“A story must always have motion.” I don’t know if it was a scriptwriting workshop, or a novel writing workshop or just dinner with some writer friends. I do, however, remember this being said and sticking with me. In a story, everything that happens exists to push the narrative. Each moment is supposed to tell you something about a character, the storyworld or just add colour to an arc. It’s this phenomena that led Mark Twain to say “It’s no wonder the truth is stranger than fiction – fiction has to make sense.” The worlds we construct are built with a purpose, to convey a message. To say something about the world as perceived by the story creators.
“The individual with a why can persevere any how.”
– A tik tok
Maybe then we can blame our fascination with purpose on story. This idea that somehow everything must be here for a reason. That our lives must always have a character arc and that we must be building towards something. That there is a penultimate point of life and we are at our best when our productivity peaks – a maximum amount of time must be spent in this space. Yet purpose in itself is as meaningless as any other way we choose to fill the time. It has its perks, like giving one a fixed ever shifting point in the future to look towards. From this point one can work backwards filling the everyday sameness of life with meaning. Purpose is still, however, just a tool.
This is important to remember in the (dystopian?) neoliberal capitalist present. Where purpose, productivity and capital are so intertwined that descartes may as well have said “I spend, therefore I am.” Where the internet insists that we must self gaslight into believing that if we only dreamed a little harder and sacrificed a little more we can get the life that we want.
Even what we want is not left to chance. The life we should desire is consistently sold as a simple dream of ability and stability. Simplicity is often difficult to achieve and life comes at everyone fast. The game itself is set up such that only a select few can access its benefits. Through this incident of human nature filtered through millennia of innovation and inequality we find ourselves raging, ever quietly raging, against the insignificance of our outputs against the canvas of humanity.
Maybe this is why we desperately want to work on something that “matters.” We think that by reducing human suffering we would have done something noble. But what is this nobility composed of other than a silent protest against the unfairness of it all? That we are born without our consent, most of our lives are spent following empty pursuits – often for other people – and that we die too early, long before we properly understand this thing called life.
It is this existential confusion upon which we have placed society and a path to keep you distracted for long enough until death comes for you. In our bid to keep each other away from the edge we have written stories of origin, built theories, destroyed entire societies and persecuted anyone who thinks different. Nobility has many forms. One person’s hero is, invariably, another’s villain.
So parents, terrified of the world, perpetuate halftruths and continue to be dissatisfied with their offspring’s feeble efforts to stay alive. Overbearing, consistently warning of the next pitfall. Understanding that every new step opens one up to a whole new level of vulnerability – and handling this exposure needs higher levels of care, self assurance and understanding. That with every step you need to watch the balance between it all matters and nothing really matters even closer. That the illusion, while pervasive, is also all we really know. And they fight to keep it alive, as you will too.
And everything continues to happen everywhere – all at once. We continue to live in a field excited by multiple phenomena. Amidst this madness it is important to remember that the very ideas around how a life should be lived are imaginary. And, while being useful guides on what people have done and how things have turned out, they are also just that, ideas. That life does not need to have a sense of motion. That you are not a character on a journey from birth to death. That you simply are. That experiences are not lessons and there is no teacher. That there only is one everlasting now – and we’re all experiencing it at the same time.