Entitled To An Audience: Your Life In Three Acts

2010 August 19

I remember telling a friend years ago that she lived life as it were a movie and she were the star and the rest of the world were just extras inserted to fill in the background of a given scene (I’ve become a much better friend since those days, obviously). I was reminded of this conversation when I read this piece about the popularity of Eat, Pray, Love style pitches to literary agents. It seems everyone wants to land a fat advance to document their voyage of self-discovery, Bali or bust, y’all.

But it isn’t just aspiring writers who believe that they have an audience-friendly story to tell. We all subscribe to this mindset to some degree. And strictly speaking, we all do have life stories, it’s just that the vast majority of them aren’t the stuff of bestsellers or blockbusters. That doesn’t stop popular culture from encouraging us to believe otherwise, of course. Reality tv (one day you’re just another nameless party girl and the next, you’re Snooki, America’s sweetheart), social media (you can have 150 000 Twitter followers hanging on your every tweet and still grocery shop in anonymity) and the logic of personal branding convince us we’ve all got something to tell or sell. Elevator pitches, Messageboard rants, talk radio, Craigslist Missed Connections, a hundred and one outlets to share your triumphs, tragedies and insights with the world and the eau de narcissism in the air that convinces you that such sharing really is caring.

I’m as guilty as the next person, bien sur. I’ve just figured out that most of my stories aren’t that interesting. Do you really care about how I came this close to having a sniveling, toddler-worthy meltdown in the middle of the children’s section of Barnes & Noble five minutes before closing because I couldn’t find a copy of Brown Bear, Brown Bear and because they were playing Tiffany over the PA and because I haven’t slept in six months? Probably not. Doesn’t stop me from stockpiling or mentally transcribing anecdotes such as this, though.

And framing our lives as narratives isn’t just the result of human ego. We’re also attempting to  assign meaning and purpose and gravity. We want to believe that we’re getting smarter or stronger or making better decisions, that there’s something relatable, enviable, teachable,  something poignant that can be culled and offered up from our experiences. Something bigger than just one little person and their own private pain and individual epiphanies. There has to be be. It happened and it matters. We matter. Here are the Facebook photo albums, the blog, the book and the MTV series to prove it, to prove us.

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