What if life were like the movies? Or like books, or video games, or music?
What if life were like stories?
Let me back up. At one time in my life, I entertained the possibility of becoming a computer programmer. It made sense of a sort: I’m decent with computers, certainly I use computers a lot, and I’m kind of fascinated with what computers are able to do. I don’t, unfortunately, have the meticulous, detail-oriented mind that programming calls for. Still, I learned a few things about programming, one of which is the if-then parameter, which is the cornerstone of programming.
If this thing happens, then do this other thing. If this condition is met, proceed with the program.
It’s simple but critical. And it’s there in our stories, too. If you see a gun in the first act, then you expect to see that gun fired in the third act. If the main character starts off as kind of a jerk, then he will have some change of heart by the end. If this character is afraid of flying, then you can bet the farm he’ll have to get on a plane before the story runs its course.
But those are big if-thens. They are everywhere in stories. If the character has that extra drink, then you know he’s going to do something extra-stupid before the night is out. If she leaves a MacGuffin at home when she goes out, then that will be the very night she NEEDED the MacGuffin. If John McClane takes off his shoes, then the writers will be sure to make him tromp across broken glass.
You can predict what’s going to happen in stories, then, by paying attention to the little things characters do.
Wouldn’t it be nice if life were the same way?
If I wear this tie, the boss will recognize that I’m going the extra mile and give me a promotion. If I put in this time at the gym, I’ll end up with the body I always dreamed of. If I have a good breakfast, the rest of the day will go great.
Life is never so convenient. We prepare, we plan, we make adjustments on the fly, and life still blindsides us. There are no guarantees, there are no simple straight lines from the actions we take to the consequences we make.
Which could be disheartening, really. I mean, right now, I’m living my life in the hopes that: If I sink in all this time working on my writing and my novels, then I’ll get published and make tons and tons of money. But that isn’t a guarantee. It might not even be likely. Likewise, If I’m diligent about exercising, then I’ll enjoy a long, healthy life. But nope, that’s not automatic either. My books might never be published. I might get smacked by a bus tomorrow, or contract some horrible long-debilitating cancer that cripples me.
Life, to summarize, is a crap shoot.
So why try, right?
If the if-thens you set out have no bearing on the world at all, then what’s the point of planning, of trying? Damn, that’s dark and reductionist. And too often, I think — especially in this country — we think too much in that rigid if-then way. If I do this thing, spend this money, invest this time, then I expect these results. And if I can’t be guaranteed, then I’m not doing it.
We need to adjust our if-thens.
If I sink in this time working on my writing and my novels, Then maybe I can learn something about myself, entertain myself, and maybe possibly entertain a few other people, too. If I focus on my health, then I can improve the quality of the time I have, I can get stronger physically and mentally, I can do things I might not otherwise have been able to do.
Sometimes I look at life as a long con, where you keep your eyes on the distant prize and keep working toward that. The spire in the distance, the North Star that keeps you oriented.
But I think just as important is keeping focused on the immediate, the things you can count on, the real-life stuff that life throws at your feet.
Life doesn’t care about our big plans. Life owes us nothing. Best we can do is make the best we can out of the things we spend our time on.
And make sure we’re focused on the right if-thens.
This weekly remotivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every weekend, I use Linda G. Hill’s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.