During my undergraduate studies, oh so long ago, one of my English professors lectured on the seven different plots. Basically, every story told follows one of seven plot lines. I, unfortunately, cannot remember the plot lines as he explained them, but I went ahead and Googled it for you in the interest of saving you the effort of doing so. They are: overcoming the monster, rags to riches, riches to rags, the quest, voyage and return, comedy, tragedy, and rebirth.
I grew up wanting to be a writer, more because I was such a voracious reader than any innate talent, so this idea that there were just seven plot lines fascinated me. As a little knowledge is apt to do, though, it also kind of screwed me up. Now, whenever I read a book or watch a movie, I analyze it, which kind of takes away that whole effect of ‘suspension of disbelief’ not to mention the escapism that many of us read books and watch movies to experience.
A somewhat recent movie that has become a favorite of mine is the 2013 remake of “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.” One of the reasons I love this movie is that this story encompasses all seven plot lines. It’s really quite extraordinary, and not a little exhausting.
I won’t go into details, in case you haven’t had the opportunity to watch the movie, but there is a scene in the movie with Sean Penn, where his character waxes poetic on snow leopards and delivers what is probably the most quoted line from the movie (though not from the original short story by James Thurber so no, Internet, it is not a Thurber quote.) The scene is very much about being present where you are. This is something with which I’ve always struggled, just being in the moment and getting out of my own head.
I’m not the most intuitive when it comes to relationships. It’s not that I don’t want to do better, I do. I read the book “The Five Love Languages” a long time ago and I still wasn’t able to nail down even my own “love language,” which is crazy because I’m just naturally more inwardly focused – my thoughts, my feelings, my ideas. Not surprisingly it turns out that being inwardly focused might not be the way to be the best path to being successful in a relationship. I’m not saying you shouldn’t be aware of your own needs. I’m just saying that when you’re in a relationship it may not the best idea to be aware only of your own needs. You really need to shine the light on the object of your affection from time-to-time.
The reason this is on my mind is that I’ve been thinking about the fact that I have this time on my own, outside of this relationship for the first time in a decade, and it’s now a good time to focus on myself in a way that won’t cause that tug-of-war that sometimes occurs when you try to steal time for yourself while you’re in a long-term relationship. It also occurred to me that it’s very difficult to be completely present for another person, to be the best version of yourself for that person, if you‘ve not yet nailed down for yourself which version is the best you.
Trying to create a life with someone when half of that partnership is still trying to forge its identity can be problematic, at best. I mean, so much of our identity is tied to the roles we play in life, isn’t it? Some of those roles we take on with quiet deliberation and some we stumble into almost in contrast to our natural inclinations. For me, it’s those roles that I took on out of necessity that were the ones that made me grow as a person because they were so challenging.
What I’m realizing, too, though, is that as much as my natural inclination is to retreat, I need to break out of my head and ultimately just, you know, get over myself. Self-reflection alone is not the most effective way to discover your identity because, and this is not my own theory, your brain creates stories to help you deal with pain and discomfort, essentially creating its own truth. Only by getting out of your own head, and comfort zone for that matter, can you discover your true identity. You need both experience and self-awareness to really figure this stuff out. Well, I do at least, and I’m okay with that. I’m ready for that.
Like in that movie, each of us has every one of those seven plot lines unfolding in our lives at any given time, and yes, it’s extraordinary and not a little exhausting. In many ways we are writing our own story. We don’t have control over every aspect of our stories, but we can certainly choose much of what makes up our everyday adventures.
Will I ever swim with sharks? Well, not on porpoise. Tee hee. Ride a skateboard down a mountain road to an erupting volcano in Iceland? Probably not. I mean, what are the chances??? But I just might jump out of a plane into the azure blue of the waters off the Florida Keys. I might take a month off to go practice yoga in India or to go surfing in Costa Rica. Take off to the mountains to hike the Appalachian Trail or the Pacific Crest. Or maybe I’ll just buy a cottage by the beach and live a quiet life of contentment. Why not that, right? Why not all of it?
What I do know is that I don’t want to keep retreating into my own mind and thinking about what might be someday when.. That someday just might never come.