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Monday, May 6, 2013

The Coming Crisis in Personal Anecdotes

The other night I told the following story to Catherine and Drew; "I grew strawberries when Catherine was little, but she wouldn't touch them because she said they weren't fit to eat.  I said, 'Of course they're fit to eat, just look at the size of the snails on them!'"  Drew laughed, and Catherine said, "Good story.  You haven't told that one in a while."

This points out what I call the Anecdote Crisis, a situation more and more of us face as we enter middle age.  (I'm about fifty-four, so if I'm middle-aged, I should live to be one hundred and eight.)  Essentially, the problem is this, during our twenties and thirties is our peak anecdote-generation period, a time when interesting, comical, and ironic things occur at the greatest frequency.  Around age forty, as we establish routines and our lives become predictable and dull, the production of worthy anecdote material drops off sharply.  The pinch comes because it is precisely at this age we need anecdotes the most, to prove in effect, that though we may be stale and uninteresting now, our lives were once, if not fascinating, at least of passing interest to someone.

By the time we reach fifty, our store of anecdotes has been entirely depleted, and we are reduced to repeating stories to people who have already heard them or telling pointless and uninteresting events as if anyone gave a damn - such as telling a slack-jawed audience that you sometimes have oatmeal with raisins, and sometimes blueberries, if you have any blueberries on hand, but sometimes just with sweetener and butter, but a lot of times you don't bother with oatmeal at all, because it just takes too much time, so you just eat yogurt.

Fortunately, however, there is a third way, which spares you from either recounting banal experiences in excruciating detail or telling for the umpteenth time your favorite anecdote from your paltry store of personal experience: that is to just make stuff up.  Imagine the look of amazement on the faces of your friends and family when you reveal you and Paul McCartney shared a doobie in Cancun or the never-before-told revelation that aliens abducted you and took you to the planet Kloon where they needed your help programming their DVRs and where you mated with several of their females.

Making stuff up will ensure that your conversation remains lively and unpredictable, and that people will no longer shun you because you've told the same story two thousand times.  They will shun you for other reasons entirely.

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