Editor’s Note: the original version of this article was first posted on the C2C in 2010.
“Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.”
– George Bernard Shaw
When you write a story, at first, you don’t know where you are going. You just keep writing, hoping that eventually the theme of the story will reveal itself to you. Sometimes it doesn’t, and that’s usually when I question whether the story was a good one in the first place. It’s at this point that I may trash it. A writer knows well that a story without a theme is no good. A story needs direction, it needs focus, it needs to be driven by something bigger than itself. For instance, you can’t just write a story about two people and their relationship–their relationship has to say something about all relationships, or about people in general, or about humanity. Otherwise it’s just any regular story your next door neighbor could tell you.
A writer’s job is not about spreading the current gossip, it’s about moving us all to see something there, that we can’t all see on our own.
The current tag line on my blog is: “This is the story about me writing my first novel… and how life keeps getting in the way.” I intended this tag line to be ironic at first. Thinking that no, this blog is not really about “life,” it’s about me writing my novel. But like any good story, this blog slowly was revealing to me that there was in fact a larger theme that did have everything to do with “life.” It turns out that there is a double meaning to the title of this blog. Yes, it does refer to me having the courage to create my first novel. But now I realize that it also refers to me having the courage to create–myself. Not just my identity, but my career, my experiences and yes, my “life.”
I realized quite recently that we all make choices about how we live our lives. A lot of times its easy for us to blame everyone and everything around us. But when we look closely at everything that has “supposedly” happened “to” us, we see that in ever event, we always had a choice. We either had a choice to leave the situation, a choice to put up with the situation, or at least a choice to react in a certain way to a situation. We always had a choice. Always. We’d rather believe that it’s someone else’s fault that we are unhappy. That they messed us up. But our life isn’t theirs to mess up. It’s ours. That is not to say that we are purposely messing things up, no. It is more to say that at every point in our lives we choose to decide how we would deal with every mess that came our way.
Recently, my good friend E summed up what I am trying to say here pretty well. I asked her if I could paraphrase what she said here and she gave me her blessing. E was talking about her life and she said something to this effect:
I used to think that my life was like having this puzzle that I had to complete. That there was this perfect final image that was already put together on the back of the box the puzzle came in. I thought that if I just tried my best to get all the puzzle pieces I had to look exactly like the image that was on the box, then that meant I was a success. But then I realized something. I wasn’t putting together a puzzle that had already been made before. This was a new puzzle. It was my puzzle. I was given certain puzzle pieces that were mine and mine alone–none of these puzzle pieces had ever been put together before. There was no final image on the back of that box. Now I understand that the final image, the final puzzle that I am going to end up putting together at the end of my life, is going to be an image I create, not an image that was already created for me.
– E (Paraphrased.)
When E said this, something clicked in my head. I knew she was absolutely right and that what she had said was exactly what I was driving at with every subsequent post I was writing. It was finally clear to me that this was the theme of my blog all along. (As if to remove any doubt from my mind, I found the above quote from Shaw on my calendar when I flipped to September. Serendipitous indeed!)
The theme was always there, it’s just now I can step back and see it for what it is. My life is this big puzzle that I’m putting together from scratch. There is, in actuality, no certainty on how it will end, no final picture that I’m supposed to try to imitate or aspire to. There’s only my image. The one I make with the pieces that have been given to me.
But getting rid of that perfect puzzle delusion is a hard one for most people. I think we all know people who follow the perfect puzzle. There’s the lawyer puzzle and the doctor puzzle, there’s the good wife puzzle, the good son puzzle, the good this puzzle, the good that puzzle. There’s the success puzzle and the wealth puzzle. There’s good world citizen puzzle, and the good spiritual person puzzle. There’s the ideal man puzzle and the perfect relationship puzzle. We think these perfect puzzles really do exist, and we spend so much time and energy trying to live up to an image we think we are supposed to follow, that elusive image on the back of the puzzle box no one can ever seem to imitate perfectly. But that’s only because the perfect image isn’t there to follow. It’s never been there. The final image has always been up to us.
We decide what all of those labels (success, wealth, happiness, etc.) mean for us. This way of looking at life does seem a bit more chaotic, half-hazard, volatile. That’s probably because it is. But the other option is spending years trying to fashion your puzzle into some idea of success or beauty that doesn’t even exist. So you never satisfy yourself or anyone else. Instead, you might always find that you feel disappointed, unfulfilled, or that something is lacking.
You would be right in that final assumption. Something is lacking: your freedom to create.
Be courageous then. Be pragmatic. Be relieved that there is no perfect puzzle out there you have to imitate. Know that at each step of the way you are making your life from scratch, and only you get to decide how it’s going to look like in the end.
Hey… You know what? It’s kinda like writing a novel.
Oh, yeah. You caught that too?
Seems like in the story of this blog, writing a novel has also become a metaphor for life.
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