Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The myriad ways in which life is (and isn't) a story

Let me take a break from the life of a physics grad student, from seven homework assignments and a test to take over nine days (this is day 1, by the by). Let's instead, for the moment, talk about a guy named Eric Show.

You see, aside from writing and World of Warcraft and the physics world, one of the things I like to follow is baseball. And the Braves are just a touch out of first place, so that's good, but I happened upon this article about Eric Show, a name I'd never known before and that I doubt most casual baseball fans like myself know, either. In fact, it may be the only reason people know his name on a national level is because of the hit he gave up to Pete Rose.

Pete Rose is a name more people know. Most people only know that he was the Cincinnati Red and that he bet on baseball. Maybe you know he got banned from baseball for doing so and, in turn, might never be inducted to the Hall of Fame, an honor he'd be otherwise more than deserving of. He was that good.

And it was on September 11, 1985 that Rose was celebrated once again in the annals of baseball history. It was a game against San Diego, and he scored his 4,192nd hit, breaking (what was thought, at the time) Ty Cobb's record for hits by a major leaguer (Cobb actually had 4,181). And Rose hit that ball off of Padre pitcher Eric Show.

The story of Eric Show, which you can read if you like, is one of childhood abuse, of a father living vicariously through his son and making a man who never quite knew what he wanted or how he should be. It's a story about drug abuse and guitars and the phases of the moon.

But is it a story at all? You might say of course it is, but I'd differ in that respect. Writers craft stories, and the odd thing about stories is that everything in them is deliberate on some level. It's put there by the mind of a person, and every detail, no matter how insignificant, has some intended meaning. It can be trivial ("I thought of it on a whim") or it can be deep and insightful.

Does life work that way, too? Perhaps not. The elements don't always add up and come together. Some things just are the way they are. If you were a writer, telling the story of Eric Show, what would your message be? The dangers of a father trying to make his dreams come true through his children? The horrors of drugs and how they affect the mind? Both of these? Something else?

It's tempting to say that we make our own stories as people, and that's what separates us from characters, but I suppose that's the fundamental question: how much do you think Eric Show made his own story? How much of it was made for him? Was he a character, or an author of his own tale? Or is it better to say that he, and all of us, was a little of both?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"Life is artistic in parts, but not as a whole; it's like broken bits of different works of art." -- Chesterton