24 March 13 // Canon (Personal) Narratives


A stray thought today – “What are the canons that make up our life?”

I moved recently to Silver Lake, a suburb of Los Angeles and home to Ryan Gosling, Patrick Stewart, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Katy Perry, Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto – yes, Captain Kirk and Spock – and have been unpacking boxes the last few evenings.

Moving is always rough on me. The emotions associated with moving, I suppose. Memories. The possible timelines that never happened, ad infinitum. I’ve been living out of boxes since I was 14. Did you know that, Reader? Did you know that I have never allowed myself to set stake anywhere? Did you know that I have a restlessness inside me that nothing except love can abate? I have lived in and out of boxes for so long that the thought of one day no longer having them, of finally unpacking and tossing out the last box – of having a life, a family, stability – scares me as much as brings me hope. It is only… Well… I suppose it is safe to say this, now. Just between you and I. I suppose I can trust you enough to “get” what I mean when I say that my heart has been broken so many times that I feel safer when I have the option of leaving at a moment’s notice. To think that one day I would not be able to do that… To think that one, yes, maybe one day, I will find a place to live and to love… It is almost painful to hope for it anymore. And so I continue to live with cardboard.

But this is not my point.

You know by now what my style is – tell a thing, add a flash of the personal reflection, and then move on to my “real” topic without ever addressing those breadcrumbs of my life. My friend Samantha Curley put it like this a few days ago in an e-mail: “way to couch serious life things in humor as if i will miss the significance of what you said.”

And so here we are. Taking things out of boxes, I begin to wonder, What are the things that define us? What is the “canon” of my life? Of my friends’ lives? What makes us significant and unique? Our faith traditions have certain canons – for the Muslim, it is the  Holy Quran, for the Christian it is the New Testament, for the Hare Krishna it is the Bhagavad Gita, even for the atheist there are the works of Richard Dawkins, Richard Hitchens, and Carl Sagan (to name some of the “latest and greatest”). But in our daily lives, what are the canons we rely on? What are the essential pieces that make up who we are as individuals, that we rely on as a community, and which define “people like us”?

That is, if I wanted to know more about you, where could I go? What could I listen to? What are the things that I could immediately go to and say, “Ah! Now I get it! I know what you mean, now!” ?

Today’s Challenge: Begin to make a list of the things that define you. Who you really are, underneath. 

Would I be surprised, if I found out?

For example: One of my favorite books is Belinda by Anne Rice/ Rampling. It’s about a children’s book artist who takes a stray teenager into his house. He falls in love with her, and in many ways the book mirrors Lolita. An aged man who knows better, but desires the girl under his care anyway.

Now, of course you might be surprised to know that I both like the book and have read it four times. I have a copy less than three feet from where I am sitting at present, another copy in a storage facility in Louisiana, and a third somewhere in between. You might be inclined to think all kinds of terrible things about me – except, I am sure, they would be wrong. The book is really about the dualistic lives we live, what we do to survive versus who we are and what we are passionate about. When the main character, Jeremy, reveals who he is to the world, most of his friends abandon him.

But some stay.

And, in staying, they prove that they are true friends because they knew all along what kind of person he was and loved him anyway. When he showed them his “canon” – in the case of Belinda, his unpublished paintings – who he really was, they continued loving him. They didn’t reject him or toss him aside, fearful of his “new” beliefs. They appreciated his transparency and were able to find new levels of depth to their friendship.

Again, today’s challenge: Begin to write down a few things that “define” who you are. Start small, maybe. Make a list of the books or movies or songs that really, really make who you are. Then, what are your favorite foods? Begin to make lists of the people and experiences that changed you, what year/when, and why. If such-and-such a person hadn’t come into your life, would your life be different? If yes, those are some important people. Think about how and why. Then, play with these ideas. Go down some rabbit trails and get to know your personal “canon.”

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