Beginning to sit again

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.

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