This fall, in the opening minutes of The Mindy Project, Mindy Kaling’s character (also named Mindy) explains how she, “grew up watching romantic comedies in my living room while doing homework.” She continues to say that, “In High School Tom Hanks was my first boyfriend.”
So begins the pilot of the show and sets us up for a presumable, yet funny, series of encounters of Mindy trying to find a love and life that is not what she expected or thought it would be. In many ways it is the epitome of a generations lament for the way in which their lives do not match the movies they grew up on.
It is very popular these days to talk about the idea of story—with a capital S, and its effect and relation to our lives. As an English Major I can appreciate the idea of story. However, there can be a considerable discrepancy between the stories we watch and hear and the stories our lives are actually made up of.
In Donald Miller’s latest book (yeah, you’re right, it’s been out awhile), A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, Miller questions the trajectory of his life when some friends want to turn his life into a movie. Miller realizes that his life is not very interesting and therefore wants to spice things up and create a better story for his life. So he decides to climb mountains and bike across the country, and whitewater raft, and so on. So he does all these things and he writes a book about it and encourages you to create a better story for your life.
I am not implying that it is a bad thing to want to leave behind a great legacy or tell a great story with your life, merely that it is unfair to assume the your life needs to resemble a movie. Movies are in fact, unrealistic, two-hour compressions of life. By movies I mean typical Hollywood stories with narrative arcs that include rising action, climax, and resolution, within which most stories stay. The formula is there for a reason—all I’m saying is that life often times does not resolve, and often times it is not epic or grandiose. I used to think that this was a bad thing, when my life was not caught up in some dangerous romance or high-speed car chase, but now I realize life is rarely, if ever, like this. Sure there are moments, but case in point even someone like James Bond is pooping for an extended period of time we never see on camera and sleeping for even longer.
When I was in eighth grade I read a book called Wild At Heart. In this book the author told me I was the William Wallace of my own life. I thought this was very exciting news because I had always loved Scottish accents and kilts. However, soon I realized that my life resembled little to nothing to that of Wallace’s. Mostly, I was in high school trying to pass physics and sexually frustrated.
What often happens is that these stories and movies masquerade as honest representations of life, when in fact they are not. In reality, the most honest T.V. shows are shows like Seinfeld and Louie, shows that do not necessarily evolve or end but simply are. Certain independent films, which are more interested with saying something about life itself than providing a specific resolution, also seem to narrate a more realistic experience of life.
Undoubtedly, with most stories you will need some sort of narrative structure so that your story will not become like some gargled John Cage composition, however, to assume that your life can and should follow a certain narrative structure wherein you hike Machu Picchu and marry someone like Tom Hanks? That to me, seems misleading.