Friday, July 22, 2011

"From here on out, I'm only interested in what is real. Real people, real feelings, that's it, that's all I'm interested in."

When I tell people that I’m a writer, I quite often get the question, “Do you want to write a book?”

I then respond with, “No,” and that’s that.

Except with one friend in particular. “No” just doesn’t sit well with him, and he always comes back with “Why?” He simply can’t accept that I don’t have any desire to write a book.

So the usual “you should write a book” topic came up once again in one of our recent conversations.

After I reiterated the reasons why writing a book isn’t on my list of things to do, he concluded, “Well, you should help me write a screenplay then.”

“If it’s a screenplay based on a true story, then maybe,” I answered. “I don’t do fiction.”

Of course he can’t accept that either, and pulls out the usual “Why?”

In this instance, though, I wasn’t so prepared to explain. I thought about giving him the ole’ “Just because,” but I wanted to nip this conversation in the bud before it turned into a weekly routine.

So I thought about it, and this is what I came up with.

For one thing, I don’t have a very creative imagination. I’m not sure why; I just don’t. I’m simply not good at making up stories. Even ask my mother; I’ve tried to sell her a fabrication a time or two. They didn’t work. I think it’s partly due to the fact that I denounced my imagination a long time ago, thus stunting its growth.

But I don’t write fiction primarily because I don’t believe there’s a need for it. There are so many amazing and true stories to be told, why waste time making ones up?

Writing fiction almost feels wrong to me. It’s almost like I’m not taking full advantage of this magnificent world in front of me that I know so little about. I don’t want to miss out on anything that’s real.

Folktales were originally told to teach people the difference between right and wrong. For children, that makes sense. It allows us to simplify life into little tales that neatly conclude with a lesson. I can still remember the stories my Nana used to tell me conveying the importance of kindness, honesty and hard work – like the one about the little boy who was rewarded with a puppy because he did extra chores.

But what about adults? I feel like I'm morally responsible to learn as much as possible about our universe because I can. With technology at our fingertips, there’s no accuse not to. I don't need make believe things and people to convey good and evil. They already exist.

And the thing that confuses me the most is that the majority of fiction is based on reality. Unless you’re writing about vampires and werewolves, you’re writing about the human experience, which is a real thing. So why not just convey the human experience through real people?

Every person has a story, and every person deserves to have their story be told. Real people deserve our compassion, and that's why I write about them.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Any happiness you get you've got to make yourself

I stumbled across this article from actor and comedian Ricky Gervais today in the Huffington Post, and I thought it was an interesting follow up to my previous post.

Reflecting on the past 30 years, Gervais admits that he has “chilled out” about some things. But at the same time, he’s still very angry, and he notes that if the day ever comes when he isn’t, there’s a problem.

Gervais says,

I don't know what happiness is but it's definitely NOT just going with the flow. Going with the flow, for Christ sake? Don't ever go with the flow. Stop the flow, go against the flow, start the flow, but don't under any circumstance just go with the flow.

For Gervais, not going with the flow means saying what he feels and believes in, whether it ruffles a few feathers or not. And while Rubin – author of "The Happiness Project" – isn’t quite as angry and opinionated, she expresses a similar desire to do more than go with the flow. She writes,

One April day, on a morning just like every other morning, I had a sudden realization: I was in danger of wasting my life. As I stared out the rain-spattered window of a city bus, I saw that the years were slipping by. 'What do I want from life anyway?' I asked myself. 'Well…I want to be happy.' But I had never thought about what made me happy or how I might be happier.

Rubin's plan of action is much different than Gervais', but both can agree that happiness isn't about being content with what is. It's about stepping beyond the boundaries and enduring difficulty to achieve something better, whatever that may be. And although it may be uncomfortable in the moment, the satisfaction of accomplishing something, of not going with the flow, will bring you happiness. I don't want to give Miley Cyrus too much credit, but she was right on when she said it’s all about the climb.

I’ll leave you with one of my all-time favorite quotes, which comes from author and poet Alice Walker: “Don't wait around for other people to be happy for you. Any happiness you get you've got to make yourself.”

And checkout Gervais' article. Do it!

Friday, July 8, 2011

If you're happy and you know it...

It’s amazing how much you can discover about yourself by reading about someone else’s discovery of him or her self. I recently started reading “The Happiness Project,” a reflective account of Gretchen Rubin’s yearlong journey to becoming a generally happier person.

What’s interesting about Rubin’s self-improvement project is that she isn’t an unhappy person to begin with. She makes a point to stress that she is actually quite content with her life when she comes up with the idea. But she acknowledges that she could be happier – if not at least more appreciative of her good fortune – by making some small, yet positive changes. As Rubin puts it, “the days are long, but the years are short,” and life is too short to not make the absolute most of it.

So, for each month of the year Rubin picks a different aspect of her life to focus on improving, such as marriage, parenting and work.

From the first page, I knew I’d learn a thing or two from Rubin. Though we don’t have much in common circumstantially, Rubin and I have strikingly similar personalities. We both tend to nag our significant others, blow small incidences out of proportion, and desire – or even expect – praise for the good we do.

One chapter I found particularly motivating was “March: Aim Higher,” in which Rubin focuses on work, and becoming more efficient and open to a challenge. Like myself, Rubin tends to second-guess herself and her ability, and in effect, she ‘s hesitant to take on a challenge. So, she decides to start a blog – which she ultimately gets much satisfaction from – but I could relate to her reluctance. She writes,

“Pushing myself, I know, would cause me serious discomfort. It’s a Secret of Adulthood: Happiness doesn’t always make you feel happy. When I thought about why I was sometimes reluctant to push myself, I realized that it was because I was afraid of failure – but in order to have more success, I needed to be willing to accept more failure.”

I found that a really interesting and true statement: happiness doesn’t always make you feel happy. I think people forget that sometimes, including myself. Those who are lucky enough to say they love their jobs often don’t feel any less challenged, or even less overwhelmed, than the rest of us. But in the big scheme of things, the satisfaction that they receive at the end of the day translates to happiness.

So as I make my way into my final semester of grad school, and then the real world, I’ll try to keep that in mind. Being happy doesn’t necessarily create happiness. Defying the limitation I tend to place on myself, learning from failure and ultimately succeeding creates it. And while it may not be easy or comfortable, I think that kind of satisfaction is what makes a life worth living.