5 Star Review: ‘Living Memories’
John Darr | Thursday, February 26, 2015
“Made for television.”
In his brilliant novel “A Prayer for Owen Meany,” John Irving managed to capture an aging generation’s simultaneous condemnation and acceptance of new technology. The central character’s grandmother constantly connects the most melodramatic and far-fetched events in her life to television programming. Despite her contempt for broadcasted material, she consumes unholy amounts of it. Every day, she sits in front of the television and ruthlessly criticizes whatever happens to be showing.
It’s easy to criticize someone for experiencing much of their life vicariously. It’s even easier to look down on someone who is obviously unhappy while doing so, cursing at the video game console or laughing pretentiously at ‘low-quality’ programming. “There’s a whole world out there!” you want to exclaim in exasperation. “People should be doing something, well, real!”
Yet when we experience things vicariously, we can have a better appreciation for each part of that experience. We enjoy being pulled into complicated relationships. We enjoy identifying with characters when they’re struggling because we know that most of the time, the struggling will ‘pay off’ in some type of emotional reward later. The feelings of the characters we identify with are rich, deep and enthralling.
Does that make vicarious experience better than actual experience? No, of course not. Our lives are infinitely more complex than those of characters in stories; if they weren’t, we’d probably have a hard time relating to them. The world we live in is surprising, rich, deep and as vivid as our senses and minds allow it to be. We each have a huge set of memories that attach special meanings to everything we experience. When something is brand new, it fills a fresh and exciting space in our lives we didn’t even know existed.
And yet, our lives often seem far less magical than the stories we watch, play and read. The struggles we experience are painful, not entertaining. The ‘true love’ romances seem few and far away. At the end of the road, we may find ourselves in the position of Patricia Arquette’s character in “Boyhood,” sitting at a normal table in our normal life and despondently saying, “I just thought there would be more.”
So how exactly do we grapple with the big ugly truth that our lives may turn out to be difficult, excruciatingly normal or otherwise void of a star cast of characters? The easy answer, of course, is to appreciate what we have. But that’s kindergarten poster material, something everyone knows is good advice but is far easier to understand than follow. Oh kindergarten, the golden years, when everything was easier, and nap time came after recess.
That’s our memory of it, at least. In reality, kindergarten is pretty hard. Kids of the opposite gender are terrifying, paying attention is difficult and you pretty much have to do whatever the adults around you want you to do. Wouldn’t it have been grand if we could have just appreciated nap time and recess when we had it? Wouldn’t it have been amazing to actually live the good memories we have now, as distorted and optimistic as they may be?
The fact is, today is just tomorrow’s memory. There are so many fantastic things about being in college, about being in the prime of our lives and simply about being alive to experience the world around us. When we see something on a screen or look back on an event via our memories, we can clearly appreciate the joy and beauty inherent in scenes that can be utterly unremarkable to actually live through. Maybe if we take a step outside ourselves while we’re chugging on through, we can actually live the lives we want to remember, that we want to watch others live. Here’s to living the best memories of our lives, right now.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.