By the time I entered high school, the grayness and drudgery of society had got its claws in my sense of whimsy. I had a hard cage of cynicism and sarcasm around my tender heart. I enjoyed nothing fully, too worried about being labelled as ‘too much’ for my enthusiasm, my intensity. I had been labelled ‘too much’ before.
Then a miracle occurred in the form of a French tightrope walker.
I found the story of Philippe Petit, a man who broke into the World Trade Center in order to rig a high wire between the towers and perform. I watched the documentary, Man on Wire, then read Petit’s memoir, To Reach The Clouds–and something unlocked in me.
He was just so preposterously arrogant, this man who’d decided to chase his dream 1,360 feet into the air. He was a classic example of ‘too much’. And I found it endearing, and exhilarating, and important.
The story became a talisman for me: go ahead and be intense and enthusiastic, because those things will lead you to greater heights than you can imagine.
“Life should be lived on the edge of life. See every day as a true challenge, and then you live your life on the tightrope.” -Philippe Petit, Man on Wire
I was in first year of university and, for your standard toxic-teenage-friend-group reasons, nearly all my friends had abandoned me. I was in a new environment, more independent than ever before, with little to no support or community. I didn’t know what I wanted–or rather, I did know, deep down, but I was frightened of pursuing it.
Then I read Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist. It’s changed hundreds of thousands of lives, and mine is no exception. I finished reading it, quietly, elatedly, in my tiny dorm room.
I reread it three times.
And then I made like the protagonist Santiago and coaxed my little heart into telling me its wishes and dreams. When they came through, loud and clear, and I committed to granting those wishes, I felt cured of inertia, cleared of ennui. I was in cahoots with myself. That feeling of playful solidarity with my own soul has never left.
“When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” -Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist
Growing up the way I did made me into a young adult who was both socially anxious and highly perfectionist. I wanted to connect with people, but I had no idea how; I wanted to try and make new things, but I worried too much about the product to relish the process.
I had this persistent feeling that I was wasting time or quality or life–and this equally persistent feeling that, in trying to wrestle those things into order, they were escaping me even faster.
I did all kinds of things to remedy this feeling. I took up a daily yoga practice. I watched dozens of TED talks. I absorbed advice from admirable people. Finally I had a long conversation with my wiser self about the issue, and it said:
You know, you should really put this all down on paper somewhere.
So I did. I wrote an epic-length treatise exploring everything I know about embracing change, and shrugging off failure, and smiling into the glorious unknown. And whenever I begin to forget these lessons, I flip to a chapter or a scene and I let my wiser self remind me.
“Sometimes you had to let things go. Sometimes it was okay to leave them unfinished. Leave them for next time.” -Sienna Tristen, The Heretic’s Guide to Homecoming
Stories = Medicine
My whole life has gone like this. The stories I seek out are like layer cakes: lessons stacked on lessons, beautifully-packaged, asking to be devoured. Stories are my mentors, my teachers, my confidants, my therapists. They support me, they nurture me, they show me what is possible.
Consuming art has made me more considerate, more mindful, more confident.
Creating art has made me more patient, more attentive, more resilient.
Stories have given me everything. A language to express myself. A reference to point to. A way to process trauma. A bigger love for life. A smaller fear of death.
“Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life.” -Oscar Wilde, The Decay of Lying
That’s the kind of stuff we’re all searching for, whether we realize it or not. That’s why I dedicate myself to art over and over again, every day–to creating it, to consuming it, to conspiring with it. To meditating on it, and to sharing it as widely and as thoughtfully as I can. That’s why I tell stories. Because there’s healing and growing in the telling.