Bugs and the pencil

The best episodes of Bugs Bunny were always the ones where the cartoonist reached down with his pencil and had this magical, silent power dialogue with Bugs. No matter how outraged, how much he stomped his foot though, Bugs was bound to lose. There’s just no fighting the narrator.
The power of the narrator comes from his ability to shape the character, to create a believable fiction for the audience. We know it’s not true, but the believability of the fiction the narrator creates builds characters we think are real. We weep when they feel loss, we celebrate their triumphs. None of it is real, and still all of it matters to us, the audience.
I have said for a very long time that the self is the attempt to create a believable fiction. We are both the narrator and the audience, and at least for me, much of my mental and emotional life has been devoted to telling a story, building a character that I both believe and that, hopefully, eventually, I can also respect and even admire. I admit my bias toward story as metaphor for life, it’s just in my blood at this point, but as much as I believe anything, I believe this. We are tellers of our own tales, as much Bugs as the enormous pencil.
There’s a terrible and wonderful responsibility to thinking you are the pencil, that you have control over the shape and direction of the character you are creating. I used to take comfort and no small amount of pride in my ability to control the character, to shape the narrative, and to own and control the self. I determined a long time ago that I was going to be a certain kind of man and that’s the man that I became. It was clear, it was intentional, and in many ways, it was successful.
So much of this character, and I can’t emphasize enough here that there is a difference between a character and a facade, was based on answering a series of wrong-headed, but well intentioned questions. I confused self-denial with strength of character, though I might still contend that, to some degree, one frequently begets the other. I eschewed selfishness in relationships and interactions as inherently wrong, and assumed that I would have my needs met if I just met the needs of others. Sometimes this worked, and I think to some degree it may be why I have been so fortunate to have such deep and wonderful friendships. I also managed to write myself into corner after corner with no deus ex machina to lift me from danger, and lacking the ability to reframe the story, to ask new questions, I started to become lost. Unknowingly, I became an unreliable narrator.
There comes a point, and I have reached it, when it becomes obvious that the pencil is not the right tool anymore because it never was. In fact, the pencil was never really there. The pencil, like the narrator, is a myth because, and I think this is the most important part, the pencil has an eraser. The pencil suggests that we can eliminate the pieces of the story we don’t like, that we can just erase the characters that don’t fit, rewrite and redraw the pieces of the story that don’t work anymore. We can’t do this. The writing is indelible, the past not something we can just erase, the self something we cannot simply rewrite to better suit our needs.
Increasingly, I find myself in the role of Bugs. Bugs is not in control. He recognizes the insanity of the self, dodges and weaves and shakes his fist at the narrator, lacks control, is subject to the capricious whims of his own story. Bugs rages at the machine and still finds himself caught within it.
I am not suggesting that who we are is not ours to influence, but I am more and more sure that self isn’t a concept we control as completely as I wished. We are more audience than I am comfortable admitting, more Bugs than narrator.
I think there is some joy to being Bugs. I think there must be, because I also think there’s honesty in being Bugs. Bugs can just be. Bugs knows who he is and rages to be, won’t accept his fate even if he knows he is hopelessly outmatched. Bugs might lose, finally and ultimately, but he rages, and it’s in his rage that he lives.

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