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Stories I Tell Myself and Other Confessions…

July 15, 2014
Brandon and my black eye. Lincoln, NE, 1985.

Brandon and my black eye. Lincoln, NE, 1985. So I guess that happened.

Most of my life is true. The rest is stories that I’ve told myself for so long that I’ve forgotten if they were true or not. I only remember telling them to myself. Like the story of how I got my first black eye when I was five (my brother and a baseball bat were involved). Part of that story involves going to kindergarten then next day and impressing the tough kids with my shiner. We don’t have photographic evidence of that, and I can’t remember what they look like, but one seemed short, stout, and outspoken (Ernie?) and the other tall, thin, and calmer (Bert?). Sometimes there are flashes of images, light, half remembered smells, but not enough to account for every detail of the story. A few I know are lies, but I believe them anyway. Sometimes that’s important because it protects that little piece on the inside that we think might fall out if we don’t keep our hand over the hole. But the lies don’t fit right, not like the other stories, even the forgotten ones. They rattle around until I reach in to take them out, hold them up to the light and think “Huh? I had no idea that was still in there. I told that lie when I was thirteen.” But most of my life is true.

I have conversations with people who aren’t there. Not just that usual mental rant at my absent boyfriend/mother/coworker for the thing they’ve done wrong now. This morning I was making oatmeal in the kitchen and explaining to my boyfriend’s cousin why bowing to the Buddha isn’t ‘idol worship.’ Not that she’d asked. Not that she was there. She’s updating her Facebook feed from a summer trip to Israel between her sophomore and junior year of college, which is why I was thinking of her (and religion) while I was making oatmeal. I’ve done this for my entire life. I explained quantum physics (badly) to Isaac Newton and why we only get to see one side of the moon to William Wallace.  Anytime I didn’t understand something, I’d pretend to explain it to someone else in my head until I had it worked out. Whenever I was sad (often enough then, less often now), I would tell someone about it and they would listen and ask only the right questions. It’s not precisely like having an imaginary friend. More like an imaginary entourage.

I like being alone. This is hard on my boyfriend because he likes being with me. I like being with him, too. It’s great because we’re both introverts and we can be introverted together. But sometimes I also like being alone, traveling alone, taking a nap in an empty house. I enjoyed being single. Sure, sometimes I was lonely and horny and couldn’t do anything about it. Sometimes I’m still lonely and horny when I can’t do anything about it (like in committee meetings or driving on the freeway). I also enjoy being in a relationship. It has perks (perk #1: my boyfriend, who is my hero; perk #2: love and all that stuff). It’s a qualitatively different sort of happiness. I wouldn’t trade it. And I still like being alone.

I think most people are basically good and I don’t like them anyway. Not specific people. I like the people I meet specifically. We get along very well. I love their stories. They are all so interesting. That’s why I like being a chaplain. I hear the most fascinating stories (that I can’t share with anyone, which is frustrating as a writer). But I don’t like ‘people’ in general. I love ordering pizza online, self-checkout aisles at the grocery store, automated kiosks at the movies, buying car insurance without an agent. I make my boyfriend call the apartment complex when we need maintenance. Otherwise, I would just live without that dripping faucet or creaky door. If there’s a line, I don’t join. If there’s a crowd, I go the other way. People are noisy and they suck my energy like vampires. They let their children shout in restaurants and use English improperly. But when I talk to them, they becoming fascinating because they all have stories, which come alive with the innovative grammar of unique dialects. I learn that they are trying so hard to be and do good and getting it wrong sometimes, like me. We get along very well when they become specific persons to me. But I still don’t like people.

I think life is shit and that’s okay. I call it cynical optimism. I mean really, what were you expecting? That life wouldn’t be shit? Of course life is shit. Birth sucks, being a kid sucks (I particularly hated that part), puberty sucks, the rat race sucks, getting old sucks, getting sick sucks, being hurt by other people sucks, and to top it all off, dying sucks. Oh, and other people we like dying sucks, too. But that’s all okay because we can deal. At some fundamental level, we can all deal and manage to be happy anyway. Isn’t that fantastic? No sarcasm here. I really think that’s absolutely fantastic. I’d call it a miracle if I weren’t too cynical to believe in those. It’s brilliant, really, perfect in a way. We have everything we need to make life not suck, but sometimes it’s like having all the parts to a piece of Ikea furniture and none of the directions. That sucks. And isn’t it grand that we get to figure out how to get to put it together ourselves? I mean, it could be anything. How brilliant.

I think the Buddha may never have existed. His story may be entirely made up and his teachings actually the compilations of dozens (hundreds?) of different authors. But I don’t mind. I think all stories have truth in them, especially the fantastical ones. It’s not a factual sort of truth. It’s something subtler and deeper. I believe in Frodo, and Yoda, and the Doctor (but not Santa Claus). I’ve learned great truths from between their greater fictions. Of course, there’s a lot of actual evidence that Siddhartha Gotama (he has a name, you know) was an actual person. Scholars basically agree on this, and that he was called the Buddha and revered as a great teacher during his lifetime. But that’s just a story, too. If I only barely believe the stories I tell myself about my own life, why would it bother me if this one wasn’t (mostly) true either?

PS – Written stone cold sober. And I have not been diagnosed with a mental illness. In fact, most of my friends think I’m one of the sanest people they know. Suckers.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 16, 2014 6:31 am

    I love the phrase “half remembered smells”; and I too have conversations with people who aren’t there. It’s very cathartic at times.

  2. July 17, 2014 3:25 am

    OMG!!! I am just like you! I am a therapist and an introvert. Avoid lines, parties, crowds. Prefer to be alone. Order everything online, even dog food. What fantastic writing. I connected with every line. I always talk to myself and when hands free phone capability came around I was thrilled…..not that I would be talking on the phone while I was driving, but because I can now conceal the fact that I am having raging conversations with me, myself, and I.

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