“There will always be reservations, things one must leave out, events one can’t explain without handing over a full map of one’s life, unfolding it, making clear that all the lines and contours stand for long days and nights when things were bad or good, or when things were too small to be described at all: when things just were. This is a life.”
― Colm Tóibín, The South
It was my birthday. (Long back. In July. I simply take a long time to make it into a nice story.)
So… it was my birthday and even though I tend to complain a lot about how stupid people are, my friends are actually really sweet to me. One of my friends wrote an email to me to wish me, and remind me about how I should be thankful to have a friend like him. The letter was just a paragraph long, and majorly he wrote this:
“Not sure if you expect this from me, but if you do, you’re over expecting. I’m not good at writing letters. This may be disastrous. You’re reading. You’re still reading. (…) Okay. Its your birthday, I should consider. Ohh yes! its your birthday! HAPPY BIRTHDAY. Alright I have no idea what to write but I wont give up.”
That’s not why I feel like ranting today. I appreciate his gesture anyway.
By the end of the letter, he wrote: “Its always great to talk to you, unless when you’re being pathetic.”
I thought: What. 😐
Obviously, he didn’t say ‘being pathetic’ but I can’t allow myself to really quote what he said. It was supposed to be a mean, funny joke.
I reflected on that a little.
I have a tendency to tell someone only how much I think the person can take. So, I have one friend to whom I tell all my socially awkward moments, because I like to hear her laugh. I have another who I just morbidly discuss death with, because I know he won’t think of me as a suicidal nutcase. I have friends with whom I only discuss their lives, and just squeeze in superficial updates of my life, because they’re living more dramatic lives than me. There are some friends you always end up discussing sex with, and with some you never ever ever crack a sex joke even!
I will never start talking about me, because my current narrative of life seems pretty glum to me. I don’t want to be boring either. So if you want to know about my life, you have to ask me specific questions- a necessary trick some of my friends have learned by now.
I brought to my mind all the possible conversations I could think of and I realized I was unabashedly pathetic in front of him. He is one of my friends, who understands the difference between when I say a joke, and when I really believe the joke to be true.
Luckily, we were meeting in the evening to celebrate, and I got the chance to scream at him clarify with him about what he wrote. I also told him a few more stories about me where I was not being pathetic; but being just plain stupid or really witty or insightful! He just smirked.
Anyway, that day, I made a mental-note of never talking about sad stuff without discussing the little happy stuff that do happen.
I also realized that there is a narrative of our own lives we repeat to ourselves. But we are more than just that one narrative too. My parents too have this one specific story they keep telling themselves, and if you prod a little, and ask them different questions, you realize (and hopefully, they too realize) that their lives have been more than just that. So many people affect you, so many incidences happen in unison, so many things are just blurred by time, so many things are brighter still by the constant revision of those memories. We are bound by habits.
We tell ourselves stories to forgive ourselves; to blame others; to forgive others; to excuse ourselves from the heroic narrative, and just be human.
The story of my life has changed so many times by now. With each passing phase, I look at it a bit differently. I know that when this stupid, glum phase passes, I am going to make a funny narrative about it to tell you and get it off my system. For now, I just have to live every sucky moment of it and hate it, and make energy-sapping efforts to count the little things I am grateful for.
There is a story of your life that you tell, and there is the story you actually live; and that has layers you tend to forget about.
That one single story, and much more.
“Make it dark, make it grim, make it tough, but then, for the love of God, tell a joke.”
― Joss Whedon
PS: The title is inspired by this TED talk that talks about prejudices. It’s a really nice one, not really related to what I spoke about. Here’s a link to that: Chimamanda Adichie: The danger of a single story