Write Your Own Story: The Incident-Part 4

Mom was prepared for my arrival. I had called her just 3 hours before and told her I was on the way to spend a long weekend in the old hometown. Our conversation was short: "Mom, I'm on my way up for a few days." She said ok and told me she would see me when I got there and I continued on my drive from South Carolina to my childhood home in North Carolina. I walked through the front door and was greeted with a hug from my mom. She didn't say anything, as I could tell she was waiting to see what I would say first. There was a couple minutes of awkward silence. I had been in the car by myself for nearly four hours and still couldn't muster the words I had to say. I slowly walked to my father's old rocking chair to sit down and tried to compose myself, when I finally broke the silence: "Well mom, it's over." In A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, Donald Miller talks about the "inciting incident". We see this in every play, movie, or book. It's that moment of conflict, which launches the characters head first into the story. As Miller puts it, the inciting incident is the doorway of which there is no return.

Without an inciting incident that disrupts their comfort, they won't enter into a story. They have to get fired from their job or be forced to sign up for a marathon. A ring has to be purchased. A home has to be sold. The character has to jump in the story, into the discomfort and the fear, otherwise the story will never happen.

Have you ever seen a movie that simply follows a guy and girl, who wake up and go into their jobs, stare into each other's eyes during a meeting, fall in love, get married, and live happily ever after? NO! While those things might happen, there is always conflict along the way. An inciting incident. Their fathers are in opposing mafias, she sees him making out with another girl, he has ED, she get transferred to another country, or something similar. If it wasn't like this, movies would last 30 minutes and be over. And I'm sorry, but I pay too much money for 30 minutes of entertainment.

My father passed away three years ago. So how did I deal with it? I got into my first serious relationship, just a couple weeks after his death, and it got serious quick. Dated, engaged, and married in little more than a year. I was immature, didn't deal with my debt, couldn't manage what money I was making, but all the while putting up this facade of the clean-cut man everyone thought I was. When all of this came to the surface, the shit hit the fan. After I was kicked out of her house and made the drive up to my mom's, I knew that I could try to fight and things might have worked out, but I walked away. Many I'm sure call me a coward, but to this day I stand by my decision.

Friends Made in New York City
Friends Made in New York City

That is what I consider the inciting incident - the day I drove to my mom's to tell her it was over. I had my family's support, a car full of my belongings, four free nights at a hotel, and one week to find a new place, which I did in fact find. I worked 12-hour days, ordered out pizza and Asian food, and watched movies every night until I fell asleep. I did this for a month. Like a scene from Tron: Legacy, a door opened one spring night - one that I walked through and haven't walked back out of. As I remember it, I was eating pizza and had just turned on another movie, Brothers Bloom, when I saw that I had a new direct message on Twitter. It was from a friend/mentor who was asking why I wasn't making plans to be at the Travel Bloggers Exchange Conference (TBEX) in New York City. She had her mind set on doing everything possible to make sure I was there. But, I had no money, having blown it on eating out and movies every night. Call it the good samaritans, guardian angels, or whatever you want, but a couple days later I was given a free roundtrip plane ticket and a free weekend hotel stay in Manhattan. One week later, I was on a plane to New York City.

The inciting incident is how you get them to do something. It's the doorway through which they can't return, you know. The story takes care of the rest.

What is your story? Where are you at in it? Has the inciting incident happened yet? If not, there's still plenty of time. You might even need a little push out the door. Maybe you even think the inciting incident has happened, when in reality, maybe it hasn't. For Carter Chambers and Edward Cole from The Bucket List, it happened much later in life. At the end of the day, you have a choice. What is your response going to be to the curve balls life throws at you?

I've wondered, though, if one of the reasons we fail to acknowledge the brilliance of life is because we don't want the responsibility inherent in the acknowledgment. We don't want to be characters in a story because characters have to move and breathe and face conflict with courage. And if life isn't remarkable, then we don't have to do any of that; we can be unwilling victims instead of grateful participants.

Sunset at Hermosa Beach in Costa Rica
Sunset at Hermosa Beach in Costa Rica

What I've learned as I'm "writing my own story" is that I have a choice. Sometimes those choices, will be epic and change the course of my life, while other times they will be wrong and I'll have to course correct. If you want to live a story that is bigger than yourself, you're going to just have to suck it up, grow a pair, and face the reality. You may almost kill yourself, as you work hard to get to the point that you want, but would you rather stick to your comfortable, complacent life that is completely predictable, or put your hand to the plow and sweat tirelessly to reach that which you dream of?

What's your end goal? Is it to move up in your company? City mayor? Published author? Award winner? Remember that labels aren't shit. People aren't going to know or remember you for your title. They are going to remember you for the things you did or didn't do. Think of the great leaders in history. They aren't remembered for their status as archbishop or prime minister. They are known and remembered for what they did when they faced conflict. Movies aren't made of boring people.

It wasn't necessary to win for the story to be great, it was only necessary to sacrifice everything.

I almost killed myself to get to where I am. I worked nearly 80 hours a week as I transitioned from a salaried job to a freelance travel writer, and lived out of my car for a couple weeks while I let my lease expire. Now I'm living in Costa Rica for a few weeks until I move elsewhere. Where that will be, I don't have a clue. I can only take one day at a time. I have days that are lonely, like today, but I get to wake up every morning and do the things that I love the most in life.

Some of the people that I met as a result of TBEX in New York City are my closest friends. They were some of the first people that I shared my story and the "inciting incident" with, and they believed in me. Some of them I've traveled with, one of them is the reason I'm in Costa Rica, and one of them is one of my editors. I want to know your story and the inciting incidents that have happened to you that caused you to re-write the story of your own life. And I hope you have the characters in your story like I've had that give you the support and push out the door to do something bigger than yourself. I leave you with One Day by Matisyahu. I considered quoting some of the lyrics, but all of the words are so good in how they represent the last year for me.

*Disclaimer: Communal WiFi was used in the writing of this post, which I consider a part of my monthly rent. Music was courtesy of my "Summertime" iTunes playlist, which included music from Zach Deputy, Bob Marley, Jack Johnson, and Matisyahu. In celebration of writing this blog post, I'm accompanying this disclaimer with a glass of Flor de Cana 7-Year Rum, mixed with Raspberry Lemonade. I'm doing this while under the weather, so I take full responsibility if I am still under the weather in the morning, but will also take responsibility if it makes me feel better. If ever in Central America, I highly  recommend buying Flor de Cana Rum at the Nicaragua border, which you can get 5 bottles for $36 at the Duty-Free Shop. They make nice gifts, or I expect you can get a pretty high street value for them.