The Bookend Theory of Life

I got some bad news recently. A few pieces of bad news actually, some bigger than others, but bad news nonetheless. None of it affects me directly, although it still hurts. You don’t need to be at ground zero to feel it when a bomb goes off, but at least you’re not at ground zero. That’s something.

Then I wake up this morning to this. There were riots in Tottenham last night after a peaceful protest went horribly wrong. I won’t get into that now, as no-one knows how the riot actually got started, but I’ll have vitriol to spare when the facts come out. All I know for the moment is that some scumbags perverted a community action and wounded that community terribly. I just hope everyone comes through it OK. Take Tottenham, last night, add market craziness on Friday, drought in Kenya, and a genuine certified vile racist psychopath in Norway and you could be forgiven for saying that, in the grand scheme of things, it’s been a rough few weeks.

I know, I know, third paragraph and still no point. Here it is.

You’re still here.

You’re reading this, which means you’re alive. Which means you have choices. It means you can make a difference.

I used to be a little more pessimistic than I am now. A few family deaths in a short space of time had me in a mental place that wasn’t so great. I began to think of life as just a blip in history, that odd period of time you have between two other, far larger periods of non-existance.

I was right. But that’s a good thing. Not to labour the metaphor, but those two big, ugly periods of time when you’re not here are just bookends. They’re big and they’re heavy and sometimes they’re so ornate and striking that they take your attention away from the books they’re holding up. The adventure stories. The love stories. The horror stories and the childhood favourites. The facts, the figures, the images, the words, the characters and the whole wide worlds. Sometimes we’re so busy staring at the bookends that we’re not looking at the books.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against bookends. Some of them are awesome. And they’re important, too. Without them, well, the books would fall over and things would be a bit of a mess. But in the end, all they should do is draw attention to the masterpiece in between them.

Maybe it’s my affectation of thinking of the world as literature that makes me see things this way. I can’t help it. It can be a help and a hindrance. What it does make me believe in though, is the importance of creation. Not the capital-C Creation, but the act. Making something, from an object to a decision, writing your own story. It’s easy to get swept up in all the lines you didn’t write, especially when they appear in a big, ugly typeface. (I’m really murdering this metaphor now, and it’s only going to get worse.)

A lot of our lives are already written for us. Some plot twists come out of nowhere, like droughts or riots or the reduction of the world’s biggest economy to an AA+ credit rating in the world banking system, causing global chaos and a financial ripple effect. There are a lot of things – some wonderful and some not – that we simply can’t control, and that’s what makes the choices we can make so important. When half the book is written for you, you need to have as much control as you can over the other half. I want my own personal bookshelf to be the kind of thing you pick from on a rainy day to make yourself feel better. To be something I wouldn’t worry about putting up in my son’s bedroom. I want it to be happy and hopeful, and fun and exciting. So far I’ve been lucky, it’s been a great read. I just got an adorable sidekick and the love interest showed up not too long ago. And I’m not even half way through.

Here’s to happy endings.


4 responses to “The Bookend Theory of Life

  1. That is a fantastic way of looking at things. I’m putting the computer down, and starting work on one of the ideas I’ve had kicking about. Not tomorrow, right now. I’ve had too many tomorrows that haven’t come.

  2. I think the important thing to remember here is that Han shot first.

    No, wait, seriously, the stories we tell are important (there’s a great article at about this in relation to Obama). On the one hand we get the stories we deserve. On the other, how hard do we try to tell new ones?

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