Living Without a Plot§

writer: russell j.t. dyer; posted: February 17, 2006; revised: April 23, 2018; readers in past month: 632

Milan Reader & Bookseller

Perhaps it’s the plight of being a writer, a reader, and generally a human in a literary conscious world, as well as having lived in the success and goal planning ways of the U.S., but without realizing it I have led my life with always one or more plots in mind. At any point in my life, starting from when I was a small boy, if you had asked me what I was going to do with my life, I would recount an elaborate plan stretching out for years ahead, a plot reaching beyond my imaginable horrizon. I think we get this way so early in life because a favorite question of adults for children is, ‘What are you going to be when you grow up?’ If they wouldn’t ask this question so much, perhaps we wouldn’t bother formulating an answer so early in life and thereby begin such a habit, such a perspective on life. It’s not that I find planning to be a bad thing, it’s that we are compelled by habit to always be ready to answer this question. When we get older, people stop asking us what we’re going to be when we grow up, instead they ask what do we do — they ask about the present, not the future. When we provide the answer, though, we quickly parlay the question into an opportunity to speak of the future — always being children at heart who miss the fun question, the game that adults provided for us in their question. And even when no one is asking about our status or future, we continue to ask it of ourselves. We ask, what am I going to do with my life, where am I heading, what’s the plan? I think that we do this so much that when we arrive at our future, we cannot just enjoy the success, we have to think of new goals for which to strive. That’s the obssessive cumpulsive American way, after all.

As a writer or maybe just as a human, I am always looking for a plot in my life — not just in my work or career related activities, but in everything: relationships, where and how I live, things I do. There have been times in my life where I was playing out some perceived plot related to a relationship. This is very common, I think. There have been other times when my intended plot conflicted with the other person’s relationship plot. When this happens, each actor and unwitting director or writer is confused and frustrated by the other’s unwillingness to keep to the script, to the plot. My last compagna had several rigorious plots she was pursuing and she had cast me in the key roles of most of them. It was very difficult for me to know where I was to stand or what lines I was to read, given her quick shifting between the stories we were playing out. It was very exciting and passionate acting, but in the end, I wasn’t able to continue it.

So now here I am in Italy, alone without fellow actors — perhaps merely conducting solioquies like this — and without a plot. Before, in the past, I was working to be free, to be a writer, to be independently employed, to live in Europe, to achieve and do many things that I now do. I’m all of these things; I’m there now. There’s nothing to be acted out. I am in a tableau moment, on the stage alone, and with no lines remaining, no plot left, nothing. But the curtain is not going down and there’s no audience applauding or to applaude even. There’s just me on the stage standing motionlessly. Putting that in practical terms: I don’t know or have an inclination to stay in Italy or to move to another country or to return to the U.S. — I’m just here and I’m an object at rest. With regards to writing, I have a book contract for a second book and the prospect of another that is expected to be an enormous revenue generator. I have several magazines that will take anything I’m willing to write in the technical area. I have my editing work for the AB which gives me a regular stream of income. Then there’s my novel I occasionally work on in the hopes of one day being a fiction writer. That’s the only potential plot develoment in my career and I’m not too enthusiastically following it. I probably should, but it’s hard to work on it at this point when there is so much paying technical writing work that I must do now. I tell myself to push it along here and there, but to wait until I have a good steady revenue stream from the technical books before pursuing it passionately. So, that’s a plot in the offing, but not active as yet.

With regards to my love life, there’s nothing there. I’m in a country where I don’t speak the language fluently. This makes meeting and starting a relationship with a woman difficult. Then there’s the problem of my uncertainty as to how long I will be here. I think to myself (as I imagine a woman whom I ask out may think), am I going to stay forever if this relationship works out, and if so, what about my daughter back in the U.S., what are her needs related to being with me? Or, is it likely this woman with whom I’m flirting will want to go to the U.S. with me one day? If she says she’s willing at the outset, is she interested in me, or merely passage to the U.S.? It makes the whole situation awkward and stalling. The same situation had occurred to me with regards to furnishing my apartment. Finally, I just bought furniture and painted my apartment. I decided that if I’m here I should be comfortable. If I leave in six months and have to leave the furniture and thereby will have wasted money, so be it. It won’t be the first or last money that I have wasted in my life. It’s harder for me to apply this cavalier attitude to women, though. So I have to pursue relationships cautiously and provide honest disclosure on these points.

Allora, I find myself without a plot for the first time in my life. If someone was to ask me what I plan to do or where I plan to go from here, I have no answer. Friends and relatives back in the U.S. ask me when I’m coming back or if I’m staying in Italy, permanently. I have no answer for them. I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’m somewhat anxiously waiting to see what develops. However, I have no inclination. I would like to believe that I have a subconscious plot, a plot of which I’m unaware. But I really think that I’m totally plotless. A friend of mine in California suggested that this is merely an indication that I have grown up, reached a plateau in which my focus in life is no longer on the future, but on the present. She also suggested a Zen perspective that it may be that I am happy in that I am finally willingly living in the present. I think she’s right on both counts and I am thoroughly dumbfounded as a result.

I bought a copy of The Big Lebowski on DVD recently. I like that movie and particularly the main character the Dude, played by Jeff Bridges. The Dude is generally a very content person. He only gets rattled by his friend Walter, played by John Goodman. Otherwise, life is good for him, despite his constant unemployment status. When he’s asked by Julianne Moore’s character what he does to enjoy himself, he says, ‘Oh, the usual: I bowl, drive around…’ He’s satisfied with these occupations and requires nothing more. The last line that the Dude says in the movie, though, is the most poignant here. He says, ‘The Dude abides.’ Looking in the Oxford English Dictionary on-line, it says that to abide is to remain in expectation, to wait before proceeding further. When I think back on my youth, I used to be so good at doing nothing and just living in the present. I lost that when I became an adult. I became consumed by the problems caused by my past and looking to the future for happiness. Perhaps now I have finally reached a point where I’m getting that talent back again. Perhaps I’m reaching a point where life is the way I want it to be and I just need to abide, to remain in expectation of the unknown and to wait before proceeding further. Perhaps that’s what I am doing instinctively and am just surprised at myself. The dude abides.