The Stories We Tell Ourselves
We weave tall tales about our appearance, patting ourselves on the back for what’s acceptable and publicly punishing what’s not. We call out all of our perceived imperfections so that the world might know yes; we’re aware of the blemishes dotting our skin and of the too-many hairs of our eyebrows and we know that these underwear are old and worn and unacceptable but we’ve been stressed out and we haven’t had extra time to pluck and prime and it’s laundry day so, free pass. We pretend that ugly is not part of the plot, that ugly is an accident, an anomaly because we don’t want to accept that sometimes ugly is just what and who we are.
A fable we tell to the ones we hurt: all’s fair in love and war so please excuse these emotional landmines and try to avoid that teargas since you’re prone to crying. We love this story because it excuses bad behavior and it concludes with a most immoral moral — callous actions are warranted whenever the stakes are high. We like the way this story sounds when we’re the ones telling it, but when we’re in the audience, when someone else reads these words back to us, the truth becomes a glaring grammatical error, an unfinished sentence, a misstep so flagrantly obvious that we can’t believe we once penned it — all’s not fair in love and war, nothing is fair in love and war — and it’s only when someone recites those words to us and we become victim to their flawed logic that we understand just how unfair love and war and life can be.
At some point, we tell ourselves we’re not special; this is to combat guilt over years of conditioning and ego-stroking and meaningless awards granted simply because we showed up, alive, to do the average thing. We tell ourselves we’re not special because the news wants to make sure we know that, our predecessors want to make sure we know that, our bosses want to make sure we know that — do we know that? How little we’re entitled to? Just want to make sure we all know that. The way this story goes is that no, we’re not special and yes, we know that; though a tiny piece of us still believes maybe we’re special enough for the minimum. Maybe we’re not special enough to shine the brightest at work, or to be the favorite child, or to win an award that wasn’t mass-produced on a copy machine in some colorless Teacher’s Lounge during a too-short lunch break, but maybe we’re special enough for someone, just one person, to love us. And this is a funny story, that the minimum entitlement is finding another human whose unique and storied past somehow makes them capable of boundless, eternal affection for someone average, someone like you or me; this story is so funny that sometimes it makes us cry.
And the story we rely on most, all dog-eared and yellowed, has been told so many times that we’ve forced it into truth — everything will be okay. The past and the present do not inform the future; spending your 28th birthday silent and alone in a grey cubical does not mean spending your 68th birthday silent and alone in a grey cubical, imagining a flickering cake whose collective light and heat could set your non-imaginary house on fire if you just picture it long enough. There is no pattern to your misfortune, there is no reason to believe that you are trapped and unmovable, there is nothing to indicate that tomorrow will be like yesterday will be like five years from now. We tell ourselves stories to control the uncontrollable, to make sense of static, to organize decades and miles and bats of lashes into narratives that make sense but at the end of the day — at the end of the story — all that matters is that everything is okay. And so this is our favorite story because it acknowledges the randomness; this is not a story that exists to cover up our fear of being unattractive, of being intimate, of being loved — this is a sci-fi story that deals in circumstance and opportunity and what’s to come. This is a story that cannot be deconstructed and disproven, and this is why we like it best: there is no way of knowing if it will turn out to be just a fairytale.
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Great literature endures because it has great truth. For every question you’ve wanted answered, sorrow you’ve felt, and victory you’ve tasted, there’s a writer who has captured your emotion with immaculate grace.
We can feel so strongly about something and that makes it so simple but finding the reason for the strength of those feelings can be so complex.
21. When somebody compares your looks to another person, that other person always has glasses—no matter how little they actually look like you.
Let’s face it. Idle time is so easily spent now that we’re all connected.