If Your Life is a Story, is it One Worth Telling?
The wind whistles all around me, blowing so hard that I have to pull the fleece hood over my head to keep my toboggan from blowing away. Multiple layers and all this fleece, yet I'm still shivering. No, I'm not waiting for the bus or locked out of my car - this is by choice. These are the final hours of year 28 and I'm soaking it up at what could be simply described as my happy place: On a California beach under the cover of a clear, starry night. The wind is blowing my hat off, I may be freezing, I may have a three mile walk back home ahead of me, and there may be a couple making out beside me, but here in this moment, on Ocean Beach in San Francisco, under a clear night of a full moon and starry sky, this is absolute bliss. And with that, I later posted these words on Facebook that night:
This week is THE finest moment of my life; and it's for no tangible reason. To take a deep look into who and where I am as a person now, as compared to two years ago, has never left me feeling more satisfied and accomplished. I've said multiple times in the last year that I finally feel comfortable in my own skin and that life has come full circle, but it wasn't until today, and more specifically tonight, that I really believed that. 27 may have been the hardest year of my life, but 28 was THE best.
What am I supposed to do now? That's often the question I ask after I've finished a great movie or book. I'm left with a sense of satisfaction, yet longing for more. These types of stories stick with me forever. They are the books and movies that are easiest for me to pick back up. Sure, I know what happens when I read or watch it again, but I just can't help but replay the story in my mind. However, these types of stories are rare. If I asked you to name those stories that you've read or seen over and over, the list probably wouldn't be any greater than five. There's a reason that those stories are that good, but what is it?
What makes a good story great? So great that it doesn't suffice to just read it once and put it down, but to replay it over and over in your mind? Is there a particularly nice house featured that makes it so captivating? Maybe the protagonist just has a really secure job? No, I don't think that's it. I think it's something that goes much deeper beyond the surface.
I went to Twitter and Facebook to ask others what makes a great story for them. I received nearly 15 responses and almost every single response tied it back to the character. A great story demands a great character and not just great cinematically, but one in which the reader has a connection to them. I believe Brandie Feuer said it best when she told me that it was about an "emotional connection to the character." It's those types of stories that while the end has come and we put the book down or watch the credits roll, we're motionless. The story, and more specifically, the characters of that story, has left a mark on our psyche.
It was two years ago today that I was homeless, facing a divorce, and using the last of several free nights at a Hyatt Place until I found somewhere to live. I was knee-deep in the worst time of my life. I was working a dead-end job, living in a state that had been a disaster for me since moving to it three years prior, and I had alienated my friends and family. This was the conflict in my story. Yet it was because of this conflict that I decided that it was high time I started writing a different story for my life then I had written for the first 27 years.
Have you ever sat to think about the types of movies that typically win the Academy Award for Best Picture? Is it typically romantic or stupid comedies? Something like Anchorman or Miss Congeniality? No, never. Those types of movies are rarely even nominated. A movie of best picture quality demands more. The range of emotion felt during such a movie by both the character and the audience includes contentment, heartache, joy, fear, hope, and resolve. It's a roller coaster ride, yet that's about as close as we come to feeling such range of motions, because we become content with writing a story for our lives that is far from best picture quality. And so we settle.
As I write this, I'm sitting in a cafe in San Francisco, looking out the bay window, up to the Transamerica Pyramid and down the street to the Ferry Building. I can't help but think about my story now as compared to two years ago. A lot has changed since then. I've traveled for nine months, become a full-time writer and consultant to the travel industry, and moved 2,500 miles across the U.S. to San Francisco. This summer I'm living in Northern California wine country for four weeks, taking my first cruise (A cruise to Alaska, one of five U.S. states I haven't been to), and traveling through Europe. I say this not to boast, but simply because it's a part of my ever-evolving story, in which some of you are even characters in.
I don't see any reason why someone would ever write a story about my past, present, or future life. Nonetheless, upon making a new friend recently who really connected with my story, I felt inspired to share about where I am and how I feel one year after writing that series of posts. Whether my story is interesting to anyone else or not doesn't matter. It just needs to be interesting to me because I'm the one who has to live with it every day. It's not all joy and hope. It's one filled with fear and anxiety at times, but it's a story I believe is worth living and telling. Thank you for being a part of my story. Now go write and live your own.