I still remember my first stories. Not every detail, not at all. But I remember that they happened, the circumstances, and how it felt to tell them, and that is the important part. I was quite young, seven or so. I had already dropped out of school, thanks to my perceptive and supportive parents, and together we were getting the hang of this home-schooling thing as best we could.
Thanks to whatever had happened to my soul in the few months i was in first grade at St. Casimir’s, I was no longer the little steamroller who had been my mother’s joy for the first half decade of my life. Now, when I wasn’t sulking or staring sullenly into space, I was a mopey child who had little interest in anything. My mother held out hope that her “happy little guy” would return, and soldiered on establishing routines that worked for us. We did math games, I learned to tie my shoes while holding my breath with my eyes closed, and she read book after book after book to me. And one day I began to tell her stories.
They are, in my memory, silly childish tales. But that was appropriate, since I was a child, whose rightful mode was silliness. Through the stories I spun out for my patient audience of one, I began to reclaim the innate confidence and openness that I had seemingly lost so completely in my collision with the standard institutional education model. And as she helped me to write them down, word by word, in my spiral-bound notebook, my pencil hand was strong and steady. It may have been no more than a plodding litany of Masters of the Universe characters coupled with assorted action words, but I was exhilarated. Writing my stories was a laborious process, but the reward was so very worth the effort.
Almost three decades later, I am realizing I have a dire need to return to that epiphanic experience of un-self-conscious storytelling. I have poured out a LOT of words in those years, many of them with great energy and excitement, but many more with agonizing hesitation and paralyzing self-doubt. But I have struggled past those obstacles, because I must. I have to write. No, I won’t die if I do not put words in a line upon a page. But I will be less alive, less myself, and that, to me, is probably a more crucial pitfall to avoid than simple mundane expiration, which I know is coming sooner rather than later anyway.
I have a lot on my plate these days, which makes it very very easy to put idle free-writing way, way, way back on the rearmost burner. But if I want to live authentically and fully, I can’t do that, no matter how many pressures and burdens I may have—or imagine that I have—to deal with day in and day out. Even as I fulfill my endless duties as husband, father, and citizen, even as I try to open my brain wide enough to capture the flow of information that gushes at me every day in my graduate school classes, even as I struggle to understand what sort of person I really am—throughout all of this, I need daily to pick up my pen and tell my stories. It is only through prose that I am going to get to know myself; my deep down self that nobody sees, not even me. And it is only through daily practice (in every sense, including the Buddhist one) that I am going to maintain my balance and flow, and find my way to living as I am truly meant to live: whole, entire, and fully integrated.
I need to write my way to my truest self. But more than all of that, I need to write because I write. It is, truly, an end in itself, not just a means to reach a goal. I have a great and growing list of goals, at all altitudes of life, and I certainly hope I can address even a third of them in the time that is left to me, however long that is. But if I can only do one thing, then it must be to be whole, to be creative, and to live every day as a man of words.
And so this month of October I am going to try very, very hard to make something of a beginning again. I cannot guarantee anything, but I know with great certainty that nothing is going to be mended in my life through continued stasis.