I recently made a mistake, one that I have been making since I was very young. Someone asked me about the book I am currently reading. Was I enjoying it? And what was it about?
By way of answer, I started to provide the basic plot of the book. Afterward, I mentally berated myself for making the basic mistake of conflating the plot — what happens — with what it is about. The point.
But then I started to realize that in my life, I often do the same thing. There is the everyday plot of my life: I got up, had breakfast, went to work, etc. These are the things that happen over the course of the days, weeks, and years of my life.
However, these events are not what my life is about.
It is true, of course, that the two can be related. In a novel, the plot can help to highlight the point of the book. It can be used, along with characterization, symbolism, and other writers tricks — to illuminate the purpose. But they are certainly not the same thing.
Related: Listen to an episode of the Intellectual Roundtable Podcast, where Lee and Michael discuss this question: ‘How do you define success?’ We discuss another question as well, ‘Is happiness the most important purpose in life?’
During the weekly meetings Michael and I have to discuss our lives and come up with the week’s questions for Intellectual Roundtable, too often I fall back on the plot of my life during our conversation. I did this thing. An event happened to me. I went here, read this, talked to so-and-so. It is an easy shorthand, to summarize the week that was.
Which, then, raises the question: What is your life about? How often do you think about the meaning, the purpose, the larger picture, of the book you are currently reading. Or, indeed, of your own life?