Finished another good book by Chuck Palahniuk
A good collection of short essays and stories, but one of the best was a commentary on how people meet in airport hotel conference rooms and sometimes pay up to $100 for 7 minutes to ‘sell’ their stories to a publisher/filmmaker/producer/etc and he makes an interesting social commentary on our times. One that I think hits some very interesting and uncomfortably true points. A better description of our times I haven’t seen – or at least of GenX-er’s.
Paraphrased, his argument runs like this:
We are now a society that has: unprecedented amounts of free time, the technology to publish/be seen rapidly and cheaply, educated enough that literacy is available to almost everyone, and enough disgust to say that we can do better than the books/movies we see. Along with free time, we take more time to relive, reorganize, sum up, and make little internal or external ‘highlight’ reels to remember all those memories and events in our lives. Everything from our growing up family life, to horrible experiences like alcoholism or worse. We package them up in a screen play or book – which our disgust tells us is often just as good or better than what we see already. With all this in play, he asks if we are headed down a road towards mindless, self-obsessed lives where every event is reduced to words and camera angles? A world in which we review our lives, not as Socrates intended as a growing event – but only in terms of movie or paperback potential. Palahniuk goes one step further and suggest – we may even start picking experiences in order to generate a story.
A world in which the experience happens in order to generate a story. Where the story you can tell is actually more important than the actual event. Where we hurry through life, enduring event after event in order to build a list of experiences. The problem is we may never even really be touched by the events if we live this way – we might experience them, but not actually grow or mature because of them.
He ask if folks will start actually picking and choosing our way through life so-as to make the most cool sounding character. To live a life that we’d see played by Julia Roberts or Brad Pitt. We may only see the world’s experiences as what Heidegger called bestand – raw natural materials like wood/oil/clay. The problem is that Heidegger said that if you start seeing the world as bestand – then it leads you to use things, enslave and exploit things and even people for you own benefit. Or even to enslave and exploit yourself.
So, is it happening?
I’d have to say that this somewhat happened to me in my 20’s during the dot-com boom. I had an image of what success looked like in my head that I’d formed in college and with the dot-com raging – money flowed like water. I aimed for that. I got the good job in my field, the right fun activities that were cool (like snowboarding, etc), living in the right part of the country (Oregon is a magnet for this), traveling to Europe and New Zealand, searching for the right crowds to hang out with and so forth. It wasn’t until I attained those goals that I realized that they weren’t necessarily ‘me’. Oh, parts of them were and many were very good for me, but parts were not.
It wasn’t until I dug into my motives for acquiring or participating in these events, it often uncovered that it was sometimes me trying to impress myself or someone else in my mind. Another might even be to impress or mimic famous people we idolize or want to pattern our lives on – like movies/sports/music stars, or historical figures. Sometimes even fictional people I projected or created. You were secretly trying to impress a parent(s), or someone that said you’d never make it, or classmates in school you hated and wanted to show them. You might even play out the dialog in your head and come up with your retorts. But in short – it is to fill your own void.
I think much of our generation – despite claiming we’re all so independent – wastes a lot of our younger years trying to be something or someone we’ve invented in our heads. So much so that we don’t get down to the somewhat scary, but really wonderful, stuff of finding out who we really are in ourselves. It wasn’t until I started really being comfortable and confident with my own faults/reality of myself that I was able to let that person start to blossom when I went to the seminary/monastery – and stopped needing to live up to whatever thing was in my head telling me what I should be. Instead, I can now let go of all that, and just simply live as I am. And that’s a truly unique, wonderful, and free place to be – but can be very different than the person we think we are, or wanted to be.
As a final note, that discovery of who I am, for me, is intrinsically linked with my faith. For my faith reminds me constantly of how loved and beautiful I am – even if I’ve made terrible mistakes or don’t measure up to my own internal yardstick. That my past and even current fallacies – while they may have shaped me – does not have to be who I am or discount from what I was always meant to (and hopefully one day will) be – a pure person of light and love. And if I don’t live up to my internal yardstick, then I can rely on the fact I have, or will be given, everything I really DO need.