We all roll our eyes at cliches just before we go off and use one ourselves. One that I hear far too often is “roller coaster”. It’s not so much that I dislike the term, I think it has its place, but it’s so often misused that my eyes roll into my head to the point that it becomes painful.
The jist of the cliche is that there is an up and a down that are diametrically opposed to one another. Usually a high and then a low that are at the extremes. Unlike a real roller coaster, there is not the terrifying climb to the top or the adrenaline rush into the downward oblivion. So there’s that which the cliche tends to miss, but I’ll forgive it. But there is one crucial thing that the real roller coaster has with the cliche that I think keeps this term around, lack of control. When climbing to the top of the roller coaster, all control is forfeit for the rest of the ride. The harnesses go down and then that’s it. Along with this is the element of shock or surprise. What happens next is unknown and part of the thrill is being taken along for the ride and having not the faintest idea of what could happen further down the tracks. These elements make it a good cliche if used right, but 90% of the time it’s just used to describe going up and down through moderate highs and lows.
Bad uses abound because they ignore this last part.
A common use is that college is like a roller coaster.
Sure it has its highs and its low, but that’s just life in general. Really. College has the euphoria of doing well on a test and being a little buzzed on neurotransmitters afterwards and then lows with bad grades or crushing study sessions. There are some highs and some lows, but nothing that isn’t life like, nothing that transcends life. And there is always an element of control involved in the average college day regardless of whether a test is involved. One can study, one can cram, one can make sure everything lines up or one can let things fall apart, never is control divorced from the situation. And let’s be honest, the highs are not that high, the lows are not that low. So you did well on a test, or you failed a test, life actually continues relatively unscathed. And that’s why I hate this use, life goes on pretty much unchanged, the lows are never really existential and the highs are never really the free fall thrill. It’s just good and bad days that does not justify the use of such a dramatic term.
Life is like a roller coaster.
After writing this I banged my head against the wall because of how bad this cliche is. Like college, unless you are the deepest cynical determinist out there, there is still control over events. There are some lows, some deep lows, and some highs, some pretty good highs, but in the grand scheme of things, life is boring. 90% of life is relatively boring when viewed from a god-like perspective. There’s work, more work, some weekend things, sticky children who grow to resent you and then come back into the fold, exercise when New Years comes around and then dies out in Spring when there are more fun things to do than go to the gym, and a lot of TV. It’s like being on a roller coaster where the majority of it is flat with little ups and downs that make you sea sick rather than being a tremendous thrill of a lifetime. Maybe I’m just cynical though. I am. But that’s not the point, life tends to be pretty predictable and under our control and often boring from an external point of view.
What brought this to my attention is what my girlfriend said about me. Being with me is like being on a roller coaster. This is accurate.
I’m bipolar. I have insane highs that have me labeled as severely bipolar and some dangerous lows that have me non functional. I exist as two different people, several more are crammed into the crevices. She’s seen me as profoundly high as not sleeping and writing with so much energy that it seems inhuman, partly because it is inhuman. The lows are me catatonic or crying for no reason or both. One is a free fall that plunges into a low. And there is no control over the situation. When cycling fast, I’ll be one person one day and another the next. Being with me, you’ll never really know who will wake up next to you tomorrow. That’s a roller coaster.
So it has it’s application. Being with a drug addict is like being on a roller coaster as well. There’s the element of surprise and lack of control over the situation. For all its uses though, roller coaster is something that should be left in the trash. Though it accurately describes some things, like almost every cliche out there, this one is used to death to describe situations that are hardly worthy of high drama and tends to just describe every day life to make it seem more dramatic than it actually is.