The story focuses on Charlie, who is entering his first year of high school, writing letters to an unknown "friend". He confides in this anonymous person with the details of his life including the thoughts he doesn't know how to share with anyone else. In his letters, he discloses the relationships he builds and experiences he has as he finds a place in high school. Charlie forms a relationship with his English teacher, Bill, who sees his potential and begins to challenge him with reading more advanced books and writing essays. One day, Bill and Charlie are talking and Bill asks Charlie if he always thinks so much, to which Charlie replies "Is that a bad thing?" Bill goes on to say "Sometimes people use thought not to participate in life."
Another story that has danced through my mind since I first saw it is the Secret Life of Walter Mitty. I've already written a blog or two about my love for the film, but with it coming out on DVD and its parallel to Perks, I can't help but talk about it yet again. Walter is a daydreamer, through and through. Part of the draw of the movie is the ability to connect with his character's ability to daydream outrageous visions for his life. My daydreams may not include having "Benjamin Button" syndrome, but I certainly find myself daydreaming about different situations in my life. I daydream about having conversations with people, life after college, marriage, travel...you name it, I've probably daydreamed about it. In the movie, Walter is trying to "wink" at a girl on this online dating site, but he has to fill in his profile of "been there", "done that", so he keeps getting phone calls from a guy who works for the site. Walter tells the guy he hasn't really been anywhere noteworthy. His adventures have all been in his head, he hasn't really been participating in life.
At the beginning of his journey, Walter is in Greenland and is forced to make the choice of giving up on his mission or getting in a helicopter with an inebriated Greenlandic man. He is sitting in the bar, letting his opportunity slip away, when he daydreams that Sheryl-the girl of his dreams-showed up and started singing "Space Oddity" to him. In a moment, he makes the quick decision to jump onto the helicopter as it's lifting off the ground. This is the point Walter's life changed. He went from daydreaming his adventure to living it. And just like Charlie faced difficulties after deciding to participate, so does Walter. Only a few minutes after taking this leap into a life of adventure, he jumps into the freezing waters of the Atlantic and is circled by a shark (or so I've gathered, as I've had my eyes closed through this scene all 3 times I've watched).
Fortunately, in both stories, the protagonist continues forward. Charlie's friends work everything out, he gets help for his anxiety, and life returns to normal. Walter pushes on in his mission, adventures through Iceland and Afghanistan, finds what he's looking for and wins the girl in true happily ever after fashion.
So, as I said, I've been thinking.
And there's the problem. I have been thinking and not living. Not participating. My life has been a series of daydreams and "what-ifs", thoughts and wishes instead of opportunities and adventures. Don't get me wrong, I love my life! And I don't think I'm as extreme as either of these characters-that's why they are characters. But I have been sitting back and thinking about how I want things to be, how I want to be, what I want to do, what I want to see. And I haven't been planning and working on how to get there. I haven't sought out opportunities to pour into other people. I use movie nights as a less-than-fulfilling substitute for really, truly spending time with the people I'm surrounded with.
In Walter Mitty, Walter is searching for a film negative that is "the quintessence of life". Though, I'm not sure if that's life with a capital L or not, that is the purpose for the whole movie. On the surface, it's the search for the "quintessence of Life" (as in the magazine). But for Walter, it is the search for the "quintessence of life" (as in general-living, breathing, seeing, feeling life).
Now, with all of this thinking I've been doing, I would have to say the quintessence of life is this: to participate. To think, yes, but to live outside of those thoughts and make life happen, instead of just letting life happening to you.