There are times while I’m sitting in a movie theater that I just get angry. I have paid a good eleven or twelve dollars, plus money for a soda and popcorn, and I am now hostage to some writer’s laundry list of cliches.
Really? The guy played by the famous character actor is actually up to no good? The person we thought was dead sat up for one final crazy murderous act? Or the cute duo that can’t stand one another are now the most adorable couple ever? I paid good money for this?
There is the argument that no story is ever really new, that all stories have been told. Whatever. You know what I mean. Cliches suck the life out of a story. They simultaneously reflect everything in what we’ve seen before in fiction and nothing of what we have seen in real life.
My dogs would never be allowed in a story I’d pay to see or read. Sophie is the biggest cliche of all. She is the dog who becomes utterly unglued when either a cat ambles near her or mailman walks his daily route. Not just our mailman. It has become any mailman. She is that dog. The uniform sets her off and it is simply too much for her to handle.
And the cat thing is bonkers. It’s as though her brain goes to the “psycho” setting. And she’s not a psycho dog. She’s usually very reasonable and doesn’t get hyper during play time, opting usually to remain aware of whatever is going on around her. I’d honestly trust her to do my taxes if she knew how to use a calculator. She does not bother me to play fetch with her or demand much attention. She is confident and knows her job in life. But once a cat strolls by, she moves into crazy barky dog in a flash. She’s quicker than Bruce Banner changing into the Hulk or Dr. Jekyll turning into Mr. Hyde. She cannot stop until the culprit is out of sight. And then she’s very happy with herself as she decompresses. Perhaps it was an adrenaline rush – it is the most exciting part of her day.
Rufus has his seen-before doggy issues as well: he needs to go outside and then come back inside before needing to go back outside…and on and on.
They have no idea, of course, that they are being typical dogs. They act how they act because either their nature tells them to, or in the case of Rufus, he has me well-trained.
Perhaps I am the cliche.
This is entirely possible. I am the child of an addict who as an adult lived with and loved another addict for years. I am the former teacher who loved teaching but grew burnt out by administrative absurdity. I am the writer who struggles to find time to write.
Yet I know that this is not my only narrative in life. Like my dogs – whose lives are blissfully simple- my life can be enriched by an ostensibly small action in a moment and can take an unplanned trajectory by making a single decision.
I am now living a life that is far from cliched. I am not lost in some single lady loneliness, not by a long shot. I don’t even know how that idea got started but at one time I bought into it. Now after being in a closed-in world for so many years, my life has blossomed in the most unexpected ways. I get to make and follow my own path and pursue dreams that I had thought I’d left back in the past. I’m not closing myself off to life with another person at all. I’m just saying the offer had better be an improvement on this good thing I have going on.
Unlike hackneyed movies, there is often much more to the picture than the cliche. Just as Sophie is the mailman-bananas dog, she is also the loving big sister who plays with Rufus despite his truly annoying ways. She has shown that she can share her space with him. And he has shown that he can make progress: his early imprints left him scarred but not doomed. He is making progress. But not with the in and out thing. That one’s on me.