Stranger Than Fiction

Most of us are proud of our hard-won life in modern society. It is indeed quite astonishing that we can maintain any kind of grounded presence among all the issues, factors and precedents that constitute a human life.

It may take a few cups of coffee to touch base with our identity of the day, and we may need to make repairs after yesterday’s panicked exodus from who we claimed to be yesterday, but any continuity is usually welcome.

If you’re like me, most of the time you manage to roll off into the new day with a few cylinders firing. If there is a voice-over commenting on our actions and interactions, we can usually write it off to social conditioning or to the conscience necessary to remain the person we want to be. If this voice-over becomes intrusive or fundamentally deceptive, chances are we still won’t speak of “hearing voices”. After all, conscience is inherent to consciousness and we all need some kind of guide in this world.

The entire dynamic of self-integration (and our need to resolve, harmonize and console the scattered fragments of our personalities) is so fundamental that we may not even notice the constantly whirling mechanisms at work in maintaining our ‘identity’.

(In the film, “Stranger Than Fiction”, IRS auditor Harold Crich (played by Will Farrow) is about to audit pastry baker Ana Pascal (played by Maggie Gyllenhall) when he starts hearing a voice. Sometimes this voice, which makes pronouncements that then actually take place, begins with the phrase, “Little did he know”. Eventually we discover that this disturbing voice-over is actually the text of a work of fiction that is being typed by novelist, Karen Iffel (played by Emma Thompson). Worse: once a scene is written down, it becomes his inescapable fate, which he is helpless to alter.)

You may well ask what this bizarre story has to do with our ordinary lives. After all, most of us are not pathologically beset by voices that commandeer our life in the “real” world.

In our ‘normal’ lives, when our inner voices ponder “will I regret doing this?” or tell us “I would be happier if I had more money”, the first person pronoun allows us to know that we are at home in our own familiar being. Perhaps we could even say that such “self talk” is necessary in order for us to maintain our position in the world—rather like a radar screen, sweeping on all sides of a ship, allows the captain to steer a safe course through the rocky and darkened sea.

Of course, not all the stories we tell ourselves are accurate or helpful (“The Earth is flat”; “My race, religion, and class are superior to all others”), but most stories are like the fuel in a vehicle. We thereby know our place and are able to traverse a known path to places we want to be.

But the voice in Harold’s head doesn’t even claim to be friendly (although it does eventually drive him to become a deeper and more compassionate person). Harold’s voice is not an “Ego” weaving an identity. It is not an “Id” luring him on with desire. And it is not a “Super-Ego” telling him that he is unworthy. Harold’s voice comes from the creative mind of a novelist typing away in her studio on the other side of town. We might have guessed that something like this is going on from the use of the third person pronoun used in the phrase, “Little did he know . . .”

As familiar as we are with our own unremitting voice-overs, which invariably feature central casting’s faces of the self (sometimes as subject, “I’; sometimes as object, “me”; and sometimes as owner, “mine”), I expect we would all be freaked if an inner voice started referring to us as “he”? I imagine most of us would check ourselves into a facility, or discontinue any new meds we’ve recently started taking.

This outlandish—mercifully atypical—situation makes for a great story: Harold Crich, like Pinocchio, becomes “a real boy” by daring to challenge the way things are. He creates a new, heart-felt life, wrenching it out of the hands of an uncaring novelist who is unaware that she is scripting it.

Nothing special: just another film about overcoming adversity and realizing inner potential.

But let’s pause for a moment. Could it be that we too are living out the dictates of a vision that has been deposited in us—like a cuckoo’s egg in the nest of our being—simply because it claims to be our own personal “I”, “me” and “mine”?

But “little did he know” that no such I, me, and mine actually exists, except as the green pinging of a radar screen sweeping across an ocean mystery–in which each of us can discover a unique awakening to life.

One comment to “Stranger Than Fiction”
  1. We’re always thinking to maintain self-existence…telling stories to ourselves and others…about everything we see, every idea we bring forth, every object we conjure, we see ourselves reflected in them, like seeing our own image in a pool. All objects refer back to me because they came from me, and it is this circle of subject relating to object that I construct meaning out of the stories I summon, reprise, and recite…I reel off, let slip, call upon and fill in with stories… continuously.

    So this is how it is…so this is who I am…this is how I feel…the bubble of my story inflates, I float flabbily toward an inevitable bursting…my gathering of surface tension stretched to its limit…POP…fizz…

    And we “…slips away, Into the unimaginable dark floods of time,

    And we tremble before dawn,
    Until our hearts stop beating,
    And then they do again.

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