“I see everything as a joke,” I said, trying to impress the leggy blonde before me with the oh-so-impressive size of my… intellectual detachment. Even at seventeen, I knew how to get a girl going.
“You’re an idiot,” she replied, without blinking.
Shortly afterwards, this girl became my girlfriend.
I try not to have regrets. Accordingly, I have plenty.
The one that stings the most, though, is how somewhere around the age of seventeen, I found myself falling for a pack of lies I’d somehow managed to keep my guard up against until then. Things like:
“It doesn’t matter whether or not you can live with yourself; what matters is what others think of you.”
“If you don’t treat every little thing as life and death, tragedy WILL befall you.”
“Enjoyment is not a right, it’s a luxury, and you’re only allowed it if you first give your time and energy to the capitalist machine that sustains us all.”
I could give you more, but those three sum up the attitudes I somehow absorbed during that time – don’t believe in yourself, take everything seriously, and subsume your subjective experience of life to the holy “economy” – and that I have been trying to shed ever since. They took me from being a fair chill teenager to an incredibly confused and anxious adult. I’ve been thinking about that time recently alongside my exploration into the craft of storytelling.
You see, a story starts with an Inciting Incident. This is a moment where something outside of the protagonist upsets the balance of their life, launching a desire to get back to their previous equilibrium.
JAWS: The shark eats Chrissie Watkins, launching Martin Brody’s quest to find it and protect his sea-side town.
MONSTERS INC: A little girl called Boo enters the Monster world, launching Sully’s quest to try and get her back to the human world safely.
GOLDFINGER: Bond returns to his hotel room and finds Jill Masterson dead and painted with gold, launching his desire to defeat Auric Goldfinger.
The Inciting Incident of my little tale was simple – boy meets girl. Specifically, the fact that I fancied her enough to let her way of viewing the world replace one that had been working just fine for me up until that point. And whether I knew it or not, I have spent over a decade trying to find my way back to where I was before then.
And feel free to laugh at me for taking over a decade to realise that – I’m sure as hell laughing at myself – but there is no “getting back.” I can’t be who I was when I was seventeen. Nor do I truly even want to. That’s just not how the world works. You are who you are right now. That is who you have to accept.
But even if I don’t want to be exactly like I was back then – because I was in many ways a moron – I can at least steal my favourite aspect of my personality from back then: the firm belief that everything is a joke.
“Everything about life is a joke. Don’t you know that?”Kurt Vonnegut – “Bluebeard”