Ten years ago, I was sitting in a bar in Las Vegas, drinking a vodka & ginger ale, when a friend asked me how I managed to have so many crazy life experiences at the tender age of 23.
I grinned and said: “when I look out at my personal horizon, and the choices I can make, I think to myself: what’s going to make a better story later? and then I do that.”
I’ve made decisions for lots of other reasons, mind you, including money and love, but somehow “this’ll be a great chapter in my autobiography” or, morbidly, “this’ll be a great first line to my obituary” tumbles through my brain as I craft my personal narrative by living the best story I can make.
As a teenager and in my 20s, this manifested some very wild experiences:
Drug trips at pagan festivals in forests in Western New York. Threesomes with beautiful people. Dating a man 18 years my senior who taught me so much about being treated well and what being take care of can look like. Saying yes to a boy who asked me to move across the country with him. Moving to Los Angeles with $600 to my name. Moving to Las Vegas with $72 to my name. Moving back to Los Angeles to work in financial investments after 3 years of dubstep and late nights gambling and partying in Las Vegas. Having a fling with a handsome Greek boy who treated me like a princess. Going to Burning Man. Moving at least once a year. Wearing my heart on my sleeve. Picking up a camera. Falling in love. Polyamory & ethical monogamy. Getting tattoos. Giving speeches. Working on political campaigns. Showing up at festivals and conferences without a pre-planned place to sleep, knowing I’d figure it out when I got there. Living out of a car with two parrots. Following a band around the country. Selling drugs. Playing blackjack and poker with celebrities. Working in sex-work adjacent spaces. Staying up for three days straight. Flying to foreign countries. Quitting my job to be self employed. Quitting my job to go work for a tiny startup. Quitting my job to start a company with my partner. Driving across the country for three months, putting nearly 10,000 miles on my car. Finding my comfort zone being out of my comfort zone.
These are all stories I’ll likely elaborate on further - I lived them because I wanted to, but also because I knew someday I’d want to populate a blog or a book with the experiences.
Years ago I had a blog (that is still up) called Taste it Twice. It came from an Anais Nin quote:
“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.”
I’ve always lived in multiple timelines simultaneously. Now!Avens living the experience, also taking notes for Future!Avens, looking forward to see how it looks reflected back.
It’s been a decade since that particular conversation, and I sat in a bar with another friend recently, thinking about whether or not I still “choose the better story” at 33.
I used to move constantly, now I’ve lived in the same home for nearly 3 years, with my partner, Judd, in a house he’s owned for 15 years. We plan to stay.
I used to love the feeling of a new lovers’ lips trembling the first time they touch mine. Now I’ve had the same primary lover for nearly nine years, and he’s the only man I’ve been with in the last three.
I used to be much more reckless, much more willing to shift gears and change everything I was doing to chase a new direction. I loved it and I was good at it.
Yet I love where I am now too.
Certain types of short stories are in my past, and they’ve led me where I am: Writing the long story.
In 2015, Judd and I took a break from our relationship to work on ourselves. I opted to date someone else during that time, and I remember having my moment of “I’m dating this hot guy I met at Burning Man who also has wild crazy stories! I could try to tough it out and make it work with someone I was with for 3 years, but I think this is the better story!”
It was a cool story, I won’t deny it. The relationship ended, but it was a wonderful and awesome adventure while it lasted. I got some great stories from that experience too.
But in 2016, Judd and I talked, and we decided we wanted to get back together. Not just casually. Not just falling accidentally into a relationship the way we had before. We wanted to build something together. We wanted to make a deliberate choice to be together and make it work. Not just because we are in love, but because this is a bigger, more epic story. It’s a long story. It’s a story that requires more than just one person chasing the shiniest thing to the next adventure.
It requires holding hands, and sometimes carrying one another, and supporting each other, and lighting the way, and planning the route, and keeping each other motivated and focused. It’s the story of the arc of a life. Of two. And of those they can create together.
I still live my life thinking “what will make the better story?” but I’m acutely aware that the stories are both short and long, and I should be mindful of each in its proper context. I still look for the “better story” short term option in many ways (sometimes it’s choosing to walk instead of taking the Uber/Lyft because the route is scenic) - but I also realize the better story is sometimes staying the course so the bigger story can come to fruition.
I have shared “choose the better story” as advice to countless friends and strangers. It has other implications I haven’t thoroughly dived into here - such as when reflecting on a choice as “will I want to tell this story later?” I’ve kept myself from making some harmful decisions because I can see shame or hurt in my willingness to want to share it, which has protected me from bad people and danger.
I stand by it: choose the better story. With one qualification, that I’ve honored most of my life and hadn’t articulated beside it:
Your life is a series of events and actions and experiences, but they make up YOU. Your story is full of short term stories and long term stories - and sometimes you need to reassess what long term story you’re working on (goodness knows I’ve reassessed my long-term career story a few times), but don’t forget to honor your long story, and choose the short stories that reflect or support the long story along the way.
There are short stories and long stories, and your life is made up of both. Choose YOUR best stories. For your narrative. For your arc. For your life.
You don’t have to write about it, but someone might someday. Make it something you’ll be proud of.