the stories we tell

I grew up in a conservative Christian environment. In my childhood church, jewelry and dancing were akin to divorce, and divorce was the doing of the Devil. Imagine my identity crisis, then, when at the age of 26 I learned that my parents were getting a divorce. Divorced? What did that make me? The Devil’s child?

You think I’m kidding; I’m not. My entire identity and foundation were shaken. I now came from a broken home. This was NOT supposed to happen.

The reality is, of course, that 50 percent of marriages in the States end in divorce. My parents’ union was no exception. Sadly, we don’t live in a perfect world, and not all marriages last until “death do us part.” I had bought into a lie.

Interestingly, I get a similar feeling around the holidays. Christmas and New Years are surrounded by so much hype. We have this idea about what they’re supposed to look like — with presents and snowflakes and family and laughter — but the reality is often much darker. For many people Christmas means debt and loneliness and sadness and depression. Suicide attempts increase around the holidays. I myself struggle to feel excited about Christmas every year.


Why? you might ask. Why not? My life looks nothing like the Hallmark movies or anything it’s supposed to. Why wouldn’t I feel sad?

But perhaps the bigger question is: Why did I buy into those Hollywood narratives? Where did I get these expectations in the first place?

At our cores, I believe we all seek approval. We all want to love and be loved. We’re idealists born reaching for the stars, and we’re hard-wired to seek meaning and connection. This is what binds us. This is what makes us human . . . But life inevitably lets us down; in one way or another, reality “checks” each of us dreamers.

And that leads me to my next question: Once we know life will let us down, why do we perpetuate these expectations? Why do we continue telling false fairy tales?

I think we do for a few reasons. Fairy tales give us hope, and hope gives us a reason to keep moving. We need superheroes and Hallmark stories to give us something to strive for. We need to believe that things can be better than they are. But, but . . . Do these narratives also do harm? Would it be better if the stories we told were a little more realistic? Accepting my parents’ divorce would have been far easier if I hadn’t believed it meant they shouldn’t have gotten married in the first place. Christmas, too, would be a lot easier if the holiday stories we told evoked a sense of normalcy rather than elevated exceptions to “real life.”

Because let’s face it — there is no perfect family. We’re all flawed individuals working through our “stuff,” and family and friend dynamics are never simple. December is a month just like any other. Why would we try to sell it as more?

But I don’t know . . . What do you think? Could we do our life and holiday narratives better? Or are they fine the way they are? What would you change about them if you could?


hollywood vs. real life

“You know, sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage. Just literally twenty seconds of just embarrassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it.”      Benjamin Mee, We Bought a Zoo (2011)

A blogger friend recently reminded me of this quote. It sounds nice, right? But I’m here to tell you that Benjamin Mee is WRONG. Benjamin Mee is wrong because Hollywood is wrong. Hollywood is wrong all the time.

See for yourself. Take any Hollywood movie, and see how it stacks up in “real life.” Boy meets girl, lives happily ever after. Injured animal rescued, set free. Rookie works hard, makes it to the big leagues. The workplace is glamor and, “Caviar, anyone?” Sex leads to love. And, sometimes, all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage, and something great will come of it.

The keyword here (which Hollywood downplays) is “sometimes.”

Let me back up. For those of you who haven’t seen the film, Benjamin Mee is referring to how he met his wife. He saw her in a restaurant window as he was passing by. She was beautiful. So beautiful, in fact, that he did something crazy. He went inside and introduced himself. She smiled, and they talked. The rest is history.

Yeah, right.

Perhaps I am growing cynical with age (the big 3-0 is no longer that far off), but when was the last time you met a couple that met in such a way? That lasted? Hollywood is full of fabrications, and while we may laugh it off (“It’s nice to dream!”), I feel it can actually do us harm. Because what happens when the girl doesn’t smile? What happens when the animal doesn’t survive? What happens when you don’t make the big leagues and work is sloppy ties and, “French fries?”

We end up feeling disappointed with our lives and foolish about our bravery because Hollywood has set us up with unrealistic expectations about their outcomes.

Not that it isn’t a good quote or there aren’t times when we should be brave. I’ve always agreed with Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump (1994): “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” All of life is a gamble. In order to play, you have to be willing to take risks. It’s just . . . To me, it seems wise to hope for the best, but be prepared for the worst. And when things don’t go the Hollywood way, keep your chin up. Don’t let “real life” get you down.

At least that’s what I keep telling myself. ;)