This is an old post – from some 6 years ago. I’ve decided to get this site going with old blogs that demonstrate my journey to becoming an author.
I have resorted to trying to “find myself” through writing – journaling, prayer-journaling, or writing essays, in an attempt to sort out my thoughts and my life. Sometimes it works – I find a moment of clarity amid the randomness of everyday life, but whether those moments of clarity add up to anything like actual direction, I have yet to determine.
My roommate asked me this morning as she was getting ready for work whether I ever felt like I was a slave to my goals, rather than the other way around. My answer was not lately, because I don’t really have any clear goals at the moment, much as I would like to. My plan right now is to work, to write my novel until it’s finished, whether I feel like it or not, whether it’s going well or not, and then to edit the heck out of it until it’s suitable for submission… and meanwhile, to try to live in the moment for once in my life and hope that direction for the next step will come in its time. I’ve only been out of school since the beginning of this semester, though, and the restlessness has begun to set in, though I know better than to desperately start searching for my perfect career again. I know that road very well, and I know exactly where it leads: nowhere.
I often wish that there was a fast-forward button on life, and I could skip the no-man’s-land that stretches between the segments of actual plot, but I suppose in a way I’m grateful that no such button exists. For how am I to know, while I’m living it, which segments are part of the plot and which are simply filler? Nothing is wasted, I am told. It’s just that as a viewer to a movie, the audience has the privilege of knowing that every scene is there for a reason, to advance the storyline – and even if it doesn’t make perfect sense at the time, the audience can trust that the author will bring all the elements together in the end, and it will all make sense. We have no such confidence in life. “Our days come to us as a riddle,” says John Eldredge, and we have none of that cumulative hindsight that might lend reason in the here and now to what might appear to be random.
I watched “Elizabethtown” the other night. It was one of those movies that made me sit and journal after I was finished watching it, because it was so beautifully incoherent and emotional and mimetic of life, in all its confusion and complexity. Stories like these touch me because nothing is really cut and dry – there isn’t exactly a “good” guy and a “bad” guy (though often stories like those can be a comforting break from reality), and there are a thousand things going on at once, not just one story line to focus all one’s attention. Stories like these teach me to make sense of the madness, and to believe in hope, even if I’m not quite sure in what – just for something better. My roommate wanted to make a t-shirt to say, “It’s not all about the bottom line,” and that phrase repeated in my mind at the last scene of that movie. Sometimes it’s about right now, this moment. For the main character, Drew, he needed to learn to grieve for the loss of his father, his colossal career failure, and the regret for the years he spent pursuing his career and neglecting family. Claire, the “love interest,” wasn’t just a love interest – she taught him a new perspective on life, taught him to appreciate the everyday and spending time in his own company, encouraged him to grieve, and then to live. (When his failure in business was exposed, she “gave” him five minutes to relish the abject humiliation, and then told him to discard it. She said he should suffer immense professional failure and then keep going, make them wonder why he was still smiling. What great advice.) But she did not make any demands on their relationship. She may have been present in his life only for that season; the audience just doesn’t know. As my favorite song in the soundtrack to “Wicked” goes, “I’ve heard it said that people come into our lives for a reason, bringing something we must learn, and we are led to those who help us most to grow if we let them.” I hope I won’t give anything away if I say that the movie ends with the couple in one another’s arms, but the audience doesn’t know what the characters do afterwards. Neither is there any “happily ever after” or “the end” in real life (not until you die) – you have to live the ever after, and whether it’s happy or not remains to be seen.
I stopped after the movie and listed all the stories or songs or albums I could recall that had pierced me: Elizabethtown. Jerry Maguire. (I wrote an essay in my journal about that one when I finished it, too.) The soundtracks to the Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables, and now Wicked. Something Corporate’s “North” album. Jack’s Mannequin’s “Everything in Transit” album. Legends of the Fall. The Shawshank Redemption. Good Will Hunting. U2’s “Joshua Tree” album. Cinderella Man. Rudy. October Sky. Jennifer Knapp’s “Faithful to Me.” Switchfoot’s “The Beautiful Letdown” album. Not all of these are necessarily hopeful or end “happy,” but they all tap into the spectrum of human emotion from an original angle, and project a message that is real and true and identifiable. They teach us something. And though it’s perhaps difficult to learn this from a fictional story (“it’s just a movie, after all,”) one of the main messages that I have deduced is that anything is possible. This is becoming my motto, hard as it is to remember and believe in the repetition of the everyday – I can list many things in my life and in the lives of those around me that seemed quite impossible and nevertheless came to pass. For me, this is the function of literature and art in any form: far from being merely a diversion, it is a fresh perspective. You just never know.