Weeks go by smoothly, orchestrated by normal routine. Plans pay off hitchlessly. Murphy’s Law, once respected as harsh reality, takes on the seeming of dark-humored mythology.
Times like these put me on my guard.
In times like these, in disbelief and half amazed, I admire the tenuously-balanced system of my existence—of society’s complex web, of the unlikely miracle of life itself, of universal physics and all its mind-blowing implications and unknowns—and murmur like Bernadette Peters in The Jerk as she peels away Steve Martin’s beauty mask: “This shit really works!”
Do you ever start to worry when you’ve been feeling comfortable, maybe even downright happy, for an extended period of time? Ever get superstitious about your own life? Maybe it’s just me. It’s at times like these when Act II’s hungry, predatory shadow circles the fat-rodent-riddled Act I meadow of my mind.
Something’s gotta give.
In conventional story structure, the catalyst lurks between Act I and Act II, triggering the protagonist’s next move into conflict-laden times ahead. This catalyst is the inciting incident that breaks the main character’s sense of normalcy, for better or worse. In real life, the notion of this permeable boundary between all-is-well-Act I into the rising-stakes-Act II is prime fodder for anxiety.
Have you ever experienced an ominous sense of impending entropy? Ever felt like forces of chaos and disorder were leaning in just a liiiiittle too close?
Conflict shall arise in some form, as inevitable as death and taxes. And unlike a typical movie, with its singular A-plot and neatly-integrated subplots, real life sometimes bears multiple simultaneous conflicts of A-plot status. Competing calls to action. A potential legion of antagonists.
From Act I’s halcyon standpoint, the suspense is killer.
Where routine had once established itself without blemish, where carefully planned systems once operated smoothly—suddenly, the routine cannot hold. The system does not suffice. Neither is enough to keep chaos at bay. Cannot forego entropy. Cannot block the froth-mouthed Act II wolf from entering Act I’s placid, self-satisfied throne room.
As Steve Martin circa ’79 might advise, stay away from the cans.
When next my tidy little system shows its limits—when my halcyon days are upset by the next inciting incident of life’s complex narrative—I wonder: what sort of protagonist will I prove to be?