Xenia in an Age of Assault

When a handful of people start doing something together, sooner or later someone will think:

“Hey! This is cool. We’re all doing this fun thing together. I bet there are other people who would love to do this with us. We should get the word out, plan a meet-up, meet more often, invite new people.”

And because the internet exists, this reaching out and sharing is relatively easy and inexpensive. A Facebook group is made. Emails are exchanged. News travels fast to those with a finger on a particular pulse. Soon more enthusiasts join the original handful of people. They bond over their love of the shared activity. Good times ensue.

When your group gets enough momentum you become something invincible: you become a community.

Now say that your community’s life blood is some kind of event. A sizeable event. Lots of old and new friends to meet and do your community’s activity with. Lots of time and energy is added to your activity, enriching your experience. Perhaps funds are raised so that you can all do your activity more often/in grander settings. All to the good. You all benefit from the group’s cohesion. You all learn things and gain beautiful memories.

Until some of you have hideous memories too…

When I learned this week that a prominent member of the large Lindy Hop social dance community had sexually assaulted a female community member, my calm was damaged. Then the echoes of other women with similar experiences came. Because of course they did. This is how this story goes. we know this; 2016 was made up of these stories.

And now my dance community has a “Assault by Authority Figure” story of its own.

I cannot say that the resultant hand wringing and hesitation on the part of community organizers was particularly surprising. That is part of this story too. Every. Single. Time.

I will never understand anyone who’s first reaction to yet another assault story is to cover their own ass. If, as organizers, you are afraid of legal retaliation, Google what libel is and what it is not. Also look up negligence while you’re at it. Because ignoring the fact that someone you hired has a reputation for assaulting people strikes me as fairly negligent. I dream of the day when a court of law actually asks a negligent organization or employer or institution the question on all our minds:

Why did you not do anything to protect the people you were responsible for?

You are responsible for your community members. If you invite people to attend an event you’re hosting and they come from other cities or countries, they are your guests. You are responsible for your guests. You would not invite someone into your home and not advise them of the balcony door that automatically locks behind you, or that one dodgy power outlet, or the missing stair on the fire escape. You would warn them. Or fix your damn house so that it wasn’t dangerous to visit.

You should care for guests because while they are with you, they are one of your household. Anyone who has read the Odyssey is familiar with this idea. In ancient Greece the term Xenia was used to describe the relationship between a guest and host, especially a guest who had come from away. The relationship, though not always easy, was considered sacred. The Gods would send retribution if you did not care for and protect your guest. It was a matter of honour because without it you could not experience the world fully. No group, no matter the size, can last without trust.

We need to enforce Xenia in our communities. Organizers should never tolerate behaviour that poisons their communities. We cannot tip-toe around the missing stair. We must not allow the few assholes of our small worlds to get away with their assholery. There must be consequences when a community member breaks the group’s code of conduct. The Gods will not strike offenders down for you.

(Note to event/community organizers who don’t have a code of conduct: make one. No group is so magical that there will never be a need for one. It’s a hope-for-the-best-but-plan-for-the-worst decision that can make or break your community. And nothing makes it clear that you expect the best of your members like saying so in writing.)

If you want people to want to come out to a community event (spending time and money while they’re at it) they must be able to trust that they will be safe enough to enjoy themselves. If you have no interest in creating that kind of environment and or building that kind of relationship with your members, you’re just another shady, money-grabbing event where newcomers are at risk and regulars become jaded. Your group will shrink as people leave.

Because a community that doesn’t look after its own isn’t worth much.





Cultural Narratives, Fairy Tales, Theatre!

In Praise of a Petty Children’s Show

(Apologies in advance for the inside jokes.)

People who have not lived in Toronto long may not know about one of the city’s most enduring Christmas traditions: the Ross Petty Christmas Pantomime. Ross Petty is the producer of said show and has been for years. Every show is a wacky variation on a fairy tale, rather like Fractured Fairy tales. In true pantomime fashion, the audience is invited to participate: the fourth wall is broken, questions are asked of the audience, pop-culture references are made, heckling of the show’s villain is strongly encouraged, and children are brought up on stage to aid the hero and so on.

