons of clinical evidence the mind craves them and uses them to stabilize and optimize itself? Sometimes organizing principles we know are not real are still necessary, useful and healthy.

Personally, I like every kind of story, and resent being lectured from on high about what the right way to think about stories is. It assumes there's only one answer and only one truth while hypocritically claiming to reject that sort of thinking.
posted by saulgoodman at 5:29 PM on August 1, 2014 [6 favorites]

Life has crunched me up pretty good over the years and I found a lot to relate to in the essay at the first link. But I hit some bad bumps in the road with the stuff about how misfortune doesn't change you, and how you're not a hero unless you've embarked on some Joseph Campbell quest. She had some good insight, but she also came to some conclusions that really bothered me.

Living through catastrophe changes you, for good or ill. If she's saying it hasn't changed her, I have trouble believing her. (If nothing else, I sure bet she's a lot more bitter and tired than she used to be.) More importantly, I think her definition of "hero" is too narrow. I think that she may be more of a hero than she gives herself credit for. I think many of us are.

If you've been through Epic Shit and you come out on the other side and you are not mean, if life has spit in your face and kicked you in your reproductive organs and you still care about other people and you want to do what you can to make the world a better place, if you are still kind, that's matters.

So many people are just so mean. I mean, they slap their kids around, they bully people, they troll... or they just spend their days wallowing in bitchy schadenfreude. And I don't know, I guess if you got them to talk honestly about why they're such dicks, they'd say it's because they've been hurt.

But the thing is, being an asshole is a choice. A lot of people are assholes, and somehow they justify that to themselves. But some people get the shit kicked out of them by life, and they are still not assholes. Those people are heroes, and they don't have magic or the Force on their side. They don't live in a tidy fictional universe. They live in a random and often cruel universe, where no matter how much you're hurting you still have to pay the fucking bills or deal with the consequences of not being able to pay the bills.

So, that's what I learned from years of truly shitty luck. Being kind is a choice, and if all you've got left in the world is your kindness, you've still got something to be proud of.

It sounds like she is having epiphanies, and realizing truths about life, but they're all negative. And with everything she's been through lately, I can't blame her for that. But these sound like the truths of a very depressed person, and those truths don't tell the whole story of life.

Sorry, this kind of got away from me. I have to give myself these little pep talks, just to get through the day. It often makes me feel like an idiot and a Pollyanna, but if it keeps me from falling into a despair where I decide that the only way to be a hero is to blow up the Death Star, I'll take it.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 5:49 PM on August 1, 2014 [56 favorites]

So, that's what I learned from years of truly shitty luck. Being kind is a choice, and if all you've got left in the world is your kindness, you've still got something to be proud of.

Whew, such a post. Thanks for this.

Hard to pick the part I loved most. This will do well, I hope.

posted by emmet at 6:01 PM on August 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Whoa--UrsulaHitler, you nailed it! That's exactly right.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:36 PM on August 1, 2014

The thing about the article is, there's a lot of evidence the brain needs to interpret the world through plots and structured narratives to function normally, so I always feel a little bad about it when people seem determined to deconstruct someone else's story out of a misplaced notion that disillusioning them must be a good in itself. That said, some stories can help people escape the trap of their own unhealthy inner narratives by suggesting other ways of relating to the world, but the hero's journey narrative archetype is a risky one, because it can also potentially feed one's narcissism and sense of personal entitlement if those tendencies are there...

Nope. On second thought, Ursula Hitler already said it better than I could.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:57 PM on August 1, 2014 [3 favorites]

Ursula, I wish what you wrote there was the subject of the FPP
posted by happyroach at 7:03 PM on August 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

That which does not kill you only hastens your inevitable death.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 7:28 PM on August 1, 2014

When I was in one of my darkest places in life, I watched a silly tv show and had a revelation. I was not special, I wasn't the hero of some story, and there was no magic guiding hand sculpting my world. To quote the show: "If there is no great glorious end to all this, if - nothing we do matters, - then all that matters is what we do. 'cause that's all there is. What we do, now, today."

It set me free and allowed me to live a life that focuses on being the person I want to be now, instead of waiting until the third act.

It's funny how the right story at the right time helped me realize that life was about living and not waiting for the story.
posted by teleri025 at 8:50 PM on August 1, 2014 [5 favorites]

"The quality of your experience is determined by the focus of your attention."
-Cheri Huber, Zen teacher
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 10:55 PM on August 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

Thanks for the kind words, folks!

Teleri025, I wouldn't call Angel a silly show (except for when it was being deliberately, wonderfully silly.) I'm glad that quote broke you out of something and let you live a better life, but for me Angel's follow-up line in that scene is at least as important: "All I wanna do is help. I wanna help because I don't think people should suffer, as they do. Because if there is no bigger meaning, then the smallest act of kindness is the greatest thing in the world."
posted by Ursula Hitler at 2:30 AM on August 2, 2014 [6 favorites]

Life and cynicism at the end of empire ...

(also ... awesome post UH!)
posted by ZenMasterThis at 8:22 AM on August 2, 2014

Okay, so since Angel was brought up...

"Life's not a song

Life isn't bliss
Life is just this:
It's living
You'll get along
The pain that you feel
You only can heal
By living
You have to go on living
So one of us is living"

posted by jenfullmoon at 8:27 AM on August 2, 2014 [3 favorites]

I've had moments where it felt like I was finally figuring it out, but then life kept going and some of those moments were inconsequential in retrospect.

I have trouble relating to people who view their life through a lens of things happening to them such that they have no control. That is not to erase the ways in which a person might lack agency in the world. But to feel frustrated with the way life is going because the thing you want isn't coming to you.

The idea is to keep moving forward in some way. To me that's basically what hope is. Some people look for that in religion. Some look for it elsewhere.

But I'm not so sure I agree with this kind/unkind binary. Someone's kind intention may not be experienced as such by the intended target. The frustration of being misunderstood manifests itself in many ways.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 12:33 PM on August 3, 2014

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