Storytelling

At 3:10 PM, on February 2nd, 2001, I was in the food court of the Eaton’s Centre in Toronto, Ontario, waiting for a battery to charge… I have no idea where I was exactly one year ago at that point – 3:10 PM on February 2nd, 2000 – but I doubt that I could have forseen my location and activity in a year’s time, and I seriously doubt that I paid any thought to it at all… I find it interesting to think that five years from now I may be in a drunken brawl at a bar, or driving through Oregon, or quite simply sleeping after a long day of work. This universe of constant change, of countless opportunities, of life-affirming decisions astounds me. You can’t get any more profound than everyday life.

– Journal entry, February 2nd, 2001

I recently returned to Vancouver after a long trip back to Ontario to visit friends and family for the holidays. I elected not to post much of anything or comment on a lot of what I experienced; I felt as though everything I had to say about the nature of trips back east was said in a series of entries I posted on Tumblr back in May. Quite frankly, I wanted to sit back and enjoy things and not worry too much about putting things into perspective. But I suppose perspective is unavoidable.

I thought a lot about time on the trip, and stories, and the way I’ve turned my old friends into these images of people, these entities who are always “over there” now. I’m sitting in my apartment and thinking about how far away these people are, and yet aren’t; three days by bus, four or five hours by plane. That isn’t much, is it? Four days back, and I’m already thinking about jumping back on a bus. And I will, soon. I’m planning a trip to Seattle for the first week of February. But more on that in a bit.

Time – it plays tricks on us. After days, weeks of not thinking about it, we get out of bed and something inside us, triggered by a glimpse in the mirror or a pulled muscle, reminds us that time is passing relentlessly. And so few of us seem all that desperate to counteract it. Sure, people take measures to prevent themselves from aging physically. We exercise and try to eat right. We spend a fair amount of the time we have trying to add more time. Innately, we know it goes fast. But socially, I wonder how much we let time dictate our actions, our emotions.

The passage of time makes me do crazy things. I’ve crossed this country six times on a bus, spent almost three weeks of my life on the TransCanada highway. But I wanted this – I wanted to move to Vancouver. I wanted to try it. Staying in one place was making me too aware of time. School was over. I had my own place. Week after week, patterns began developing. A settling down. I was still too antsy. I needed to go. I needed to make more diverse use of the time that I have, out of fear that I wasn’t living life to the fullest. I wanted a new act to start, new plot elements to reveal themselves, in order to discover more about who I was and what I was capable of.

Which brings me to stories. I’m notorious for believing fundamentally that life has a narrative arc, and that that narrative arc is built by the decisions we make. We can make a story out of our lives if we try hard enough to formulate it. I get nostalgic. I try to turn that nostalgia into something that the future willingly accepts. There is a reason I felt certain things, and they will inevitably come back around, regardless of how I change. Think of all that foreshadowing. It has to lead somewhere, otherwise the plot will be lost.

That’s all nuts, of course. I had a couple of conversations and read a couple of books over the course of the trip that dealt with these ideas. One was Julian Barnes’ “The Sense of an Ending,” in which an old man finds himself finally forced to come to terms with events that transpired in his early 20s. Alarming, his ability to throw himself headlong once again into feelings that he must have thought had long passed. And Douglas Coupland’s “Player One: What is to Become of Us,” in which he says the following:

In the New Normal, we need to strip ourselves of notions of individual importance. Something new is arising that has neither interest in nor pity for souls trapped in twentieth-century solipsism. Non-linear stories? Multiple endings? No loading times? It’s called life on earth. Life need not be a story, but it does need to be an adventure.

Our stories are bullshit, essentially. Or not bullshit – they continue to be stories, but not any kind of story we’re willing to accept based on what we’re fed by popular culture. There is no first, second, third act; there are only new developments and (ideally) mental, emotional, and spiritual growth. We meet new people, fall in and out of love, spend time with time. We grow old. We regret and rejoice. We feel a burning desire to change things. I have an unfortunate tendency to return to the scenes of crimes, only to find them overgrown and outdated.

I do this because I turn the people in my life into characters. Maybe I haven’t ever really gotten to know anyone, or not in the sense that I can fully understand the person they turn into. Or maybe I’m not meant to know how they turn out; maybe some people are better left to their own devices after a while. You meet, you interact, something turns a corner, and what you’re able to offer each other ceases to be valuable. And that should be that. Life goes on. The story doesn’t call for their return. Instead, it calls for you to explore new endings. It calls for you to adventure. To get on with life.

On February 2nd I’ll finally be heading down to Seattle. I’ve wanted to go there for 20 years. More nostalgia. I’ll also be travelling to Portland, riding across Oregon almost 11 years to the day I wrote that journal entry. None of this was intentional; my mention of Oregon at the time was random, and my scheduling of the trip just happened to coincide with the bus ticket I purchased. It’s just a funny little connection to be made. If we ignore coincidence, we deprive our lives of a dimension of beauty, Milan Kundera wrote. And anyway, it makes a decent story.

I still look for these sorts of things, apparently. Though it happens rarely, especially given how much I seem to encourage it, I still completely understand when elements of my past come back to revisit me. I invite full-circleness into my life at every turn. Coincidence propels things, garnishing moments with more significance than they’re probably worth. Like that moment when you sit down with a friend you’ve known for years, and you realize there’s an entire catalogue of intimate conversations that you’ve never opened yourselves up to. So you do, and you find out that your early memories are similar, that your upbringings overlap, that you come from the same place. And though you’ve known this person for a while, they become someone entirely new. And despite all the proof to the contrary, a new act begins.

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About Joel Crary

Joel Crary is a 30'ish 21st century writer living in Vancouver, British Columbia. He enjoys films, mostly. View all posts by Joel Crary

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