I have a habit of letting the things that happen to me create my "identity." It tends to be the big events for me: losing my mom at such a young age, my seventeen surgeries, my lousy immune system, twenty-six years of perpetual singleness, etc. It's silly, really, since I've had no control over any of these things.
See, I have my students write, for their persuasive paper, a diagnosis-solution paper for a fictional character of their choice. I have to caution them to not let their solutions revolve around the characters' outside events (i.e. the plot), but rather focus on helping the characters fix a personal flaw or weakness that causes them to make lousy decisions. It's good advice for writing, but it's applicable to life as well. It's also a lesson that's pretty tough to follow, particularly for me. Instead of writing my story, my novel, I'm letting the plot write me. That's not how it's supposed to work.
It isn't the things that happen to me that make me who I am--it's what I choose to do when they happen. What would change in my life, I wonder, if I took my own advice? Would I be sitting home almost every Friday and Saturday night, wondering why some people have lives, but social activity seems to evade my very existence? Would I let myself become paralyzed when faced with a personal confrontation?
The thing is that I'm not sure who I am these days. I'm not writing my story, so to speak, I'm just letting it write itself. Why did I go to college? It was expected of me (though I did enjoy the whole learning process). Why did I become a teacher? One door after another closed in my face--it was hardly a dream of mine growing up. Why do I have no social life? I wait around for someone to invite me along instead of getting off my arse and doing something. I don't do it intentionally, but I think I sometimes invoke the victim mentality.
You know, I'd hoped that when I got a job, a real, post-graduate school job, I would stop feeling like I was in a state of transition, but I'm beginning to believe that this is something that won't change for a long time. Even if I get hired on full-time, I'll be thinking of getting a PhD. If I do that, I'll be waiting for milestones like marriage and starting a family. Then as my kids grow up, I'll be awaiting their milestones. It doesn't stop. Of course, if I never get out of the house, I'll be stuck right where I am right now.
Something does need to change, though. I'm getting entirely too isolated. Why do I never say anything interesting anymore? Well, I'm not even getting out of the house to observe people as writing material, much less socializing. Nothing happens other than me making a different dish, Sassy doing something funny, or a student encouraging or discouraging me. I pick up the literal pen all the time to write my stories and blog rants, but I think I misplaced my metaphorical pen sometime in the last year at Truman. I stopped dreaming and just floated along with the current. Yes, I know, I'm mixing metaphors, but it gets the point across anyway. I've stopped being a lead character in my own story. I've become a stock character.
That needs to change.
The only trick? Figuring out that first step.
Living a Better Story Seminar from All Things Converge Podcast on Vimeo.