Dearest Rachel –
For the better part of the last century, at least, it’s been easy to think of our lives as a movie, with ourselves at the center of the story. I suppose it might have been thought this way prior to the popularization of the cinema, with the story being literature instead – each of our lives being some grand, Proustian autobiography, covering the sweep of an entire lifespan. More recently, the crowning example might be considered to be that of The Truman Show, wherein a man is in fact the focal point of a long-running reality television series.
Regardless of the media one might imagine for oneself, the point remains that, for the most part, we consider ourselves the hero protagonist of our own story. Which, if you think about it, is rather odd, as the protagonist in any sort of photoplay is generally the character who gets the most screen time. But by definition, this is impossible for any of us – we are actually behind the camera rather than in front of it, unable to see ourselves, save when we occasionally take the time to look into a mirror (at which point, we are generally not interacting with the other characters in our life, and therefore removed from the largest part of the action in our alleged story). The story is merely unfolding in front of us as we watch – and participate.
But it’s true that we all only experience a single point of view as we go about our lives – our own – and it’s so difficult to step away from our own camera, and view the unfolding situation from a different set of eyes.
And as a result, we find ourselves having difficulty relating to other people. We tend to assume that everyone else thinks the same way that we do – despite the fact that we know deep inside that’s patently not true. But again, since that’s all the perspective that we have, it’s the only conclusion that we can come to on our own without outside assistance. And since this assumption is by default wrong, we – well, let’s face it, I – come across as selfish, narcissistic and lacking empathy.
I suppose I could try and excuse myself, asserting that it’s not my fault, that I can’t help it, because my point of view is the only one I know or understand. But that doesn’t really give me the right to be the way I am. It certainly doesn’t give me the right to an audience – after all, who would listen to me when all I do is talk about myself? Just because it’s the only topic I truly know anything about, doesn’t make it interesting.
Worse yet, when one tends to focus only on oneself to the exclusion of everybody else, turning into a crashing bore is probably the best case scenario. Lacking sufficient empathy, it’s all too easy to slide down the scale from heroic to being the antihero, or worse yet, the outright villain of your own story.
The only way to mitigate against any of this, I think, is to step back from the focal role, and try and determine how to make oneself rather more a bit player in one’s own story. The question is, how?
If, with the literate, I amDorothy Parker, from “A Pig’s-Eye View of Literature,” 1927 referring to her wit as compared to that of Oscar Wilde.
Impelled to try an epigram,
I never seek to take the credit;
We all assume that Oscar said it.
There’s a reason I use a lot of quotations and pop culture references in my letters to you, honey (it’s also a bit ironic, given the fact that ‘Entertainment’ was always my weak subject in Trivial Pursuit, despite being a master at the game otherwise). Part of it is the fact that, despite what some people have told me, I’m not really as creative as some people seem to think I am. I will readily admit that most of the great things, the most pithy and succinct, the ones that encapsulate life and how it is (or how it should be, in some cases), have for the most part already been said, and so much better than I could ever dream of coming up with myself.
Oh, I might have a few insights that are – to the best of my knowledge – unique to myself, but it’s for that very reason that I worry most about those kind of ideas. The fact that no one else has come up with them suggests that they may well be bizarre at best, and heretical at worst. There’s a reason (I tend to conclude) why no one came up with this idea or concept before.
At the same time, there’s something unifying about media and pop culture – or at least, there’s supposed to be. We hear the same sounds, see the same images, and while our perceptions of them will differ based on how and when we experience them – for instance, the music on the mix tapes you sent me were in many cases the soundtrack of your childhood, whereas I came to know them as messages from you – we can still absorb the music, the lyrics, the sights, the scripts as part of a shared experience between us.
It’s a stopgap measure, to have the story be one of observations and sensations rather than being character driven, but hopefully it will work for now. At the very least, it takes the spotlight off of myself, and onto the things that we might, to some small degree, be able to share. Who knows, it may be that the combination of media and quotation in any given letter is unique enough to be interesting regardless of whatever else I might have to say about myself – or yourself.
Of course, this isn’t the most conducive format to reach out to anyone else, least of all yourself. I can’t say something like, “so, what do you think, honey?” and realistically expect an answer. To be less selfish and narcissistic, I need to be able to listen to others, and this isn’t the place where I could do that.
And yet here I am, yammering on about myself and what I think about these stories. I think it’s probably for the best that I that I close for now: it is a problem trying to write these things at the very end of the day, when I’m not really at my best, mentally speaking. Sometimes the best thing to do is to know when to head for the wings, and allow for the curtain to drop behind me; there will (most likely) be yet another act tomorrow, wherein I can cede the stage to some other, more important player. I don’t know how, but we’ll figure that out if and when we get tomorrow’s script.