2010 was probably the best year of my life. I say this without exaggeration.
Throughout the last year, for various reasons, I’ve been contemplating the way we devise narratives with our lives. We read our lives, so to speak, in the same way we read stories: we look for beginnings, middles, and ends; we look for progression and change and development. These things are not there, in the objective sense — unless you subscribe to the notion of God as a master author/reader — but things we construct in our own contemplation. We want our lives to be stories; we need stories to give form and order to our existence. This is all stuff you’ll hear more on in the new year, when I begin serializing my final senior essay on literature.
I’ve often thought that my life, as a story, is not one worth telling. This is why blogging as an autobiographical platform holds little appeal for me; the narrative of my life is of interest to pretty much me and, perhaps, those closest to me. Not you, Stranger on the Internet.
But it has become increasingly obvious that if there is, so far, a time in my life worth writing about, it is the year 2010. It was, as I said, the best year of my life.
I mean this in a qualified sense. I don’t mean that nothing but good things happened to me this year; in fact quite a few unfortunate things happened. But it was the best year of my life in that I end it feeling fulfilled, because many things happened, and many of them were exciting or interesting. Most of all, they have made me more like me, if you follow. I am more myself now than I have ever been.
Another way of putting it is that 2010 in the Life of Michael actually makes a pretty good story.
I began this year by moving to London for four months — an adventure in and of itself, a wonderful experience that I’m grateful for having. Then I moved out on my own for the first time, temporarily. I sold and published my first short story. I completed an independent research project and I helped teach a summer literature course. In the fall, I reunited with what I suddenly understood was an extensive and important network of friends. For the first time, I recognized how much I like the people around me. I also realized, quite abruptly, that the cold steel barrel of my senior year was pressed against my forehead. In response, I applied to grad schools. Yesterday morning, I was woken up by an earthquake.
Other things happened, things great and small, things you wouldn’t care about, but they happened and I am glad they did. I made it through, somehow, alive.
I am inclined to say that 2010 was a turning point, that I can definitively say in the future that, after this year, things were different. Things will be different. I am a different person now than I was 12 months ago.
In the sense of Heraclitus, this is true every year. But it’s never been so obviously true.
I can’t say with certainty — Heraclitus again, or maybe Hume! — that 2010 was a turning point, or even really as important in the long run as it seems. But I know that right now, it was one of the most significant years of my life, maybe a defining chapter in the narrative of my life, and here I’d like to take a moment to publicly thank all of you who made it what it was, and made me what I am. I can’t help but cast myself as the protagonist and you all as the supporting characters — the great but necessary lie of autobiography — but I hope that in your own stories, you’re ending the year as fulfilled as I am. And if not, then I hope the next chapter’s better.
Here is the last theory quote I stumbled upon in my senior research. It’s about the intertwining of life and narrative, and of life and fiction I’ve been discussing and will discuss in my senior paper. It comes from the essay “Fictional Protocols” in the collection Six Walks in the Fictional Woods by one of my great heroes and influences, Umberto Eco. I leave you, and 2010, with it:
At any rate we will not stop reading fictional stories, because it is in them that we seek a formula to give meaning to our existence. Throughout our lives, after all, we look for a story of our origins, to tell us why we were born and why we have lived. Sometimes we look for a cosmic story, the story of the universe, or for our own personal story (which we tell our confessor or our analyst, or which we write in the pages of a diary). Sometimes our personal story coincides with the story of the universe.
It happened to me, as the following piece of natural narrative will attest.
Several months ago I was invited to the Science Museum of La Coruña, in Galicia. At the end of my visit the curator announced that he had a surprise for me and led me to the planetarium. Planetariums are always suggestive places because when the lights are turned off, one has the impression of being in a desert beneath a starlit sky. But that evening something special awaited me.
Suddenly the room was totally dark and I could hear a beautiful lullaby by de Falla. Slowly (though slightly faster than in reality, since the presentation lasted fifteen minutes in all) the sky above me began to rotate. It was the sky that had appeared over my birthplace, Alessandria, Italy, on the night of January 5-6, 1932. Almost hyperrealistically, I experienced the first night of my life.
I experienced it for the first time, since I had not seen that first night. Perhaps not even my mother saw it, exhausted as she was by giving birth; but perhaps my father saw it, after quietly stepping out onto the terrace, a little restless because of the (to him at least) wondrous event which he had witnessed and which he had jointly caused.
The planetarium used a mechanical device that can be found in a great many places. Perhaps others have had a similar experience. But you will forgive me if during those fifteen minutes I had the impression that I was the only man, since the dawn of time, who had ever had the privilege of being reunited with his own beginning. I was so happy that I had the feeling — almost the desire — that I could, that I should, die at that very moment, and that any other moment would have been untimely. I would cheerfully have died then, because I had lived through the most beautiful story I had read in my entire life. Perhaps I had found the story that we all look for in the pages of books and on the screens of the movie theaters: it was the story in which the stars and I were protagonists. It was fiction because the story had been reinvented by the curator; it was history because it recounted what had happened in the cosmos at a moment in the past; it was real life because I was real, and not the character of a novel. I was, for a moment, the model reader of the Book of Books.
That was a fictional wood I wish I had never had to leave.
But since life is cruel, for you and for me, here I am.