Horoscopes appeal to me because they serve as a convention to measure up against. I can paste parts of myself over a generic personality profile and feel reassured when something lines up. In the absence of classes, grades, and progress reports, astrology has become an evaluation measure.
Television works in a similar way. Most of my favorite shows are an assortment of worst case scenarios unfolding in a soundstage world. The characters are walking flaws that make mistakes so I don’t have to. The other night, I rewatched the first episode of Bojack Horseman, expecting to appreciate how far the characters had come, and how far I’ve come along with them. Instead, I was confronted by how far we hadn’t.
Upon seeing his 90s TV rival happily chatting with people at a party, Bojack Horseman says to Diane, his new ghost writer,
That moment made me laugh. If there were a single GIF that could capture me at 19, I thought to myself, that would be it. Right behind that was an uncomfortable thought. Bojack’s negative aura still fit like an ugly homemade sweater. But of course, how could you expect it not to? All you did was crumple it up in the corner of your closet.
That pesky familiarity rode with me to Bingo Night at a dive bar in my area. A mere five minutes passed before someone told me they were applying to business school at my alma mater.
“Oh, that makes me sad,” I said without missing a beat. (Yeah, I know. Whoops. I could blame it on the alcohol but like I said, it had only been five minutes. It takes the body 30 to process that as a viable excuse.)
I looked up at the ceiling after putting my foot in my mouth. Like I’m in that weird echoing part of Grand Central, looking for the secret to a phenomenon.
When I looked back down, he began reciting his resume. It intrigued me because it sounded a lot like mine. Another template to follow. Creative Writing, then copywriting. Returning to school for a graduate degree. “Yeah, I tried to make that whole writing thing work. All I can say is good luck.”
Maybe it sounded familiar because I wanted it to. A small, sensible part of me wants something to point and say, “See??? Don’t even think about it. What’s the point?”
But a larger part of me relishes in bad decisions, my own included. Aloud, I thanked him for his perspective. “Good to have a healthy dose of reality.” In my head, I said, what does he know? He lost me at B-school.
It sounded a lot like, He’s so stupid he doesn’t realize how miserable he’s going to be.
He might have said the same to me. But beyond our resumés, we didn’t have much in common. So I doubt he watches Bojack Horseman, and certainly not enough to quote it.
I’ll confess another reason I had for rewatching the beginnings of Bojack. At the end of four seasons, we had a very detailed portrait of Bojack’s family and early life. I wanted to see how much of it lined up with the little we were given back in season 1. Part of me wanted there to be a discrepancy or a thread to pull. See, look. This show isn’t perfect. There’s no way it can viciously and accurately read me season after season.
But of course, it was airtight. Everything looks so familiar because it is. Bitterness. Uncertainty. Insecurity. It all looks the same at 19 as it does 22 as it does 28 as it does 53. And bingo looks the same in a dive bar as it does at a church-rented gym. Everyone is looking for the same thing: approval. Proof of their existence, served in one form of many: winning, chatting, drinking, yelling.
Leading me to conclude that there’s no template to follow. No matter what path you take, you may still end up in the place. So, is it hopeless?
I think not. Because that priceless, nameless thing you’re looking for isn’t a destination. Happiness, success, self-fulfillment, respect. Whatever it is, you can’t chase it. You stitch it together, using what you’ve already got. Yes, there are patterns to follow and people who have perfected them. But it’ll never turn out the same way when you try it.
And that’s okay. Wear it anyway. With all its flaws, faux pas, and loose threads. Because no matter where you end up in life, you’ll never afford a version better than the one you made yourself.