Life can’t compete with memories, because memories never have to change.

The title of this post is a lyric from a song I like.

Paraphrased from Alan Watts: From a young age, you are conditioned to act according to a set of expectations, when young Johnny acts like Peter, his parents say, “You are not being true to yourself, that’s Peter you are being, you are Johnny”…the real you and the you everyone expects are two different things.

In a 12 hour drive, one gets to thinking, and I was thinking about identity and perception. It is a mistake to assign narrative to identity. We have seven basic stories that we tend to tell each other. But how would you tell the story of a life? Obituaries describe people by their familial relationships to others, and they make explicit the beginning and the end. Resumes talk about all of the work that was done by someone and all of the times that work was recognized. Facebook is series of things people post that they believe will be interesting to others (though they overestimate how much anyone cares). None of these things would be enough to tell you if you would like the person, even if they would tell you that you would not like the person, you can never know if you will like a person until you meet them.

You meet people and you test them. You see how they react to concepts or stories. You smell some chemicals/hormones, knowing or unknowingly. When you depart the person, you have a feeling that you could force into a category: like, don’t like or don’t care. So you begin to record what you know of the person, and your opinion of the person, and how you think that person thinks of you (maybe if you feel so invested), and how you want to be associated with that person in the future, and the list goes on, probably.

But what of knowledge? When do you know a person? It happens when you might predict/describe their outward behavior in a hypothetical or historical setting. You know someone when you know what they will do. Johnny’s parents, know when Johnny is acting like Peter, and they act to enforce what they know. Where is this in the obituary or Facebook timeline? This is where memories are prisons or at least restraints. You better be who I think you are. Or maybe Johnny is in control of where he places expectations. Maybe he knows how you will react to him not being Johnny. Because you are you, and you react to things predictably. You might know a person by the way they look, move or the cocktail of neuroses they suffer. You know details, descriptors of how a person occupies space and time. Experience is rich with information, and stories aren’t. Good writers chisel out characters in a nuance of physical, mental, or moral details. The goal is some form of familiarity or empathy with the character, and good writers/filmmakers/painters…some type of artists are the best at flushing out how to best tell a story of a person.Though this is record, not reality.There is room somewhere for free will, and stories, no matter how good, don’t give the experience of being someone else. Sure, this is well known. Sure, this is nothing new, but this is unacknowledged in most settings. This is the type of thing you think about on a long drive, and you feel contemplative.

Like a mouse

I’ve watched mice appear at various times. I’ve seen them make short-jerk movements with caution; out from their hiding places, into open spaces. They seem always anxious, nervous, fearful in how they move, but they seem casual in a dumb, animal way. “I have to be careful, but I have to do this every day, so I just deal with it, I can’t be too worried about it, I don’t know, I just do it.” –That’s the mouse.

He also doesn’t really vary in where he goes. There is a swathe of mouse territory that he lives in, and he doesn’t go into another little swathe unless he has a need that cannot be met, or he is under threat.

In this city, I walked around, and I walked down a street that is out of my swathe, and I thought of the mouse. One mouse, or many, or all of them that I have even known. It was the people in the streets, I think. This is how the thought just came. All these people were walking in and out of shops, talking with each other at cafes, running on the paths, all of them casual, this day was not a work day. It was because it was not a work day that I thought of the mouse, mice. I was out walking the city.

I wouldn’t do this on a Monday. On a Monday I go and appear in an open space, because that is what you have to do, you don’t worry about it, you just do it. You scurry from your home to work, and you scurry back.

You know the mice don’t just go for walks. They are always just operating to serve their needs, and their needs aren’t that complicated. They do not have psychology, not, at least, the way that we do.

So why do we draw this parallel, between the scurrying little mouse, and the scurrying little people, and what does it serve?

Maybe to recognize that we have more than the animals. There is something to being a person. There is something more than the scurrying, and the gathering of materials to get through the winter.

There are moments of humanity, and they all of a sudden remind you of what we aren’t. That the extension of that animal need to collect, and to sustain, and to survive is sometimes wrongly channeled in a human context, because we live in abundance. The problem of survival is all but solved. Yet there are people that forget that they can take a walk, that it is free, and it is also more valuable than the most expensive forms of entertainment.

There is an unmistakable difference between a timid mouse in a grassy little hole and person on the train, or in a car, or on foot commuting to work.

Yet the opposite is also true, there is something woefully familiar and identifiable in the mouse. That we are running on fear, that the primary emotion is fear. We don’t just do this or that, we don’t risk even the smallest gesture–like wishing a stranger a good day–because we are afraid something bad will happen. Whether it is a large fear or a small fear. Bravery is not a mousey quality, the word “mousey” is, in fact, nearly the opposite connotation of bravery. No, bravery belongs to the predators. The lions.

Do we have this language right? What do the predators have to fear? They fear not finding enough mice, the mice have the fear of not finding the food, and the fear of encountering the lion…well a cat of some sort. Isn’t bravery overcoming fear? Doesn’t logic dictate that those with the most to fear, then, have the most potential for bravery?

Okay, but there is something besides that, there is something more powerfully true about the mouse and the man. Because, whatever happens, you just do something, and you just keep on living out some routine. That is, if you never bother to take a walk once in a while.

Yet something remains unresolved in this metaphor. Are people more like lions? Is it true that there are lions, and maybe I’m just the mouse?