“How often do we tell our own life story? How often do we adjust, embellish, make sly cuts? And the longer life goes on, the fewer are those around to challenge our account, to remind us that our life is not our life, merely the story we have told about our life. Told to others, but—mainly—to ourselves” -Julian Barnes in The Sense of an Ending.
Recently I read the book The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes. In it an older man is confronted by his past, and things he had done and thought that he had done crash into each other in ways he never expected. He is forced to look back into his memory and search for the clues that help him make sense of not only who he was, but who he is in the present.
The story is about an old retired man who is left a diary in a will from the mother of a girl he used to date in college. The girl he used to date refuses turn the diary over to him. Everything he learns about his past and who he was in the eyes of others and himself is learned during his attempt to get that diary. He eventually finds out much more than he bargained for.
The story is, ultimately, about who we think we are. How the things we said and did, and thought we said and did, affect us later in life. It is about remembering, and forgetting, and how that shapes our future.
I love the way the book is written. The writer jumps back and forth in time, narrating the story seamlessly between his past and present. He has a unique way of expressing his thoughts that I enjoyed and made him easy to read.
But the thing I loved most about the book is that it made me think about me. Not about some fictional characters and how their story affected me, but about who I am. I asked myself the same questions the narrator did and found I wasn’t able to answer all of them. I also found myself not liking some of those answers I did have.
Can we trust ourselves to hold on to the truth about ourselves?
I’m not sure. The older I get the more I realize I am not quite the person I tell myself or others that I am, or was. Not lies, not really. Not even gross exaggerations or misrepresentations. More like unreasonable interpretations of what is. A mixture of what is and should be. I often offer a balance of facts and possibilities that merged into a good view of what I am comfortable sharing, not only with you, but with me also.
You can’t always trust what you see. I am not quite the coffee drinker I think I am. No matter how many coffee shops you see me at, chances are that if you had a cup and a half of coffee with your breakfast this morning you outdid me today. Chances are I did beat you in the race of how many books you and I read this week, but probably not quite as many as I thought I did. You read my blogs and think that maybe this guy writes a lot, and to be honest he thinks so too. But then he stares at the blank page and knows just the opposite is true. I look back and read all the things I have written and realize that most of them were written so long ago, and that most of what I really liked in my writing was back there.
Am I a writer? Yes, and no. Yes in that I write, no as in that a real writer would take it much more seriously than I do. I do it because I love the experience of writing and the sharing of stories involved, but I am not sure of anything else most of the time when it comes to writing. I don’t know why I do it. Most of the time I believe there is no there there when it comes to my writing. Other times I think differently.
I think the book offers the reader two really great opportunities. The first is the opportunity to read a good story. An intriguing story about a man late in life who is finally beginning to question his role in the lives of the people around him. The second, and more important, is a good chance to take a good look at yourself. Don’t pass either one of those chances up.
I think it’s important that we look back once in a while and take some stock as to who we are. I don’t think we should be so harsh on ourselves though, sometimes just getting through life without going crazy can be a big accomplishment. We don’t all have the same lives. We don’t need to compare ourselves to others. But we do need to be satisfied in our own lives, and that we are doing what it is that makes us happy.
P.S. There is also an excellent movie based on this book (for all you psychos that don’t read books). You should check that out. I loved it.