Friday, December 6, 2013

Going Off Script

It's that time of year, with Christmas just around the corner and New Year's fast approaching where people - well, I at least - start considering what I've done over the past twelve months, whether I'm happy or not, wondering what I'm doing for Christmas and whether I'll be donning an ugly sweater and singing Christmas carols at the top of my lungs (spoilers: I will be). Historically for me, this is also kind of a tumultuous, dramatic time of year, generally with finals and social gatherings and seeing people I haven't seen in months and inevitably wondering if I'll ever kiss anyone under the mistletoe or on New Years Eve (and thus wondering HOW exactly Christmas became more connotated and view with romance by me than freaking Valentine's Day), and also whether I have any idea what I'm doing with my life.

I sense from the general postings I see on Tumblr about this time of year, that I am not alone in some of these sentiments. Christmas I believe is my favorite holiday (it's in a rough tie with Halloween, but I think the caroling and the snow and the cookies and the snow and the parties and the snow make up for it. And peppermint. And did I mention the snow?) and I love this time of year. Though I'm additionally sad this year not being able to see my relatives in Indiana because of my work schedule and hearing "I'll Be Home For Christmas" played in the seasonal section of Target makes me want to cry. Not to mention all the hopes for change that come with Christmas weigh heavy on my mind. And I'm beginning to get way too emotionally attached to "The Christmas Waltz" and "Sleigh Ride" and "All I Want for Christmas is You". As I get older, all the perceptions and mythology we have built up around Christmas becomes more and more unrealistic. We have certain expectations of what this holiday will bring - sugar plum fairies and sleigh rides and meeting the love of our lives at ski lodges while singing karaoke (you know, I used to make fun of this in High School Musical until I realized that if you replace ski lodge with pub/bar, I have the same damn dream). We have this mental script of how this holiday is supposed to work and how our lives are supposed to follow it. Which is problematic.

A week or so ago, my roommate found this video of Betsy Grawe, a Spanish teacher from our high school, talking in a TED Talk (which I was ecstatic about and then very jealous of - how come we never did that when I went to school there?!) about our high school and the idea of what sort of plans we expect to follow in our lives. Give it a watch:

It's nice to know that I'm not the only person who thinks thinks this, who feels a struggle to measure up to the expectations set both by themselves and by society, who feels the life they created for themselves in their head frustratingly doesn't measure up to what's happening (and if you narrate your life like warped writer me does, then you can understand how terrible this can be). We worry that there is something wrong with us because we don't fit into this niche of expectations. The "I thought by now..." thoughts are so common in my mind and often criticize myself for doing something wrong because I'm not dating, because I don't have a high-paying job, because I'm not settled into some comfortable life. This video highlights on a lot of great points and Ms. Grawe does a great job of covering them. It's a good video and a good place to start - I wish I had heard these things in high school; it would have made the last few years a lot easier for me. But there's something more I'd like to consider, and that's where these expectations come from.

I think it's a bit faulty to think of reality versus expectations - our expectations are very much a part of our reality, or at least what our reality would like us to achieve. I'm not sure if I buy that reality is something separate from our perceptions of it. Of course, I think I might be taking a far too "I read Baudrillard and watched The Matrix too many times" approach to the word reality, but I think it's important to consider how we used this world. I got told so often that high school was not the real world, which is a totally incorrect evaluation of the time spent there. Of course it's part of the real world - what is it otherwise, an alternative universe? (That would explain all the AU high school fanfics out there). It's real to you when you're there and the things that are important to you are important, even if your young, naive mind is making mountains out of molehills. It's still important and that stands to be recognized. Also, I don't know how aware you are of this, but the way high school works is pretty similar to much of the rest of our society. But at least once you leave high school you don't have to ask if you can use the bathroom ever again.

This is the part where we could go on a metaphysical discussion about what reality means and the theorists can duke it out forever. I'm going to make this fairly brief, by using a screenshot of a gifset of Tom Hiddleston talking about The Matrix:
I don't intentionally mention Mr. Hiddleston in all of my recent posts - but when he keeps saying pertinent, relevant stuff like this, it's hard not too. Literally, I've been trying to figure out how to concisely say how I feel about debates about reality for a while and then I see this gifset and realized, "Holy shit, this is it." Reality is the combination of both what is perceived to be truth and consciousness was well as illusion and conceived perceptions is important. Reality is a construct - a messy, complicated construct - and to say that there's one real Reality that we can access it outside of our situation heavily influenced by this other state, by our culture, by our personal perception of the world, is an idea I'm not really a fan of. We're in a mix of how it is and how it could be, how we see it and how others can see it, what we want and what we have. So I really could have summed up reality as being this:

This then builds into a complicated idea of scripts and what's expected of individuals in society. I like the idea of tossing out the script - I've tried it myself. But it hadn't worked for me because I feel too much pressure from the society around me to fit into a certain mold or ideal. There's a reason why so many kids are choosing jobs that relate to STEM education - they are told they pay well and that they are growing fields. While this is true, there's a lot of pressure to go into fields like these as not as much support for things like music, art, languages, history - in short, social sciences and the humanities. I certainly think that STEM subjects are important but it's necessary to realize how we're writing the script. For instance, the idea that students are going to go to college at all, assumed that they are going to work for a company, assumed that they will get a job at all, is all part of the script. There's a certain preference to the studies and work we should be undertaking in our lives. The video touches upon this but it's important to think about what exactly is part of the script and what it means to throw it out. Because in our society, it isn't always possible to completely throw it out, for which I'll present myself as evidence (because I'm limited to my own perception of reality and so on and so forth and I'm really good at yammering on about myself).

