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  • Lindsey Van Wagner

Don’t you want a life like we saw on the picture show?

I often wish I could skip over the bad days in my life, when the really hard shit happens. Those feelings are too painful and dark and deep.

Some days I honestly don’t know if I will be able to swim back to the surface.


I am learning though – and I do not love this realization – that you need the bad days to get to the good.


It is kind of like turning on the TV and catching about five minutes of a movie that has already been playing for an hour. You don’t understand the plot or what is happening in this scene or why. You just see that there is a lot of drama going on.


This is how those bad moments feel to me. I get so wrapped up in that scene, that little bit of chaos, that I can’t see how it makes sense in relation to my past and future. I am caught up in the trivial and I lose sight of the forest through the trees. The movie is not over so of course it doesn’t make sense yet. I can not possibly see the redemption.


Would there even be a story line without the bad parts? Without the conflict, the tension, the mystery. Some people can actually live pretty uneventful and moderately paced lives, treading water at the surface, surviving, never letting themselves fall too deep. No huge plot interruptions. They seem to be fine with that.


All my life that is actually what I thought I wanted – to just be normal, to feel normal, to not be constantly dragged down so deep that I can’t see anything except darkness. No matter how hard I try, I will never become this elusive idea I have of a "normal" person.


Instead, I am someone who needs to feel it all. I learn about life by going so far down under that I can’t even hold my breath anymore. I have to choke on water and it hurts. I don't know if I will make it. This might be the end for me. Then, once I do eventually rise up... man, I see the brightest lights you could ever imagine. That, to me, is a more exciting plot.


I know I am writing in slightly vague terminology, so it might be helpful to view this thought process from the lens of Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey” template. Many myths and stories follow this familiar model and there are actually SEVENTEEN stages one must endure. I may have already lost your attention so I am certainly not going to list all seventeen, though you can dig deeper into Joseph Campbell's brilliance here.


The core elements of this archetype are:


- The call to adventure

- Refusal of the call

- Supernatural aid

- Threshold (beginning of transformation)

- Mentors/Helpers (several at different points in time)

- Challenges, trials, temptations

- Revelation (death and rebirth)

- Transformation

- Atonement

- The return


If you think back to your favorite books, or even movies, you may be able to identify these components in correspondence to the scenes that move the plot forward. We need all of these events, the messy and shameful, even the long stretches where we linger in the dark corners of the mind. But we still hang in there, day in and day out. We trust that things are happening for a reason. That we are happening for a reason.


My favorite part of thinking about my life as a movie is selecting my soundtrack. When I’m feeling sad, I listen to F-ing sad music. In a movie, they don’t play upbeat music when someone is feeling down – they don’t try to make them not sad. No. All we see, hear, and feel in these scenes is that dark, rainy, somber day. The audience needs to experience the character’s sadness … because we are SUPPOSED to feel. We are feeling beings. Life is all about seeing these emotions for what they are - guideposts, indicators, lifelines.


In Brian Fallon’s song A Wonderful Life he sings:


Don’t you want a life like we saw in the picture show?

So come on, keep it comin’

Come on keep me up all night

You say, my baby, ‘all this time in between drives me crazy’

I want a life full of fire, going mad with desire

I don’t want to survive

I want a wonderful life


The part that sticks out to me is “All this time in between drives me crazy” – because isn’t most of life the time in between. The boring parts where we are stagnant and uncomfortable. When you do the math, not many minutes are actually spent in those major events that we use nearly all of our energy in planning and looking forward to. Life is not necessarily about the day we get our driver's license, the day we graduate, the day we get married. Yes, those are significant events – and big scenes in our movies – integral ones. But, isn’t most of life in the waiting for those things to happen and then looking back to them after the fact?


That’s the good stuff. That is where we want to be in the present moment. The fights after marriage that make no sense. Practicing driving with your dad and whining about it because all you want to do is be able to drive on your own... and then years later taking a road trip alone and wishing you could still be practicing driving with your dad.


Even if you feel like you are just idling and waiting for the next big thing to happen, remember that this is all part of it. You are the hero and this is your journey.


When I have moments like this and the thoughts and insights flow through me, it seems like all my research and life experiences and movies I’ve seen and books I’ve read - they’re all working in tandem and synchronicity to create something that makes sense (or at least makes sense to me).


Sometimes the only thing that justifies keeping me alive is that I feel I am meant to use these words and ideas to help people.


I know that it is not all for naught, and this makes it worth it.

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