Every Part of Your Life Is Real

You know how sometimes you find yourself losing patience for something, entirely without warning? Yeah. I’ve lost patience with the phrase “real life.”

It’s an extension of the gripe I had when I was in graduate school, about people referring to academia as “the ivory tower” — as if a job there was somehow not a (hmm, this sounds familiar) a real job. Trust me, universities have just as much in the way of politics and bureaucracy and such things as any other workplace. People in them do work, get paid money . . . just like people do in a corporation or store.

Lately I’ve seen writers talking about how “real life” has distracted them from writing. I’m not just talking about hobbyists (though my point would stand even if I were); I’m talking about professionals, for whom writing is, if not their sole job, at least one they file taxes for. Why is that part of their lives somehow less valid than the rest of it? I hear people saying the same thing when they talk about things in contrast with their hobbies. What exactly is real life, anyway?

I don’t think there’s a single answer. People use the phrase in a lot of different ways, for a lot of different reasons. Work is real life and hobbies aren’t, because work isn’t fun, and we all know (thank you, Puritans) that fun things are of the devil. If work is fun, it becomes not-real. Trouble is real. The things you can’t get away from are real. But all the rest of it . . . that doesn’t count. You have to deprecate it, apologize for devoting energy and attention to it, because it’s a diversion and therefore fake.

I say, screw that. Every part of your life is real. Even the optional parts, and the ones you enjoy. I’m not saying there isn’t any such thing as prioritization; obviously some things demand or deserve more investment from you. But that doesn’t make them more real — just more important. Let’s say what we actually mean, and not something else, that makes people feel like the things they care about are for some reason invalid.

My job and my hobbies, almost everything I do, involves imaginary people and events. But that doesn’t make my life not real.

0 Responses to “Every Part of Your Life Is Real”

  1. metagnat

    I am totally with you, but I have a lot of trouble absorbing this message into my own brain about my own stuff.

  2. starlady38

    Yes, THIS. Life isn’t waiting out there somewhere for us to start living it; it’s all around us, right now.

  3. lindenfoxcub

    Thanks for posting this, I totally agree. I think it’s tragic that we’ve accepted that nothing we do that we enjoy is a legitimate profession – that not enjoying what we do is inevitable and that people have stopped striving towards a life of fulfillment.

    I was over the moon when a friend introduced me to his new girlfriend as “This is Lindsay, she’s a writer.” I’ve never so far made money writing (though I hope to and am working hard towards that end), and this guy has worked with me at my day job in tech support for at least 4 years. And yet, I wasn’t Lindsay from work, I was a writer. It was awesome to know that people around me realize that the writing is really who I am, not the tech support.

  4. aishabintjamil

    I think when a lot of people talk about “real” life, what they really mean is the parts of life that are widely valued by our society. Creative endeavors aren’t. Scholarship isn’t, so that leaves out higher education, both as student and as teacher or support staff.

    There may also be an element of “real” equating to “has immediate consequences if I don’t pay attention to it”. The electric bill is real because if you don’t pay it they will turn off your power. Finishing the novel isn’t because for most of us finishing it this month as opposed to next month doesn’t have a concrete, immediate consequence.

    But I agree – if something in our lives is worth doing at all, it’s real.

    • Marie Brennan

      Oh, god, you just reminded me about the whole segment of my rant I left out! The part where I went off on how this is like Fox News talking about “Real America,” which I am not a part of because I live on the West Coast and don’t make my living from a farm, never mind that only a tiny percentage of Americans do that anymore. Well, maybe I’ll have a sequel rant later.

  5. jenstclair

    Absolutely agree with you! Good rant. 🙂

  6. sandmantv

    I was amazed to see this whole thing didn’t contain a single reference to the internet. Your titles continue to confuse and disappoint me. B-

  7. wshaffer

    I agree 100%. (Except maybe for the part about universities being real, but that’s just because it’s easier for me to cope with my grad school experience if I regard the whole thing as a soap opera authored by Kafka.)

  8. lanerobins

    I also have a hard time considering full time writing a “job”, but that’s a glitch and I know it.

    I think writers, as a whole, may be prone to delineating real life vs written life because “real life” can surprise us with its sudden inconvenience and general disorganization. Written life tends to have an outline. Or at least a reason for chaos and disorder. Because we decree it so! I don’t really hear people, other than writers, mention “IRL” as a descriptor.