I take great comfort in the idea of being a loser (which I discussed a while ago here) and that what I'm proud of doing may not be the same thing society takes pride in. It helps me deal with not following the script that surrounds me - I am 23, haven't been dating, only recently figured out what I want to do with the next few years of my life and what sort of career I want to pursue. But it doesn't keep me from still wanting to "win." I continually have dreams of being a successful writer, of landing a job admired and respected by others, of having a partner and a family and proving that guy in my high school psychology class who insinuated that I'd never get married that I am freaking marriageable goddammnit, as if I lived in some Austen-esque drama where that needs to be proven. I want to feel like I'm worthy, accepted, and appreciated. I worry about not being good enough, about wasting my life, about failing myself and others. Some days none of this matters and I feel completely confident of myself and my choices. And then other days I need so badly to be accepted and self-assured that I feel tempted to compromise everything I care about just so I feel some security. Of course, there's another important aspect to realize in my feelings: I have the luxury of choosing.

I came across this the another night:

I felt a bit sad upon seeing this, as I had when I saw a similar post which I used to kick off the start of this blog. It makes me sad because it reminds me how few people can make the choice to just decide to stop following a script - and it's not often a script they wrote. Society writes its own scripts for us and some of us can push them away. Others don't have that luxury. While I immerse myself in the belief that I can follow my heart and do what I really want with my life, I can take the risks that come with it. I can toss out the notion of having to have a career that isn't necessarily "lucrative" because I don't have to worry about supporting anyone but myself right now, because I have a college degree, because I'm from a well-off family, because I don't have any mental or physical condition that would stop me from pursuing it, because I have a long list of privileges that go on and on. The ability to say "Fuck it, let's go" is a wonderful and powerful one. I'm blessed to have it and that's important to recognize. I was able to unenroll from my school unlike some of my classmates because I have other options. For many of them, this is their chance - and their one investment they can make - in their education. It's a strange situation to be in. But it's a choice I had to make for myself.

When it comes down to it, we need to recognize privilege, that there is a certain luxury that comes from being in a position where you can say, "Fuck it, let's go" and have it work to your advantage. Telling people to leave behind their crappy jobs can be really positive but it's not the only motivational rhetoric that should be told. This comes in letting go of this idea that there's just one script you have to follow, that there's one idea of success and one idea of what's right for someone to do. It's not an idea of tossing out a script but accepting that there are multiple scripts. Because telling people to toss out a script or follow their dreams are scripts of their own. Some work, some don't. Some are viable, some aren't. While ideology might like to purport that there's one script we should all be following, that's not the case. There's no one script that's good for any one person and no reason we'll stick to just one script in our lives. And, while the script we're in might personally be great, we should recognize that not everyone's is and do what we can to help rewrite them. All of this is easier said than done, absolutely. But it's not just about changing scripts or about throwing them out - it's about changing society's idea of what you should be doing when in your life. Life is weird and sometimes unfair. What can we do to make it feel less weird and more fair?

One last final thought on reality: while it is important to know that life is unfair and not all things will go your way, I'd like to caution away from certain perceptions of reality once more. Here's Dylan Moran with some brilliant thoughts on this:

"Be realistic." I hate that phrase. I hate it so much. Reality is that weird equation of truth and perception. My reality may not be the same as yours. I, for instance, deeply want to raise dragons one day. People will say that's unrealistic but that's not the point. I know that I can't raise dragons - but I want to. The yearning to do so is real. I wish I'd understood this better when I was younger, so I wouldn't have felt so frustrated about my inability to be a pirate (initially it was mermaid but the species change was a bit much). I still want to be a pirate. That's a part of my reality. It's not going to happen, but the yearning is real. And that matters. It doesn't absolve someone's reality - it doesn't make it right or appropriate. It just makes it real.

I'm going to stop there before my brain explodes with this badly worded philosophical spewing, but I'd like to end with a song from the movie Frozen. I haven't seen the film yet but this song is my anthem. If we bring back the karaoke bar dream, I want to belt this song like no other. I love it because it carries a certain wisdom in it: knowing when to let go of something in your life, to deal with it, or to fight for it. Sometimes it's hard for me to know which is appropriate. This is the encouragement I need, that works for me, to see the difference.

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