Saturday, November 26, 2011

Life's Not a Story, It's a Mess

This June I got a little more personal than I usually do online. The post Blogging is Hard in the Real World was my attempt to explain why the blog had been quieter than normal. I wanted to be honest about my stress over moving from NC to SC as it was happening, instead of being retrospectively vulnerable. It's easy to talk about the problems I used to have. It was much harder to discuss the problems I was having.

It's now five months later and I my optimism about the future is waning. My fears about moving have not subsided. My new school, like any new school, has required a lot of extra effort. The months long house search has only reinvigorated my dislike of home owning. It's also difficult to connect to a new city when you have no home to invite others to. Finding a church has been a struggle. Though shows with Alchemy have been great, I miss the opportunities to teach and perform that I used to have.

Only recently have I discovered why this transition has been so hard for me: stories. Even before I knew I was moving, I posted on the power and problem of stories. I discussed how stories are like food for our emotionally hungry brain. Although they can be useful for summing up a large amount of information, because they don't contain all the facts, they can also be used for deception. The reason this rocky transition has been so hard for me is because of the stories I had been telling myself.

The narrative I've told myself and others about my life has always been one of progress. When I was kid life was fine. When I was a teenager with new found freedom life was good. When I went to college and really discovered who I was life was great. When I got married and started teaching school and improv my life was awesome! Then suddenly my life hit a wall. This new life situation didn't match the story I had been telling myself. Suddenly I faced a harsh reality that the story wasn't true.

Some people's lives don't get better. Some people's lives get worse. Some people's lives were never that good to start with. Although this is a sad realization, it's a powerful one. It frees me from being blindly optimistic, a bias I seemed to share with many people. In fact, the most common response I got from well-meaning friends and family (especially Christians) was that this life transition was all happening for a reason. That I would eventually realize the choice to move was the best. That it would all work out. But in reality, it might not.

It's very likely that years from now I'll look back and think "well that time sucked, sure I've moved on, but that time sure did suck". And here's the kicker, that's okay. Though I'm not there yet, I think I can get to a place where I'm alright will the mess. It takes a strong will of mind to accept a plotless (note I didn't say meaningless) life. I can make mistakes. My life can get worse. All I can do is the best I can with the information and people I have.


  1. Wait, you mean that life is not an eternal spiral upward, into a bigger and better future? Well that stinks.

    On a more serious note, I appreciate the honesty and sincerity of this, Harrison. It's hard to break free from comforting narratives, but I think it's worth it.

  2. As dumb as it sounds now I truly believed it. It was so central to my life that I didn't even consider it wouldn't be true.

    Thanks Justin.

  3. I can definitely relate to this. Well said Harrison.

  4. Thanks Jeff. We need to catch up.

  5. I'm assuming that the reason you're not moving back to your better old life in NC is because of your wife. So you're putting your wife before yourself. That choice comes with some bad consequences, but it seems like you'd prefer your current life than your old life with an angry wife. Do you now have your best possible 2011 life? When you say that the move may not turn out for the best, are meaning your happy meter might not increase because of the transition? Your post didn't sit right with me, but maybe you just mean your life feels sucky right now. And this post made me think about God's role in our life, and it seems to me that lots of things could be bad in our life, but I think our relationship with him is an upward spiral. So in that regard, we should be optimistic. I guess I'm processing whether we should be optimistic or not. I'm thinking there should be different categories like job, faith, happiness etc. and certain ones merit more optimism than others. I'm still not ready to give up on optimism.

  6. Well there is more keeping me from NC than just my wife.

    I'd love to know why it didn't sit right with you. I'm mostly saying that my life is tougher than it used to be and maybe more important tougher than it could have been.

    I'm not convinced that our relationship with is is an upward spiral. Sanctification definitely exists, but then how to do you explain the believers in our life who seem to be doing much worse than when they were younger?

    I'm still optimistic about the long long run. Just not the shorter run.

  7. hey man, sorry things are tough. We miss you around the theater. I though of your post when I read this:

    and this line in particular: "When it comes to self-narratives, honesty may not be the best policy."

    and also the sub-title of your blog. Maybe your situation now, no?

  8. Great post. In my late 20s I now have decided that life is peaks and valleys, rather than an upward spiral.

  9. I think you're right Anna. Thanks for stopping by.

  10. Interesting read Yeomans, I love David Brooks. Though I'm not sure if I agree. Would you rather live a life of that is honest to yourself or a fantasy? I honestly don't know.

  11. "well that time sucked, sure I've moved on, but that time sure did suck" would still be a reason for it to happen in my book.

    I'd point to Paul. He wasn't in prison going "Man, I'm going to get some great progress done once I get out of prison." He sent most of the epistles from prison.

    Something having a reason/being the best thing for you doesn't necessarily mean that for the short term you're going to thoroughly enjoy it.

  12. Huh. Interesting point Ben. I'll have to think on that a while. Perhaps looking for personal growth in tough times is more self serving than righteous seeking.

    But surely it's possible that Paul goes to prison and doesn't write epistles. That sometimes things happen and their just a bummer.

    I guess I haven't felt to freedom to be sad about things. There always has to be a silver lining. Sometimes it just rains.

  13. This has been really interesting for me, Harrison. My dad's life has gotten worse. My mom's life has gotten better. She has told me that she has a "high locus of control", meaning that she feels like she has a high degree of control over her position in life. I've thought a lot about that.

    April and I have discussed our position a lot over the past year, because we have been more uncomfortable with circumstances than in the past. But something that's been a comforting thought for me to reevaluate is, "If we don't like our life, let's change it." We've concluded that we are willing to go through some difficult years, because we feel that they are necessary for where we want to be in 5 or 10 years.

    I don't exactly know all of your perspectives on your life's situation and really don't want to read you wrong, especially since I know you've been having a tough season lately, but I think I'm optimistic that we have the power to change our life if we want. Maybe this is inherently long-term thinking because when we lost our baby this year, that wasn't a happy time (of course), but our life's trajectory is still going in the direction we want.

    It's pretty hard to have a conversation on in a comment box. Love you man.

  14. Dang Brad this comment section just got real. I'll shift the rest to email.


You are the reason why I do not write privately. I would love to hear your thoughts, whether you agree or not.