December 14, 2015

The Boy Who Lived On A Boat

boat

I went to Amsterdam this weekend and stayed on a boat for three days for a friend’s surprise birthday. It was quite rocky and took some getting used to; even now I feel like the ground is swaying slightly. It’s an odd experience moving slightly from side to side whilst standing upright in the shower. Or lying in bed and seeing the squiggly landscape bob up and down through a small circular window. Relaxing too. Even though the air was hot inside the boat and the waves slapped against the bedrooms walls.

It reminded me of a story – with a nice moral to it. I haven’t written for a few days, so my fingers are itching.

***

There was this guy at University called “Captain”. Well, that was his nickname because he said he used to live on a ship. In a small room in our block of flats, everyone was meeting people for the first time. Everyone had their own unique background, and unique sense of emotional baggage. Not in a bad way; but you can already tell quite a lot about someone by the way they introduce themselves. We were all total strangers. It’s interesting to see the bits people select out of a backlog of experiences to present themselves for the first time. The bits they choose to share, to say “this is me.”

He was a bit older than the rest of us, he’d just come out of the Army, and he was in a long term relationship with a woman 25 years older than him.

The next evening, we were all in a circle on sofas playing “Never Have I Ever.” We were First Year’s.

Captain had done everything. Any time anyone shared a story, he had a better one. Any time he was in the pub, all eyes and ears were immediately on his weird and wonderful anecdote about life on the ship. The rest of us hadn’t really done anything yet. Every time anyone mentioned anything, no matter how niche, Captain had done it too – but always bigger and always better. Yes he’d skinny dipped on remote islands. Yes he’d seen sharks circulating him after too many beers. Yes he’d had a lucky escape with a dangerous sea creature. Yes he’d had to steer the ship through the worst storms he’d ever seen.

On one warm afternoon in August of our second year, we were sat outside drinking – it was the last day before we all went home for the Summer break. He was swaying with drunkenness and I jovially elbowed him in the side: “Is there anything you haven’t done!” I laughed.

He smiled but it faded quickly and he got up to inside the pub, ordering more drinks.

Later on, I got up to leave and I found him stumbling around the back of the pub trying to light a cigarette.

“You OK?”

He mumbled something.

“Huh?” I couldn’t hear him.

“I never lived on a ship.”

“What?”

“I never did.”

“But you’re name is Captain!”

“I’m a lie.”

“What do you mean?”

“Someone told me that you can reinvent yourself at University…..”

“….”

“I’ve gone too far haven’t I.”

“…..”

“I’m sorry.”

“So where do you live?”

“In Oxford. In a house.”

“I don’t get it. All those boat stories?”

“I didn’t think I was interesting enough.”

***

I remembered this episode recently when I overheard a young girl say to her friend “I love social media. I feel like I can be whoever I want to be!” It reminded me of Captain and his fake persona. Although his case is extreme, watered down, it’s scary how easy it could be to pretend to be someone else. It sometimes feels as though a lot of people on social media around me is trying to shout the loudest. Get the most Likes. Constantly sharing hyped up stories. Click-baiting their lives instead of just telling their story. But wacky doesn’t immediately make you interesting. I was more interested in Captain in that vulnerable moment round the back of the pub. A glimpse of his real self.

His freedom of rocking up at University and no one knowing his past. His anxiety over being boring. His longing to be noticed. That’s what we all want isn’t it: a big personality, with big stories! An instant nickname! The social magnet!

We can be whoever we want to be on social media. But the point is: we must choose not to hype up our own lives. We must choose to be aware of the stories we spin. You could easily navigate away from the truth if you’re longing for Likes.

It’s not our crazy stories that make us who we are. Whether they are lies or real. You don’t get brownie points by your HUGE MAD anecdotes. You don’t automatically win by being the Most Interesting One in the group. Your life is not a series of a headlines. Your life does not have to be an action movie. You might not be able to constantly win people over at a dinner parties with stories of shark wrestles, but over time, you realise your dull days are just as important as the Big Stories that can silence a room.

 

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