This year’s show had something especially clever in the story. Something that made it relevant in a way that many fairy tale adaptations are not.

The fairy tale chosen for this year’s pantomime was Sleeping Beauty. Many of you are most familiar with the Disney movie version of the story. Disney is forever being accused of sanitizing fairy tales and in this case it’s true: the Disney adaptation of the story differs from either the Brothers Grimm version, Briar Rose, or Perrault’s version, Sleeping Beauty. But Perrault, Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm were all folklorists collecting traditionally spoken tales to create their respective volumes, Histoires ou Contes du temps passé, and Kinder und Hausmarchen. As I have said before, a story changes in the telling and this is especially true when a spoken tale is transferred to written or print form. The Grimms’ version removed any trace of adultery, cannibalism or- most importantly, rape -in their telling of the sleeping maiden story, first known as Sun, Moon and Talia. Disney is hardly the first to adapt a old tale to suit the current audience’s needs.

Script writer Jeremy Diamond has also made changes to Sleeping Beauty while adapting it to the pantomime stage. The tale follows much of the old material so as to be recognizable. There’s Princess Rose, who is kind and lovely but suffers a curse because her parents snubbed a powerful evil fairy. All spindles are banished from the land, followed by all other pointy threats…save the one that fells Rose. She falls into an enchanted sleep that can be broken only by True Love’s Kiss. Tragedy befalls the kingdom (of “Torontonia”).

What to do? The Queen wants to be “romantically efficient” by rounding up the local Princes (excluding Prince Harry who is absent due to being on a date with “the Girl From Suits”) and having them form a line to kiss the magically unconscious Princess Rose. The King is appalled by the idea. So is the Princess’s hopeful lover, Luke the Lovesick Lutist. When pushed, the young suitor responds:

“No! I’m not going to kiss her unless she wants me to!”

Instead, he enlists the help of the resident Good-Fairy-in-Training to help him get to Dream Land where he can find Rose so she can wake herself up. Thus, the Princess is not awoken by her Prince with a magical kiss…because he wants to be sure she actually wants said kiss first.

I wonder if the writer was asked to make this change or if the idea came naturally to him. Either way, it is a compelling innovation to a traditional story. Luke reinforces his intentions when he confronts the evil fairy who started it all.

“Step aside, (Villain) I’m here to kiss the woman I love…if she’ll let me.”

The lad’s hesitation comes across as somewhat comical, but the sentiment remains strong. He only wants to kiss Princess Rose if she wants him to kiss her. Only when she replies that she does want his kiss does the kiss occur.

Because Rose’s consent matters. It matters to her love interest. It matters to the story. And, it is implied, it should matter to the audience. Said audience is made up of families with young children.

All of the kids who saw Sleeping Beauty: The Deliriously Dreamy Family Musical learned that you only get to kiss people who want you to kiss them. No hero or princess would want to do otherwise- and neither should we. This adaptation that is a far cry from the story’s dark past and makes the tale relevant to its’ present day audience.

And it includes cross-dressing, pop music, dancing, guest star appearances, and an abundance of sass. Because that’s how you do musical theatre.

More info about the show can be found at: http://rosspetty.com. It will be playing until January 7th. Hope to see you there!



My favourite resource on fairy tales can be found here.


Cultural Narratives, Graphic Novels, Manga, Nerd Culture

Equvialent Exchange


Image from Tumblr 

In order to obtain something, something of equal value must be lost.

This is the Law of Equivalent Exchange, the founding principle of alchemy in the world of Full Metal Alchemist. The manga series, and subsequent anime series, ask fascinating questions about the roles of science, technology, and religion.

The manga has the tightest fantasy-world formula I’ve ever encountered. The rules of alchemy are perfectly summed up in that first line: in order to create something, some other physical thing must be used up. In this way every character’s supernatural powers are limited. You cannot make something from nothing; if you want to create a giant wall to stop a flood, then you need enough surrounding ground or rock to provide the substance of said wall. If you disassemble something into it’s parts, then you now have the leftover matter to deal with. Bypassing the laws of nature requires huge amounts of energy and horrible sacrifice. In the Full Metal Alchemist’s world, power comes at a price, as is the way in our world.

