It seems a lifetime ago when, having gained radio privileges in boot camp, a young Seaman Recruit stood looking down aisles of perfectly lined up aisles of bunks when Pink Floyd’s, “Welcome to the Machine” started playing on the radio. It was one of those moments when everything came into focus, where the mirror and the self have no boundaries. There are moments like this throughout our lives, but there’s a reason I picked this one.
While I’ve not been publishing everything online, puzzling over the various narratives that have impacted me and whether they were worth keeping or discarding. In discarding things, I found myself floating, trapped sometimes not by narratives but by a lack of narrative to guide me through wherever I was transitioning to, if even I was transitioning at all.
When you start peeling away the narratives, you start peeling away the destinations those narratives provided. In the simplest form, narratives get us from point A to point B. It’s more complex with interactions of many things, but at their core, that’s what narratives do – they give us a way to get somewhere, even if that somewhere isn’t really where we want to go, or the end result is to be someone who we don’t want to be.
We’re born into them, we build other narratives on top of them, and even what we can imagine later on because we’ve been guided by narratives. This is not a bad thing – but it can be. When there is a sense of being trapped, there’s something that’s wrong. For me, I don’t know that there wasn’t anything wrong. I found that to push beyond the boundaries, I needed to find where they were and why they were there in the first place. It takes time, honesty with one’s self, and lots of time because we’re almost never honest with ourselves.
But when things do go wrong, we do need to look at that. When we factor in other people who have other narratives, as has happened with globalization combined with the social media explosion, tempers flare, cracks begin to show, and we pretty much have the world as it is today – an unapologetic mess of battles of narratives, flaring here, simmering there, and ice elsewhere.
Now, if you’ve never heard of Frank Zappa, he has a great quote where he talks about decorating a piece of time, in the context of a guitar solo – but it’s something we all do with our lives. There are the beaten paths of life that society presses upon us, and then there are the parts of life where we find ourselves making paths. Some people stick to the beaten path more than others. Speaking for myself, the beaten paths rarely fit – if ever.
If there’s a book on it, it’s either a beaten path or may become one. It lacks originality, that shiny luster, after a while – either it succeeds or fails as a narrative based on the number of people who subscribe to the narrative. Tolkien made Hobbits, Dwarves and Elves cool, and all that followed – as original as some of it may have seemed – was from a beaten path. What Tolkien did was borrow from other things to make something original, compelling, and even a message of hope in camaraderie. And this is one of the reasons, aside from the personal, that I started unraveling my narratives.
Somewhere along the way I sort of got lost, which I expect is par for the course. A lot has happened in my life, and I expect yours, and if you have the luxury of time to unravel everything it can be uncomfortable since these narratives have been the things pressing you in this direction and that to take you to where you think you’re supposed to go.
This seemed all very new to me – maybe it was the lack of humanities in my formal education when I was younger. In secondary school, the options were ‘sciences’ or ‘modern studies’, and the science path chose me more than I chose it, and the English Literature fell by the wayside. The nuances of humanity, which we all need to know better, are best described in our art – not our science.
Did I ‘find myself’? Nope, I think that ‘finding yourself’ stuff is bullshit. But I got to see more past myself as I figured out what was behind myself – and I found a point where I needed help, so I started seeing a psychologist and it has helped me find things I didn’t see before. The right questions can help us see things anew, the right observations can give us insight and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with enlisting a professional to help with that.
With a bit more confidence in knowing my own biases and understanding why I trod my paths.
And merging with the rest of the world in moments.