Friday, August 31, 2012

My own form of interesting

One of my favorite books when I was younger was A Series of Unfortunate Events. This group of 13 novels were written by an American man (Daniel Handler) under the pseudonym Lemony Snicket. As I'm sure many people already know, it follows the story of three orphaned children, The Baudelaires, who bounce from home to home after their parents die in a tragic fire. Every step of the way, they are pursued by the evil and conniving "Count Olaf," who is out to get their inheritance money and perhaps murder or maim them along the way.

The Baudelaires experience more than what they deserve in turmoil, and all before they've reached adulthood. Theoretically - and empirically - this makes for an interesting set of children's books. I know it, and many of my bookworm friends knew it back in elementary school. But unlike our other favorite novels - I'm thinking the Harry Potter series in particular - we never wanted to put ourselves in the protagonists' place, because The Baudelaires didn't have things easy.

They had interesting lives. But they weren't exactly the lives we, as readers, would want to live.

So when did we all turn into YOLO-chanting college students hell-bent on ruling the world without any consideration of consequences? That's an exaggeration, I know. I am an old lady living in a teenager's body after all. But I don't think the question is wholly invalid.

In my young youth, I might've been on the road to self-discovery in a very different fashion. I was a pretty happy, peppy and popular child for the first decade or so of my life. I had as few cares in the world as anyone my age. Because everything was taken care of for me, I had nothing to worry about.

Turning 11 and having a parent become disabled, unable to care for me anymore, put things in perspective. I had to grow up when I was 12 years old. At the same time that everyone else was getting ready for first boyfriends in middle school, I was learning how to wash my own clothes and trying to wrestle with feelings of loss as I questioned whether I should start shaving my legs or not. These were awkward decisions, the kind you ask your mom about. But what do you do when your mom's not there?

You grow up.

That was a period in my life that I might categorize under the "interesting" label. It was a dynamic period in time, when I would figure out everything from who my real friends were to who I was without the guidance of a mother.

It became a particularly interesting time, in fact, because it was when I had the opportunity to reinvent myself. I could've started middle school with the goal of changing my image. I'd already shed the immense weight I'd gained from excessive McDonald's consumption in my late elementary school years. At this point all I needed to do was steal my sister's make-up and some of her clothing and I might just fit in better.

But instead, I chose to just do my homework.

I went to one party in middle school, and at that party the boy I had a crush on danced with another girl during the slow songs. I guess that was the definitive end of "interesting" for me.

Throughout my high school life, which admittedly could have taken many different turns had I not found the friends I did, the activities I did and the goals I did, I never once questioned the philosophy I'd developed. Why go to parties when my happiness hung in the balance? In theory these are great experiences that we all must have, but what if we can be relatively sure they won't be fun? Why should I do something with the knowledge of it not being my cup of tea?

In the four years I was there, I didn't go to one school dance. I didn't go to a party. I didn't date a single boy.

It sounds kind of depressing when I put it like that. But I had other things. Happy things.

For four years I found excitement in reliable ways. I went to dozens of Jonas Brothers concerts with my dad. I became close friends with several girls who are still incredibly important to me today. I started going to Disneyland regularly. I became active with my school newspaper. I learned about myself while other girls were smashed up against the pillars near the lunch tables subjecting all the rest of us to awkward PDA with their boyfriends. It was a virtually drama-free time for me.

Occasionally, after getting to college, I've considered all of my experiences within the context of "what did I do wrong?" Because looking back at four years of no parties, no dates, no craziness, you have to wonder why your experience was so different from the average. Could I have done differently in high school?

The answer is "yes." But the verdict on whether that would've been good for me or not isn't so clear.

These days I still maintain that my greatest happiness in life is that I don't fish for trouble. The few times I do look for adventure, it's in the form of something exciting within reason. Like the times I would choose to drive a different way into my internship this summer so that I could pass the LA skyline or see the Walt Disney Animation Studio up close. It was still daring to try something new like that, and still exciting enough to concoct a story out of, but it wasn't destructive or out of my comfort zone.

I don't think I'll ever understand the appeal of a life governed by a phrase so ambiguous as "you only live once." For some, I guess that carpe diem-esque mantra has something to do with being as crazy as you can before you have to reap the consequences. For me, it means being sane now so I can live to be sane later. I only live once, so I might as well live a long time.

The greatest stories don't have to be the ones with tales of near misses. We don't have to be like the Baudelaires, escaping an evil villain at every turn, to create a life that is worth living. If my experience is any testament to that, then it proves that a casual (perhaps uninteresting, though I'd take issue with that description) life can be filled with just as many lessons, experiences and stories as a life that is all about gathering experiences from craziness.

In time I've learned that living to tell stories is my raison d'ĂȘtre. Yet great lives aren't defined by the outrageous experiences they've encountered, but by the way they handle even the dullest of situations. The stories are in me, not in the missed opportunities. I may only live once, but however I live it will be my own form of interesting.

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