Wednesday, October 04, 2006

How Real Life is Different from Fiction

by Tory Butterworth

Think of your favorite romantic novel, movie, or television show. Remember that scene where the hero or heroine, in a single moment, throws away everything they’ve worked for, pursuing, instead, the one they love? Most romantic dramas have it. My personal favorite is from the television show, “ER,” (I think it was season four or so.) Carol Hathaway (Julianne Margolis) leaves her nursing job in the middle of her shift, runs to the airport, and flies from Chicago to Seattle to check out if it could still work between her and Doug Ross (George Clooney.) You know what I mean.

I’m here to report that real life doesn’t always work like that.

Two weeks ago, the day I posted my last blog, I had an opportunity for such a, “Throwing caution to the wind,” moment. That day I received an official offer for the job I’d been waiting weeks to materialize. That day I also had a promising telephone interview for another job, with similar pay and benefits, but working on a different research project, also very interesting.

Enter dramatic elements of fiction writing. 1) Conflict: I can’t take both, 2) "Ticking clock": current job offer on the table, 2) Stakes: probably happiness for the next two years of my life.

How many times, at this climax, does the hero or heroine make the bold, dramatic move? How many times have we seen weddings decided (or undecided) at the alter? How many times does the protagonist walk out of their job and take the next available plane to Timbuktu?

A friend of mine who's a travel agent once commented, "Whenever I see those scenes I think about how much money they spent on that last-minute plane flight."

Such are the realities of life, not art.

I took the job I’d been offered. The other one wouldn’t be decided for weeks, and I wasn't willing to let the first offer molder while I chased another, similar if different, job possibility.

In fiction, the best choice is foreshadowed. In real life, the best choice is often determined by factors you won't know until you've lived with it for six months. I might have loved the second job. But, I bet the one I took will be just fine.

Sometimes I like to make the bold, dramatic move. But, in real life, sometimes you sigh and don’t take a chance. Because, well, life isn't art . . .


Annette said...

In real life, we're all stuck with the dreaded consequences for our actions, aren't we. In a book or movie, once it's over, we never see what happened to the characters as a result of their choices. It would be easier to make the wild, romantic choice if it all ended "happily ever after."

Nancy said...

Okay, here's my rant for the day: Mark Foley now claims he was molested by a priest, which gives him a plausible, excusable reason for propositioning congressional pages. Now....where is the honor in this?? People are busy searching for motives/excuses/whatever to let themselves off the hook for stupid choices and bad behavior. I think our society has been thoroughly captured by the stories of our day--the anti-hero who deserves our sympathy because he had a lousy childhood, a bad parent, an unfortunately experience in the past.

Great blog, Tory. You're so right. In real life, that last minute airfare would be staggering. In real life, you pay for your mistakes.

Or spin it, and get off scot free.

Yeah, okay, I'm steamed this morning.

Tory Butterworth said...

Nancy: in real life, I do think people pay for their mistakes. For narcissistic bigwigs in Washington, I'm sure the humiliation of the accusation is extreme (narcissist's biggest fear is of public ridicule.) Not that it makes me feel sorry for them, just sleep better knowing they feel almost as awful as they should.

And a lot of my clients had HORRIBLE childhoods and are very decent human beings. So I don't see that excuse as letting anyone off the hook!

Annette: I think in real life, "happily ever after," is a relative term.

Meryl Neiman said...

What I can't stand is when celebrities blur the line between fact and fiction. They are so used to acting that they continue that charade in their everyday life. No celebrity couple is happily married -- they are heads over heels in life, swept away by the world's greatest romance -- until, of course, the publicist announces the separation a week later. I always feel vaguely inadequate when I watch these stars swooning over their lovers. I have to force myself to remember the myriad others who professed their romantic ardor only moments before the split.

Joyce said...

It annoys me too, when people can't take responsibility for their own actions. I think this behavior is rampant in politics--it's always someone else's fault.

If real life were like fiction, I'm not sure I could stand the excitement! Although I complain about boredom at times, deep down I probably like it that way.

Tory Butterworth said...

Meryl: My skeptical side says that most of media is about making us feel inadequate, so that we will buy lots of products to compensate for our low self-esteem.

Joyce: Yes, contentment is something a lot of us are looking for in real life. However, it's pretty boring in fiction if it lasts for more than a moment.

Nancy said...

Tory, I'm sure there's a psychological term for this, but I see people in trouble (like Mr. Foley) trying out various versions of a story until they land on one that justifies their faults or bad behavior. Yesterday, I parked in a downtown garage, and a woman on a cell phone marched up and jumped the line to pay for parking. A woman behind her spoke up, saying the line formed in the back, but this bitch burst into a rant about "I come here everyday and there are always two lines, not one!" Anyway, a verbal fight broke out and she finally burst out that she'd had a bad day, then that her son had been in an accident, then she was on her way to a medical test for herself. But I truly think she was trying to come up with a version of the "truth" that played best in her own mind. She was trying to convince herself that her rude remarks were justifiable. Is this something like the Stockholm Syndrome, where victims start liking their captors? And find a version of the story that makes everyone look good?

Can you tell I'm still in a mood about it?

Kristine said...

Tory: Your post today (and the comments that are following) hit on some of my hot buttons. The "happily ever after" misconception provided by our media is staggering, and we wonder why people don't take responsibility for their actions. Sheesh!

Lisa Curry said...

Ah, yes, the real-life consequences. This makes me laugh, because the last time I did something that felt wild, romantic and spontaneous, the consequence was my younger son, Sean, now 7. He's "my favorite mistake." :-)

You Working Stiffs rock!


Tory Butterworth said...

Nancy: I think there are a lot of variants about what you're talking about.

There's narcissistic individuals, who naturally think the world does and should revolve around them. (Probably the woman in the parking line, from your description.)

There's people who have what psychologists call an, "external locus of control," meaning they don't feel like they control their own actions, external circumstances drive them to it.

Then there's people who are just experimenting with which slant to the press is most likely to get them out of trouble.

It's not always easy to sort out the difference!

Cathy said...

I know I've said this before, but I thought your leaving one job without the next one in sight was a bold move (let's make a movie). I'm frantic without a job, something to do with my workaholic nature.

Enjoyed your piece tremendously. Hope you're enjoying the new job.