I think a lot about stories.
I like stories.
As I have probably already mentioned, I think stories are our most perfect art form. I think stories are how we got from being cave dwellers to whatever it is that we consider ourselves to be now. We learned to talk to each other. To pass knowledge along around the campfire.
I like the way a good story is constructed. How it draws you in, turns you around and, if it’s really well done, at the end makes you think about something entirely different from what you thought you were thinking.
A good story will do that. A good story is about structure. A good storyteller understands that it’s the end that matters. Not the beginning.
Although the beginning also has to be good. The beginning has to draw you in, make you want to care. And the middle. The middle should also be good. The middle should prepare you, in a tricky way, for the end.
We tell ourselves stories all the time, whether we are writers or not. We have things we think are true. They are not always true, but we think they are: the Buddha had plenty to say on this subject.
I tell myself stories every day. Things I should be doing. Things I should have achieved. Those are all stories. Not artfully constructed, but stories nonetheless. I don’t examine them the way I do the stories I write down, they just float through my head.
But intellectually, with the stories I actually analyze, I have a problem with the hero. The hero is everywhere. We cannot escape him. He’s the one. He’s Neo. Superman. Jesus Christ. The one man—almost always a man—who will save us all.
Sometimes when I go to the movies or watch television, I take exception to the story. Mostly it has to do with the way that women are portrayed. If you examine the subtext of most stories, women are feeble creatures, who wear ridiculous shoes and do a lot of screaming and fall down when they are chased and need to be picked up by the hero. They need to be rescued. Men do the rescuing and women are the rescued.
The man. The one who will rescue us. The rest of us are just waiting around for that to happen.
Sometimes, if I find somebody who is silly enough to listen to my opinion on this subject I will tell them that I think this paradigm is pernicious and insulting.
So this is the point in the story where I do a clever pirouette.
No matter what you just read in the previous paragraphs, it recently occurred to me that I’ve been waiting for a man to rescue me. I’ve been searching somebody to step forward and say, hey, even though your husband left you and is prepared to divest himself of half of his worldly assets to never lay eyes on you again, you’re still okay. You’re not a worthless human being. You’re okay because I say so. Even though you’re 52, I still think you’re not completely repulsive.
Subconsciously, I’ve been looking for this man. Seeking him out. Thinking if I can just latch on to someone who thinks that, then I’ll be okay. Justified. Validated.
Intellectually I told myself a different story, kept telling myself that. But deep down, this was the narrative.
And, it turns out, that there are a couple of candidates in my orbit. Superficially, they meet my hilariously vain criteria. Young, good looking. In superb physical shape. Ready to come when they are called. Sort of.
But this is New York, so nothing is easy. And if 21 years of marriage taught me anything, it’s that communication between any two mammals is fraught with, well, fraughtness.
And the men, both desirable, are skilled in the art of the game. Both each in their own separate ways, can play it because when they look in the mirror, what they see pleases them. And would please most people.
So I’ve been dancing around the two candidates. Making concessions that I probably should not have. To feel desired and okay. Because when I look at them both, I also think, hey. Not too shabby. If they’re prepared to be seen out with me, then I must be okay.
This story works both ways. I have not been seeing them as people. I’ve not been judging them by my standards. I’ve been seeing them as emotional ammunition.
Like I said, I have been basing my decisions on the most superficial criteria. To bolster my ego. So I’ve been working a little harder than I probably should to get the two candidates to like me.
Until a couple of days ago, when I just decided not to. I don’t know what happened but something thing did. The story flipped and when I considered them in terms of what I actually like in a male human being, I saw that they didn’t really measure up. Yes, they are both beautiful and young. But I wouldn’t choose them if I wasn’t looking for a hero.
I’m not sure how to end this story except to say that both of the candidates called me on Saturday night and obliquely enquired about my availability. They can’t come right out and ask if I want to go out. Because it’s New York, and that’s my job.
I was completely available. I had absolutely nothing going on. But I couldn’t be bothered. I was in my sweat pants. And tired and had had a hard week. I could not imagine getting up and putting on makeup and going out to please somebody for some superficial reason.
I was more than happy to stay in and watch Jennifer Garner be a hero on Alias.
And that’s when I truly realized that I don’t need a hero. I can rescue myself.