The unlike many fantasy stories, the FMA’s cast is made up mostly of working people: machinists, doctors, engineers, farmers, soldiers, and tradespeople. Everyone in the cast – men and women, physically handicapped or not – works for a living and is proud of it. The only exception to this rule is a foreign prince, Lin. Lin is portrayed as an eccentric freeloader, who is an occasional ally, but mainly an unwelcome outsider. And while Lin does act as a mouthpiece for ideas about loyalty and leadership, because he is royalty, he is the odd one out. FMA is a fantasy story that has little time for the Divine Right of Kings, or even aristocracy. Rather, this is a story about the doings of alchemists.

Alchemists are the scientists of the FMA world. They are expected to serve the country that supports them and their work – and are called to task when this duty is not met. Even when the protagonists, Ed and Al Elric, are snowed-in at a northern army base, they are put to work to earn their keep. You’ll notice that this is a far cry from the Fellowship dining in various lordly keeps along their journey! Hospitality certainly exists in FMA’s world; it’s just underplayed. The expectation is that those who want to eat will work for it.

A day’s work for a day’s bread. Give and take.

Alchemy aside, it’s a rather capitalist idea.

There is give-and-take in all aspects of our lives too. Almost nothing is without cost in time, money, or effort. Like the alchemists, we recognize that you cannot go through life expecting something from nothing. The concept is presented in FMA as a moral philosophy, as well as a fantastical/scientific principle. On the surface, this seems like a good idea. It has balance, fairness.

But here’s where equivalent exchange breaks down as a moral philosophy: it leaves no room for gifts.

I don’t mean an exchange of gifts, the kind that has turned Christmas into a consumer holiday and has given birth to the shopping-incentive that is Valentine’s day. I mean an honest, simple act of giving someone something without any expectation of reciprocation. Giving someone something because you want them to have it, enjoy it, benefit from it. Not a loan. Not a favour to be repaid. Not a barter of goods or skills. Giving for it’s own sake.

In capitalist societies, such gifts are rare. Many things are gifts in name only: the drink from a flirtatious stranger at the bar, the condo development that includes the building of a public school, the tax-deductible donation. These come with an underlying quid pro quo; expectations of something in return. We know this instinctively. We see it outright, if we look clearly. And we look for it when an ambiguous gift is given.

Worse, this the give-and-take idea is often applied where it shouldn’t be. The notion of “earning one’s keep,” proudly a part of FMA’s ideology, can be too easily used as a conceptual stick to beat one’s dependants with. Internet advice blogger, Captain Awkward, wrote about this idea when she addressed the concerns of a controlling parent who wrote in to her:

“I think that the money you give your kids for their upbringing and education is a gift, not a down payment on controlling the rest of their lives.”

The good Captain makes a strong point. Give-and-take, or equivalent exchange, should not be applied to dependants. If it is, you end up with the real-life version of Principle Skinner lamenting “Mother…insists I pay her back retroactively for the food I ate as a child.” (Simpsons episode 7, season 8) The gift of help, when the recipient really needs that help or cannot manage without it, shouldn’t come with strings attached.

Now, in the doldrums between the Holidays and Valentine’s Day, I hope it gets easier to brush back the strings. In an economy that is unstable and at a time when everyone is a little less sure of their futures, give-and-take seems harsher than ever. True gifts may only get rarer, but I hope not. I think the only way to get through hard times is to give when you can without expecting something in return…and to receive without guilt. If this sounds difficult, that’s because it is. But in order to change bleak prospects, difficult things have to be done.

Cultural Narratives, Graphic Novels, Mental Health, Nerd Culture

How a Graphic Novel Helped me Cope with Clutter

There’s nothing like coming home to find the doorway blocked by five bicycles. I’m not a fan of walking sideways like a crab but I’ve done it regularly because I have to if I want to get inside my home. I’m a millennial living in the two bedroom apartment I grew up in. I do this because my beloved job – which I’m lucky to have – is part-time and pays minimum wage. I’ve crunched the numbers and I can’t make rent, pay back my student loan, and eat too.

