Why I Will Never Date Again
Life is narrative. We all look at our lives as stories. Heck, we have biographies and autobiographies that tell us the stories. Our daily traffic in stories is gossip, or cautionary tales or heart-warming stories of faith and redemption. Heck, what I do for a living is to write up imaginary adventures in the lives of characters. It’s all narrative.
The way we frame narrative also frames how we see life. Back in the olden days, before print, life was framed in these epic sagas that would be sung by poets in twelve hour marathons. Fast forward and you have bards singing endless songs in these great heroic cycles. A bit more and we have written stories, and then novels, the earliest of which, epistolary novels, were in the form of letters and diary entries. Novels and short stories continued apace, then we had movies and radio plays, which shrink life and events into even smaller time frames.
Now the dominant narrative form is: the TV episode.
One hour, which is really only 44 minutes, or 55 if you’re a cable show, which collapses hours if not days into that crunched format. Sometimes you don’t even know how many days you’re watching unless you count the costume changes in the cast.
So, if life is narrative, and narrative now equals TV episodes, I am never going to date again.
I am, in fact, going to invite guest stars to join me in episodes.
I hit upon this idea several months ago, and it’s really been working out well. Once you realize that life is just a television production, everything becomes very clear. For example, people break down into one of five classes:
Okay, okay, I know you think I’m horrible, but stop for a second and think about it. You see plenty of folks as extras. Yes, you do. The checker at the grocery, the attendant at the gas station, the waiter or waitress in a restaurant you hit once a year. Extras are those folks in your life with whom you exchange the normal, civilized pleasantries, but carry-on no meaningful or ongoing conversations. If that individual was swapped out for someone else for reasons known only to Celestial Casting, you’d have the same exchanges and put on them the same amount of emotional weight. Don’t lie. You know I am correct.
Bit players are a step up. These are folks with whom you do exchange pleasantries. You have conversations that continue. Mostly they are folks you see situationally, almost always in one place. Ever had that experience when you see someone you know you know, but you can’t place them? They’re a bit player, and they’re not in their situational context, so you don’t know who they are. Before you feel guilty about reducing people to such a tiny role, just remember that you’re a bit player in their life, so it all evens out.
Guest stars, recurring roles, co-stars; all of them are easy to figure out just extrapolating from the above. Greater association, greater intimacy, greater chemistry and folks move up until you find that co-star that you’ll be happy to go into syndication with. If you’re lucky, you even find a co-star with whom you will always be associated, like Laurel & Hardy, Tracy & Hepburn, Burke & Hare. Things go really well, you get a development deal, create a production company and spin off some cast members who will have their own episodes.
And, look, life events really do organize themselves into recognizable TV packaging events. What is a first date, but a series pilot! As often happens, after one pilot, you recast and shoot another. And dates, they’re just episodes. Maybe they’re dramas, maybe they’re comedies, but they start and end, with lulls for ads at predictable intervals. And if it goes well, leading up to one of those points where we might have to fade to black if we’re not on HBO, what then? That’s the two-hour season finale! Heck, every convention I go to is a mini-series, and in life we have Specials and reruns, out-takes, gag-reels, spin-offs and everyone’s favorite, the Reunion Show.
A cool part about all of this is that it takes all the pressure off. A pilot episode doesn’t go well, not my fault. The casting director screwed up. The script was crap. The sponsors want to go in another direction. My guest star got an offer in another series. The producers didn’t like the on-screen chemistry, or the series needs another setting, or the Guest Star just can’t stretch enough to establish a new image. (That’s being type-cast, you see, which really means your Guest Star has too much baggage.)
The other thing it does is allows you to correctly assess other people in your life and use the appropriate TV methodology for dealing with them. For example, who doesn’t have someone in their life who fits the whacky sitcom neighbor mold? Or what about The Serious Actor, who is pretentious and always embroiled in drama? And your parents, or parents-in-law, think of all the role models. Sure your mom may meddle, but was she like Tony Soprano’s mom? Did you luck out and get June Cleaver?
Probably best of all is this: if life is going badly, just yell, “CUT!” and tell everyone you’re going to your dressing room to call your agent. You can rewrite the script of your life, ditch the crap you don’t want, and move forward with the stuff you do. Someone you know has his knickers in a knot, you write him out for an episode or two. I mean, do you think Christian Bale would put up with his crap? Heck no. Tell him to start getting with the script or the network won’t be renewing his contract.
And if you’ve screwed up, gosh, just ask for another take. Problems that others apologize for can be dismissed with a simple, “Don’t worry, we’ll catch it in editing.”
So, I urge all of you to give this a little thought—during the next commercial break anyway—and you will see I’m right. Just view your life this way, and it will be much easier.
And if you know any cute Guest Stars, send them my way.