Place of Refuge

Place of Refuge

19 December 2009

is our life already scripted, or do we hold the pen to our own script?

OK, so I knew that someone somewhere said there were only a certain number of plotlines in the world. . . I thought it was only seven, or ten, but I just did a Google search on "number of plotlines," and found a most informative website from "Ming the Mechanic," where Ming describes the 36 plotlines. It's amazing what you can find with a Google search. Here's the link if you're interested:

The problem with Ming's 36 plotlines is that they're all tragedies. Why the hell must all these plot lines be tragedies? They range from Supplication, the Revenge, to Deliverance, to Revolt to Abduction, to Family Murder, to Madness. . . . isn't there one single great plotline that involves a good long belly laugh?

I divert from the subject line, which I'm prone to do. But let me first comment on the 36 plotlines and why I think they are all tragedies. Humans are so obsessed with their own death. Because we fear it so much. We know that is ultimately where we are all headed, so we obsess over it and fetishize it. Tragic form itself revolves around death, and the obsession with death. We find a terrific relief when we look it in the eye, when we encounter head-on those human impulses that expedite it. Many have said that humans love to watch horror films and read horror stories, because they make us feel relief that we are not the ones suffering.

Comedy, however, is the genre of the moment. It asks us to not think about linear time and instead turn our attention to this very instant, and find something to laugh about within it. That may be why none of the great plot lines are comedies - plots, by their very nature, are temporal. As old Aristotle says, (and no, I was not alive when Aristotle was around, I just enjoy reading him every now and then, just like I enjoy reading the Book of Genesis, the Koran, the poetry of Rumi, and Shakespeare), a good tragic plot should involve one single, complete action that preferably occurs over an uninterrupted period of time. Yes, ultimately, tragedy is the genre of time, and our struggling with the implications of living in narrative time.

Narrative time is an interesting idea. Narrative, on its most basic level, involves a story with a clear beginning, middle, and end. Kind of like life. We are born, we live out a rather long middle section, and then we die. Narrative time. Life, ultimately, is a narrative. The question is: how much power do we have over that narrative? And must it fit into one of those 36 narratives?

They say art imitates life -- or does life imitate art? It can be hard to say. Perhaps those 36 narratives are actually the sum total of all the possible lives that might be lived, and the one we draw is pretty muck the luck of the draw.

I recently experienced the death of a dear friend, someone so close I might call her sister. She did not do much in her life, as far as I know. For about 15 years, he worked as a secretary in a vacuum cleaner company; she worked very hard, and faced each day with a smile. She had friends, mostly female, with whom she would meet regularly for lunch or dinner or a movie. She never married. At the age of 46, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Fairly soon after she learned the cancer had metastasized. She fought against this horrible alien visitor for over six years, and ultimately it won. Thankfully, she died in her sleep.

I just summarized her public life to the best of my ability in a paragraph. There may have been more of it, that I never saw. There was, of course, the story she told herself everyday, as she woke up and worked her way through her days. No high drama, just the normal drama of clipping coupons, drinking tea, and loving her friends. That is surely not within the 36 plots.

Now my life, on the other hand, has been far from mundane. Recently, I have felt I was intangled in a plot far greater than myself. Unfortunately, it could fall within the 36 plots; it could be a Revenge plot, or an Abduction plot, or a Madness plot, or a Crime of Love. Most likely a Crime of Love. And this is where I get a bit concerned over the fact that none of these 36 plots are comedies.

There is the toll of the bell of fate packed within this for me. Am I locked into a plot that I cannot escape? Is my Turkish friend Ihsan correct, and was my fate sealed on my forehead before I was even born? Or do we have the power to rewrite our lives? To alter them to our own desires?

If my fate is written on my forehead, and if that fate must abide by one of those 36 plots, then I'd say I'm screwed. I've lived for a very very long time, and suddenly I'm faced with the very real possibility that there may be a madman who could snap at any minute and decide he wants me dead. That's right; that's precisely what I'm dealing with. Or can I change that story? Do I have the power to revise my own fate?

I have been working so far to change the story. And if I can, this blog will continue. Inshallah. For now I'm tired. Good night, dear dark cyber world.

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