“But what’s up with the bicycles?” you ask. Well, everyone in my family, myself included, has multiple hobbies and side projects. Repairing and selling old bicycles on Craigslist is one the more lucrative projects, so the bikes are here to stay. The result, when combined with our mountains of reading material and rescued furniture waiting to be repaired, is a state of constant chaos. Living surrounded by a dozen or so bikes, bike parts, repair tools, stacks of magazines, and piles of papers was normal for me until I went away for school. You can’t know that your normal isn’t other people’s normal until you have something to compare it to.

I love possessions as much as the next person. As a nerd I’m acutely aware how much nerd culture is about stuff. You want to show the world what you love so you buy the shirt that features the game/movie/show/comic symbol on it. This year’s merch will let everyone know you were at a particular festival or convention. Fashion speaks and nerd fashion does so loud and clear: This is what I love. This is who I am.

Household possessions are much the same. I like this fact: one look at my room and you know what you’re dealing with. My book shelves tell you things about me. The art on my walls tells you where I’ve been and what I’ve been up to. On my shelves are a few of my favourite things.

Everything in my room says something about me. What does a cluttered house say? Far too much.

In the graphic novel Bad Houses, by Sara Ryan and Carla Speed McNeil, every item piled around the protagonists’ hoarder house holds a memory. Danica struggles to hold onto the life she once had – the time when her husband was alive and when her daughter Anne was a child – and the things that remind her of happier times. Her memories physically invade the house and her hoarding reveals deep emotional pain.

Anne feels like their accumulated possessions are all speaking to her at once, whether she wants to hear them or not. This pains her, making her long for space of her own. When Danica hides some of the hoard in Anne’s room, to create an illusion of order for a house guest, Anne is reduced to tears. I imagine I’d feel the same way if my personal living space were taken from me.

Privacy Meme

Hands up everyone who knows this feel.


The millennial generation knows too well the need for a room of one’s own and the ache of lacking privacy. Many of my friends have lamented over not having any truly private space while living in their family homes. But when your parents are paying the rent, they don’t see problem with walking through your space to see if you left the window open or to retrieve a sock that made its way into your drawer. Logically they have a point, but the feeling of violation is almost physically painful.

The pain of losing privacy is second only to the pain of being surrounded by too much stuff. A heavily cluttered space is exhausting to look at. Too many textures, shapes, things can all come together and overwhelm your eyes. I find I’m anxious if I’m surrounded by too many things or if I have too little room to move. Different people respond to their environments in different ways, but hoarding draws out a visceral reaction.

My physical reasons for being unhappy around clutter are pretty obvious. Reading Bad Houses made me understand the emotional reasons for my clutter-anxiety: the things that clutter the main living spaces of the apartment aren’t mine and neither are the stories they tell. I worry that the stuff will creep into my room and start to influence the self-expressive space I’ve curated for myself. Like Anne, I hear and see more stories than I can manage whenever I’m surrounded by my family’s things. I can only handle so many memories, or so much information, at a time.

I’m not alone in worrying. My Mom was thrilled when I built her a little bookshelf out of old wine boxes. I did this thinking we’d free up space elsewhere, not thinking about how a collection of books reflect on the owner. When her books were on the shelf, she said she felt like her soul was suddenly bared there in the living room – and I knew exactly what she meant. By trying to help her I accidentally stomped on her sense of privacy.

Living with my family is a work-in-progress. It won’t be forever, but while I’m with my folks we’ll have to take turns filling the space we live in. And if all the things get too invasive, I’ll always have a book to hide in.

Bad Houses can be found here.

Bad Movies, Mental Health

I Tried to Watch a Teen Movie

Spoiler alert: This teen movie watching attempt didn’t pan out

By “teen movie” I mean a movie that claims to be about teens, and teen-issues. In general, Hollywood and I remember teenage life very differently. A Mother’s Nightmare takes that skewed perception of the adolescent years to deeply disturbing places, and not because of the movie’s villainous “seductive teen” girl who’s out to murder her sweet, innocent boyfriend.

