Saturday, 6 March 2004

The Story of Your Life

'When we are dead, seek not our tomb in the earth, but find it in the hearts of men.' - Jelaluddin Rumi

Big Fish

I walked out of master story-teller Tim Burton’s Big Fish yesterday feeling light-hearted and yet thoughtful, reminded in the two hours of the beauty of human existence, the richness of life’s possibilities, and the magical art of good storytelling..

Doubtless to say, whether subconsciously or otherwise, our lives are constantly surrounded by “bad stories” such as gossips, scandals, wars, fighting and lies, so much so that we forget that there are good real life stories to be told as well… even our own stories… We escape to the cinemas, eager to pay good money to watch endless movies churned out by Hollywood showing “everlasting love”, “one man saves the world” etc, so we can forget the real world for a while.. Yet, all the while, we firmly keep in our minds that these are but tall tales that are meant to entertain, nothing more… after all, wouldn’t it be “terrible” if we suddenly started to believe life could be “more than just the way things are now”? Wouldn’t it mean “uncertainty, self-doubt, fear?” or worse still, discontent with our lives and what we are blessed with?”.. So we shun these thoughts as quickly as they arise and carry on with existence the way we always knew how.. mundane but safe…

Yet, incidentally, after I read the story of the woman doctor who won the Young Woman Achiever Award for 2003 (in today’s Straits Times) for her voluntary medical work around the world, I was more than ever convinced life is an adventure to be lived, a story to be written and told, both to entertain and to inspire... in fact, making sure that our lives are stories worth tellng isn't just something we can hope for.. it's an absolute "must"...

As Mandy Aftel questions in one of my favourite self-help books, “The Story of Your Life”, “Every life is a story… Is your life a page-turner? A yawner? A clich├ęd story you’re tired of repeating?” She reminds us that “even ordinary lives have the elements of great literature, and we can revise trite or destructive story lines to craft a new narrative of courage, fulfillment and imagination.” Throughout the book, she suggests that the story of our lives doesn’t have to read like bad novels, filled with guilt, anger and hopelessness that “limit our understanding of the past and close off possibilities for the future”…

I wouldn’t say that everything that happens in our lives is within our control.. (and thankfully, that is the way!) But I do know, as well as anyone of us out there, that our decisions and our choices can make or break the possibility of our lives turning out to be more than just boring narratives or worse still, personal recounts with few elements of interest. Looking at our lives from the perspective of “story-telling” is actually nothing new… Remember how you once thought to yourself, as you were deciding whether to do something that required you to step out of your comfort zone, or to just “stay safe and give the experience a miss” and in the end, the deciding factor that won you over to courageously take the “road less traveled” was, amusingly, the simple thought that it’ll be a “good story to tell your grandchildren?” We all want to leave behind stories we can tell, not just mere recounts.

So we have two points here:
- How to retell our own stories, but with colour, action and imagination.
- How to create an “artful existence”, full of the richness of experience, complexity, insight, and excitement of a great novel

Writing our lives as fairytales...

Wouldn’t that be fun? :)

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