Thursday 20 June 2002

TV ruined my life

My childhood involved a lot of telly, a lot of videos and a lot of books. I can only consciously remember the educational ones - Horizon documentaries about bombers, David Attenborough, the Hardy Boys - although there was probably a lot of dross in there too. But they all gave me a false belief that my life was telling a story that was bigger than me.

Whatever they look at - histories of entire countries, scientific discoveries, mid-life crises - books and television attempt to tell a story, create coherent narratives, plot character arcs and reach denouements. Things rarely just happen, there's always an underlying motive, a foreshadowing of events to come, an echoing of events that have passed.

It's endemic - witness football as the World Cup unravels; journalists tell stories of footballers' persecution and later renaissance, myriad stats tell the tale of previous encounters in an attempt to shadow the narrative of a forthcoming match. Look at Big Brother's attempts to weave stories through the housemates daily interactions, selecting and filtering to back an interpretation of events that paints villains and highlights heroes.

The downside of this is translating it into a belief that my life too follows a clear story, that the random events and occurrences that living has a habit of throwing up will slowly reveal themselves to be part of a complex tale of loves lost and gained, personal reinventions and redemptions, pain and nobility.

I don't think I'm alone in my search for a personal narrative to provide some degree of meaning and stability. Some believe in a God to provide the basis of a character arc of struggle followed by ultimate redemption. Others cling to psychologists' and counsellors' talk of key events and early role-models to explain personality traits, actions and motivations later in life.

It's comforting to believe there is a story that my life is following, that there's a happy ending somewhere out there with my name on it or that dark and malicious forces are responsible for any given series of events that go against me, but it's not true. Life's more soap opera than film - full of endless mini-storylines that don't satisfactorily resolve themselves and are wont to reappear at inopportune moments, culminating in an unfulfilling move to some town that's not in the show.

But it's a liberating, if rather frightening, realisation that there is no story to my life. No longer can I claim to be plagued by streaks of bad or good luck, alternatively things just happen. Instead of trusting my life to the hands of unseen narrative forces, I am the one who can take ultimate responsibility for writing my personal story.

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