This is a Lifetime TV movie I’m talking about so many will argue that trying to watch this film was a bad plan. They are correct. The best thing about bad movies is that they give us something to bitch about. But this movie was spectacularly bad for a surprising reason: it is an example of a missed opportunity.

(Trigger warning for the following discussion of slut-shaming, murder, suicide, and “craziness”.)

The movie itself revolves around a slut-shaming portrayal of a teenage girl – she’s “seductive” – as if we didn’t have enough narratives, fictional and cultural, that cast teenaged girls as dangerously promiscuous. I would dearly love it if we could all let go of the Highly Sexual and Evil Woman trope gather dust and decay like the archaic throw-back it is. I live in hope.

The premise of the movie is that Vanessa, a mentally unstable ward of the state, is being foisted on unsuspecting foster parents and a naïve student body. This a slap in the face to both social workers and foster parents – people who do very emotionally demanding work while going unrecognized for it. As Vanessa’s past comes to light, many characters describe her as “crazy”. At best, this use of “crazy” is the sign of a writer with a very weak vocabulary. At worst it’s reductive and shaming.

However, despite all of the above bile the movie does have a genuinely important problem at its core. The teenage boy, Chris, is in an abusive relationship with Vanessa and his friends and family slowly become aware of this fact. Vanessa encourages Chris to do unsafe things he did not do before (heavy underage drinking), monopolizes his time, isolates him from his friends and family, urges him into quite the sport he loved, manipulates him into staying with her when he tries to break up, and spreads poisonous rumours about him to control him. These behaviours are all emotional abusive.

Stories are about conflict and an abusive relationship is a legitimate source of conflict for all involved. And this is an important story because it touches a very real problem that can have disasterous consequences. Abusive and/or manipulative partners can be hard to recognize, and in many cases they do in fact suffer from mental health problems themselves. This blog points out some unhealthy and controlling behaviours and reminds us that suffering from poor mental health is NEVER an excuse to mistreat your significant other – or anyone else for that matter. It is important that we tell stories about unhealthy relationships so that we can learn to recognize healthy ones. A Mother’s Nightmare could have been the start of a conversation.

Instead, all this potential is sadly buried under a mile of misinformation and prejudice about mental illness. The writers of A Mother’s Worst Nightmare spectacularly and catastrophically did not do the bloody research.

Delusional Disorder, the illness that Vanessa is identified as suffering from, is real. Delusions are often a symptom of other mental health issues, but DD is defined as someone adamantly believing in something that is not true. It can be genetic (see Vanessa’s mother having it and passing it on to her daughter) and it can effect romantic relationships. WebMD includes being convinced that someone is in love with you, such as a famous celebrity who has never met you, or being intensely jealous without cause as possible symptoms of DD. Either of those traits could have driven the story well and emphasised the abusive nature of Vanessa’s relationship with Chris. But there is no factual basis for Vanessa’s “obsession with death” or her attempting to force her boyfriends to kill themselves using drugs that she has for some unexplained reason. Making Vanessa a murderer is distastefully melodramatic.

Vanessa shown to be a liar and a manipulator; these things are enough to make her villainous. Being manipulative is a legitimately dangerous trait in anyone, let alone a romantic partner to a recently-heart-broken and depressed teenager. But no. Vanessa is “crazy” because that makes for more drama.

A Mother’s Nightmare could have been a meaningful story about recognizing manipulative behaviour and doing what you can to protect someone you know to be in an abusive relationship. Instead, this movie demonizes the mentally ill character and uses disgusting stereotypes to sensationalize its subject matter beyond recognition. The scary, crazy girls are coming for your sons.

What a waste.


A Haunting Safe as Houses: a Halloween Reflection on Fear Itself

One cozy autumn evening I sat down with several friends, a heaping plate of turkey, and full wine glasses to commune in front of the Netflicks. A scary movie was called for. The Conjuring was recommended and chosen.

I’m no connoisseur of such films, but I rather enjoyed it. It used that effective tactic of showing little or nothing of the danger to let the viewer’s mind create something much worse than any CG monster. It’s also an interesting period piece; I enjoyed the 1970s fashion and vehicles. More interestingly, The Conjuring has that money-making flourish: “Based on a true story”. That last bit struck me to my core, but not for the reasons you might think.