    • Marie Brennan

      I hear it with regards to hobbies a lot — even hobbies people pour a lot of time and love into. And it honestly hurts me to hear such things dismissed in that way, even by the people doing them.

  9. mrissa

    One of the things this does is distances people from genuine problems. I’m thinking particularly of “high school” vs. “the real world”: it’s somehow okay to look the other way when kids are leading miserable, stunted, bullied lives if those lives are not real.

    With writers I think it’s more the opposite problem: we’re supposed to be so darn grateful to be published that any genuine issues that arise are considered less “real.” Hell with that.

    • desperance

      Oh, these. Absolutely yes, to both points raised.

    • Marie Brennan

      Oh my god yes on the high school thing. We stick them in this crazy-making little hothouse, then dismiss it when it makes them crazy! It’s a win for everybody. (Except the people who suffer through it. And the rest of us, when they get let loose in “real” society.)

      And yes on the writers thing, too. After all, our jobs are fun. That should be enough, right?

  10. desperance

    Trust me, universities have just as much in the way of politics and bureaucracy and such things as any other workplace.

    Don’t they, though? Granted that I have next to no experience of any other workplace for purposes of comparison, but the universities with which I am acquainted are absolutely sodden with these things.

  11. louisedennis

    Hmm… interesting thought. My first real encounter with the term “real life” was via live-roleplaying long before internet access was common where it was, well, not even straightforwardly descriptive but perjorative (which I can’t spell) in the opposite sense. It tended to get used alongside terms like “mundanes” and more recently “muggles” to describe situations and people outside the game and how they might intrude upon the game in an annoying fashion. I think I’ve tended to reserve it mostly for situations in which there is a distinct imaginary world in which I (or my character) is now doing something because of an intrusion of the real world which they would not otherwise do.

    I don’t think I would ever use it to contrast with socialising on the internet, let alone my day job (I’m an academic) but that may be very much an artefact of context and history. It’s always been important to me (and, especially online, I’ve found it can be remarkably difficult) to maintain clear lines between the real and the imaginary (particularly when interacting with other people) and to make it clear to those other people where those lines exist (otherwise you can have enmities and all sort of other minor issues spilling out of the game) so I think I’ve always found the term “real life” useful in maintaining those boundaries. But since socialising on the internet and my day job are, as you say, real (and if I’m mean to someone online (outside of a character interaction) then I expect to carry the can for that wherever I am) then they exist on the same side of the “real life” boundary as my family and physical socialising etc. etc. I wonder though if I’ve fallen out of step with usage and the old offline roleplaying usage has slipped into this wider terminology where it no longer serves the purpose of separating the player and player’s situation from the character and character’s situation.

    • Marie Brennan

      I know what you mean about IC interactions spilling out into OOC relationships. There are distinct social mechanisms in my gaming groups for helping keep those separate.

      I hear gamers using “real life” not just to differentiate IC from OOC, though, but also to separate the hobby of gaming from other things they do in their lives. And that’s the kind of thing that bugs me. Hobbies should be differentiated from other parts of life, yes — but they’re still real.

  12. la_marquise_de_

    You are spot on with this. I hear myself talking about writing vs ‘real life’, but really what I’d doing is playing into the popular idea that it’s somehow a hobby. I used to get very snippy with people who tried the ‘real life’/’real job’ line on me when I was working in universities: I need to adopt that mode regarding the writing, too.

  13. findabair

    Yes! This. You describe exactly the sort of thinking that leads me to feel that my current admin job is more meaningful than doing linguistics research, because I – and others around me – have this misguided idea that admin is “real life” while research for the sake of research is an indulgence. I hate it when I find myself thinking along those lines. And considering the amount of bureaucratic silliness I have to deal with at the moment, that kind of thinking is patently absurd.

    Oh my. Seems your rant triggered a mini-rant of my own. Guess it’s been that kind of week.

  14. Anonymous

    Right – when we claim something is “realistic” in the context of fiction and media, that claim is always relative, and invisibly linked with dozens of implicit disclaimers. It’s more realistic than this other thing over here, which is even more stylized! It makes us feel like we know these characters, despite our only exposure to several of them being pithy lines of dialogue they utter in a context where their ears would be ringing from firing large caliber guns indoors without hearing protection! Or whatever – there are half a hundred ways in which the conventions of film or prose or video games drive creators to distort even the narrow slice of reality they’ve chosen to depict.And that’s not even talking about ideology, which I hope to get to posting about at some point in the next few days. Assuming my iPhone’s LJ app doesn’t eat my draft again.

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