Trying to Stay in First Person

Last night I found out my friend Brian doesn’t have a smart phone and spends very little time on Facebook. (These people exist.) Additionally, despite the fact that he’s straight and lives in the south, his life doesn’t center around sports. He said, “I try to live my life in first person.” I took this to mean that he preferred to have his own real experiences rather than simply watching someone else’s virtual ones.

Genius.

Honestly, this is something I struggle with. I don’t spend a lot of time watching sports or reading celebrity gossip magazines, but I do tend to get caught up in the lives of others on Facebook, the life of Zac Efron on Instagram. I honestly don’t even follow the man, but I do often get enamored with the online lives and bodies of certain dancers or yoga instructors–people with “perfect” physiques–people I don’t even freaking know. My therapist says that social media is “impression management,” so I try to remind myself that a lot of it is smoke and mirrors, but it’s a challenge.

In writing there’s something called point of view, and it basically answers the question, “Who the hell is telling this story?” Generally speaking, point of view can either be omniscient or limited. Omniscient means that the storyteller knows EVERYTHING–they’re like God. They can know what’s happening in two places at once, and they can also know what every character is doing and thinking. Limited, however, typically follows the experience of one character, and is usually told either in first person or third person. In first person, the main character might say, “I woke up this morning. I cleaned my ear with a Q-Tip. I can wonder what my friend is doing, but I can’t know because I’m not God.” In third person, someone else tells a story about one character, and they only know that one character’s actions and–maybe–his thoughts. Harry Potter is like this. Harry got on the train to Hogwarts–whatever. As a reader, we don’t know what Ron and Hermione are doing–unless Harry Potter is with them.

Now that we have that lesson out of the way.

Today I had lunch with my writer friend Marla. I told her about Brian’s “first person” comment, and she said she recently had an epiphany (or, as Smee says in the movie Hook, “an apostrophe”) around the same subject when she got all worked up about what someone else was doing, what someone else was thinking. (I’ve done this once or twice myself. Maybe you have too.) But then she realized that she’d slipped into omniscient or third-person narrative, instead of staying in first person. In short, she’d started telling someone else’s story instead of her own.

Byron Katie refers to this sort of thinking as being in someone else’s business. She says there are only three types of business in the entire world–mine, yours, and God’s. If I dye my hair blonde or say the F word–that’s my business. What you do with your hair and your mouth–that’s your business. Everything else, like tornadoes and hurricanes and when either one of us dies–that’s God’s business. Katie says that being outside your own business never feels good, and the problem is that you have to leave yourself in order to do it. In other words, if you’re worried about your sister in New Mexico, then she’s there in New Mexico and you’re mentally there in New Mexico, so who’s left right here, right now for you?

Uh, no one, that’s who.

This evening it’s been a challenge to stay in first person and in my own business. I mean, it’s had its moments. I spent a couple of hours putting together the Lego set I bought last week. It turned out to be this tree house thing, and it was super fun. The whole model folds in half, and when it does a bridge automatically collapses. When it opens back up, the bridge automatically raises. I actually laughed out loud with excitement. Notice the bluebird, the telescope, and the little lantern by the flag. How creative!

When the Lego project was over, however, my thoughts started drifting to the future–what will happen next, whether or not I’ll be poor for the rest of my life. This sort of thing happens constantly. But as I think about it now, I realize that this is just another way of being outside my right here, right now business (of putting the Legos together, going for a walk, or writing this blog). Specifically, it’s a way of trying to be in God’s business, since he’s obviously the only one who can know what’s going to happen next.

With Mom having cancer, I’ve been worrying a lot about her future too, the future of our family. It seems the diagnosis and the treatments are starting to affect her mood, her joy, and it’s difficult for me to watch her struggle. Of course, I want to do anything I can to assist her, and at the same time I notice that my mood, my joy, are affected whenever I leave the first person (I love you and what can I do to help?) and enter the third (Mom’s life is so hard and she must be hurting).

Personally, I think I could spend the rest of my life trying to stay in first person and out of everyone else’s business. I mean, it’s not an easy thing to do. It’s MUCH EASIER to get wrapped up in the online lives of others, to start worrying about what someone else is doing or thinking, even to start telling God how he needs to do things, despite the fact that he obviously knows more than I do. (He really does have an omniscient point of view.) But I’m reminded tonight that true joy comes from being present and not imagining you’re life (or the life of anyone else) to be any different than it is in this moment. To me that means that whether I’m playing with Legos or simply sitting in a room with my sick mother while I listen to her breathe, that has to be more than enough because it’s the life I actually have now–raw, honest, and real.

Quotes from CoCo (Marcus)

"You can be weird here. You can be yourself."

by

Writer. Dancer. Virgo. Full of rich words. Full of joys. (Usually.)

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