I love a good story, true or not, so after the movie was  over I delved into the internet. This site takes a fascinating look at the history of the farm house and its past inhabitants. Any history nerd will enjoy learning about the generations of people who lived on the farm and the way that their historical moment shaped their lives.

A history buff will also balk at the detail of the chief spirit/demon/adversary in the movie being a witch. “Witch” was shorthand for any woman who was considered suspect or deviant particularly in colonial America. A local woman whose child dies in an unusual way might very well have been considered a witch – not that children dying young was at all unusual for the period that the real Bathsheba Sherman lived in. Any woman who was unlucky enough to be unusual was fair game for title of Local Witch, First to Burn if Things Get Bad or Weird in the Village.

The neighbours gave Bathsheba Sherman the side eye, so now she gets to be the unholy child-murdering villain in a movie that she will never see. It makes me shudder to think how one’s life story can be distorted so long after one is gone. It seems terribly unjust that the real people whose lives are being retold for Hollywood fright flicks have no say in the matter. Here’s hoping that no one I know becomes a ghost story.

However, it is worth noting that the family and the paranormal investigators  who are portrayed in The Conjuring did support the movie being made. The latter, Ed and Lorraine Warren, opened their home up to be an occult museum. Their paranormal experiences are well-documented and their files were researched for the film.

Speaking of houses, I feel the need to mention the fact that I have lived in apartment buildings my entire life. House-noises scare me greatly and I could not live in even the most beautiful historic house. Houses, especially old houses, make sounds that are very different from the vague sounds of someone next-door turning on the shower or closing a door. I am used to the creak of steel beams expanding as they warm in winter but houses sound alive. I sympathize with the pain of anyone who finds themselves creeped-out by the breezy attic, old plumbing, and creaky floors that come with old houses.

And that is what I thought about when we had finished watching the movie: pain. Pain and fear.

Regardless what you think about the experiences of the Perons – whether or not you believe in the paranormal – The Conjuring shows you what it must be like to live in constant fear. Imagine being perpetually afraid in your own home. Knowing that the whole family felt that way is heart-breaking.

I know that feeling. It was a long time ago and I was very small. For reasons I didn’t then understand I started feeling afraid all the time. I was afraid to close my eyes at night. I constantly sought reassurance from my folks that there are nothing to worry about – I was home and safe with them. What was there to worry about? Nothing at all – but that made no difference.

I listened for unfamiliar sounds as soon as the lights went out. I stared into the shadows of my room and was appalled when the stacked boxes seemed to create a (very unrealistic) profile of a person. My heart would be racing as if I were running a race. I slept little and badly. No sleep leads to poor health and my folks were worried.

I my memories of this time are vague; going without proper sleep will muddy the mind. But I do know that the fear started after a bout of ghost stories and possibly a séance with my then-friends. Young girls playing at mediums seems to have been a thing in the nineties. Or was that just in the teen movies I was watching?

Regardless, what I can now call an Anxiety disorder latched onto the idea of invisible assailants being all around. Nightmares would have been better; at least then I would have gotten some sleep. A mild, non-prescription sedative (the herb St. John’s wort, used in sleepy tea) was my doctor’s recommendation. The herb helped me drop off properly for a week or two. Somehow the terror subsided, though I was wary of horror movies. Why open Pandora’s box right after you’ve closed it?

Am I credulous? Do I believe in ghosts in this day and age, as an grown adult?

Well, I do still love a good ghost story, such as those told by The Haunted Walk. However, given that most ghost stories centre around deeply unfortunate events, I certainly hope none of the characters are still around.

The best example is the Ask a Mortician Deathstination: Savannah Georgia episode. The long-deceased “trusted servant” (by servant the story-teller means slave) gains nothing by haunting a historic house in the afterlife to thrill and terrify tourists. If anything, that would just be another kind of servitude. I hope she’s free to rest.

