“Your soulmate is not someone that comes into your life peacefully. It is who comes to make you question things, who changes your reality, somebody that marks a before and after in your life. It is not the human being everyone has idealized, but an ordinary person, who manages to revolutionize your world in a second…”—Anonymous
We live entirely, especially if we are writers, by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the ‘ideas’ with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience.
Or at least we do for a while.
Joan Didion, The White Album
I just reread this essay, and I think it’s an important one for writers to read—not to be better writers, I think, but to be better humans outside of our writing. I definitely fall victim to the need to narrativize things that happen in my life, to want to say x happened because of y because of z. And yes, life is a series of chain reactions, of “fate” or whatever you want to call it splitting off like branches on a tree because of the decisions we make. But it doesn’t all have to make sense; it doesn’t have to tie up neatly. If there’s a gun on the mantle in the proverbial first act of my life, it doesn’t have to go off in the third.
I’m having a hard time with this concept right now, given how certain negative past actions of mine are resurfacing in what seems like a karmic rage, but we—I—need to remember that life is fucking random. Dwelling on the past events that lead to our current situation is, a lot of the time, useless. I know it can sound trite, but if life is a non-narrative, there’s only moving forward.
“Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it. You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings. And once you have achieved a state of happiness, you must never become lax about maintaining it. You must make a mighty effort to keep swimming upward into that happiness forever, to stay afloat on top of it.”—Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat Pray Love
“The very least you can do in your life is figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof.”—Barbara Kingsolver
“When I was excited about life, I didn’t want to write at all. I’ve never written when I was happy. I didn’t want to. But I’ve never had a long period of being happy. Do you think anyone has? I think you can be peaceful for a long time. When I think about it, if I had to choose, I’d rather be happy than write. You see, there’s very little invention in my books. What came first with most of them was the wish to get rid of this awful sadness that weighed me down. I found when I was a child that if I could put the hurt into words, it would go. It leaves a sort of melancholy behind and then it goes. I think it was Somerset Maugham who said that if you “write out” a thing… it doesn’t trouble you so much. you may be left with a vague melancholy, but at least it’s not misery—I suppose it’s like a Catholic going to confession, or like psychoanalysis.”—Jean Rhys, in The Paris Review No. 76 (via Austin Kleon’s email newsletter)
“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.”—Henri J.M. Nouwen
“There is neither happiness nor misery in the world; there is only the comparison of one state with another, nothing more. He who has felt the deepest grief is best able to experience supreme happiness.”—Alexandre Dumas