F is for Fiction

Over Shabbat, I started my first fiction book that I can remember reading in several years, “The Fault in Our Stars.” I usually don’t read fiction, because I have this internal bias that I don’t have as much to gain from fiction as I do from non-fiction. I actually watched the movie, so the whole plot is spoiled for me already, but I decided that it was such a beautiful story, with enough to learn from, that I wanted to read it, despite it being fiction, and having scene the movie, and knowing what will happen in the end.

John Green starts out the book with an Author’s Note, stating the obvious;

The following account is a work of fiction, and it doesn’t help anybody to try to dig for any semblance of facts within the story.

I thought this was interesting, but I didn’t think about it for too long, because I was very eager to start the book. As the narrative progressed, I constantly hoped that different events would play out in the book than what I remembered from the movie (they didn’t). I also kept thinking back to that Author’s Note, and why he chose to put it there. It really does seem stupidly obvious that, yea, this is a work of fiction, obviously it’s made up, obviously he has the right to make up facts as he pleases; its his book, why does he feel the need to make this announcement?

In my quest to find answers, which some might call a YouTube marathon tangent, I came across a video explaining Epicurus’s view on Happiness, and what it takes to achieve it. Unsurprisingly, the first segment of the video is devoted to debunking the myth that consumerism can bring happiness. This is good, but I didn’t reach for the great philosopher Epicurus so that he could tell me the obvious, that consumerism will not bring happiness, I wanted the secret that nobody else knows! As if reading my mind, the video continues,

If you want to achieve true happiness, then you have to focus on these three things, this is the key to success, and true happiness lies within them.

dino-reichmuth-85708As I was gripping the edge of my seat, waiting in anticipation for the answer, the thought came across my mind, “If it was actually this simple, then why isn’t everyone doing it, why isn’t everybody happy?”

The video continued, To reach true happiness, one must focus on having true friends, freedom, and “An Analyzed life,” or meditation; these are the three components to happiness.

Really? This is the secret to Happiness? That’s not a secret at all! Everybody knows that friends, freedom, and meditation are all important to being happy. That’s not helping anybody, that’s just stating the obvious!

It didn’t take long for me to realize that it is helpful for the same reason that John Green’s Authors Note is helpful, because it’s not practiced. Often times, the recipes in life that are most crucial for our success, are also the most obvious, but somehow, because of our unwillingness to state them, we forget that they are there. With his simple Author’s Note, John Green asserts his creative rights for writing a work of fiction, something obvious, yet often times overlooked.

Many times we look at the world and only see a rigid set of laws governing the way that we live. Schooling, religion, and career paths are some of many examples of these rigid structures of laws, but in reality, these are not laws, they are just recipes. Like any recipe, if you follow it to the letter, you can usually end up with something good, but if you want something unique you have to customize the recipe to yourself. The recipes still have to be understood, but once you do understand them, you can play with them however you like. Life is fiction, and you can take it in whichever direction you choose.

In true Peter Van Houtton fashion; it is your life, so

Thanks for reading,

Max

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