But even a normal, ghost story-less house is of little comfort to those who constantly suffer from Anxiety or other mental health troubles. Every house is haunted, to those who live fear.


Intermission-Shaming: a Response to the Diluge of Millenal-Damning OpEds

“Completing school, leaving home, starting a career, getting married, having children – until very recently this lockstep progression was taken for granted…”

-Kate Bolick, Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own

There are a lot of expectations about how we should live our lives. You are probably familiar with the Script for Success – though I like to think of it as more of a checklist. The script is meant to play out like so:

  1. Complete the required levels of your local school system.
  2. Go to post-secondary school (this is especially true of the middle and upper classes and of our current time).
  3. Graduate from the above school. Bonus points if you finish in the discipline you started in for some reason…
  4. Acquire a Real Job. Real Jobs usually involve sitting at a desk and/or wearing business casual clothing. Only Real Jobs ever lead to Careers we’re told. If there is not lots of money involved, then it is not a Real Job.
  5. Move out of the family home. This can be switched places with the above act but they both must happen in quick succession or else.
  6. Find a (preferably opposite gender) partner.
  7. After a enough time passes that your relationship has matured like an inexpensive wine you must marry the above partner. 30 is a magical marrying number. No one can tell me why.
  8. Have huge expensive wedding. Invite all the people you love (and many you do not, but feel obligated towards).
  9. Buy a house.
  10. Fill house with stuff – but only the right kind of stuff. Nothing too childish (read: fun).
  11. Ensure your DNA’s continued existence by having some children.
  12. Set said children loose in the local school system.
  13. Repeat above steps.

Does the above list sound familiar? If you’re a millennial, like me, you probably began to feel aware of the script just as you started to look for work. There we were, set on the path to respectability…and then the economy blew up.

But you probably already know that story already.

There’s nothing like going off script to make you notice the script. When you’re following the checklist it is invisible, like gravity. Deviating from societal expectations gives you the chance to actually think about them. Considering how many people find themselves suddenly swerving off their presumed life path like a car on black ice, I cannot help but question the very idea of there being one script for living your life.

For one thing, trying to live your life like a linear story turns the simple act of changing plans into a crisis. You’ll notice the above breakdown of The Hero’s Journey, the ancient inspiration for most of our Coming of Age Tales, is a straight line. It can also be represented as a cycle – the hero leaves the homeland, journeys, defeats evil, grows, returns, – but  we are most familiar with the linear quest narrative. It bears a noticeable resemblance to the “lockstep process” Kate Bolick identifies. If you find that to be just a little too unnaturally and too restrictive, then you’re not the only one.

More importantly, for many people living in today’s world, this linear script is at best unrealistic. At worst, it’s a stick to beat us with.

Search “millennials” on the web and you will get dozens if not hundreds of articles concern-trolling about how the past markers of adulthood, from moving out to marriage, are no longer fixed points in people’s lives. People have stopped checking things off the list in order. Other people are striking some things off the list altogether, or have begun to re-evaluate their expectations. Many people, whether out of choice or necessity, are not living as the generation before them live. The general conclusion: this change is a bad thing, because change is always bad.

In Life Story terms: we’ve all been hit by an event that we didn’t see coming. Many people feel that they are currently in a rather prolonged Intermission wedged between the proper sequence of life events. Doubtless there will be more such events in the years to come; if you don’t have the Gift of Foreseeing, you can’t plan for everything. There is nothing shameful about re-evaluating your choices or plans when you have to. Shaming people for starting anew or ending up in the same Intermission stage as their peers is just a snide waste of breath and bandwidth.

And an Intermission isn’t necessarily a bad thing. During the Intermission of a show, people stretch their legs, have a drink or two, chat with the other theatre-goers, get to know new people. Some decide that they’ve seen enough and leave for something else. Others enjoy the break and then go right back to the next act feeling refreshed.

We told the story of the Life-in-Linear-Progression so often that we’ve come to believe it. Now we’re going to have to tell ourselves a new story – or rather, a variety of new stories – about how to live life. I look forward to hearing these stories. I hope you do too.

Besides, the old, linear Life Story just isn’t reliable anymore – assuming that it ever was.