In a little city, on a little street, was a little house. Inside the little house, a little family had a little boy. The boy lived in a little room with his little brother, and went to a little school with a whole bunch of other little kids. None of this was noticed by the little boy, mostly because his imagination was so big.
As this little boy moved through his little life, little pieces of it began to fall apart in ways that he knew little about. He was often a little unsettled. These little pieces sometimes distanced him from the people around him. So he spent a lot of time not knowing what to make of his little self, alone with his big imagination.
It’s a truly remarkable thing about children, this unbounded innocence of their imaginations. It allows them to create worlds stretching far beyond what older generations have access to. These worlds have a warmth of realism and their little creators are fluid in their ability to co-habitate them alongside the more right angled, objective world that we so often live in as adults.
This little boy was no exception, and spent much time creating expansive worlds in his mind, filled with all manner of characters, fantastical places, daring deeds, and stories which wove them all together. Everywhere he went, the things around him had a life of their own, their own story. The little rock that he kicked down his little street came from a family of rocks, and was now on a journey with the little boy to see a bigger world – adventure called the rock and it simply had to go. The little forest that the little boy rode bikes through with his other little friends contained magic and mystery, robbers and heroes at every turn that were acted and reenacted in endless ways. The stuffed animals on his bed each had a backstory of their own and a network of intricate relationships between them. Castles coexisted beside space stations on the lego table; world upon world, stories upon stories… everywhere.
With the little boy being so often by his little self, a little distanced, he was also often a little sad. He began to tell himself stories from that big imagination, stories about himself that took shape through time and grew and moved and became ever wider in their detail. Some of these stories were grand visions of what would be, others were harsh judgments on why he was who he was. Since he didn’t know any different, neither seemed good or bad to the little boy, but they were all painted in the bright colors of childhood hue, with messy edges and distorted perspectives.
The little boy became a bigger boy, and as a bigger boy the bigger world became more complex. Bigger pieces were falling out of place in it, and the bigger boy didn’t have anyone to explain why. Sometimes those pieces hurt him, and sometimes those pieces that hurt were thrown at him on purpose. And other times, things were ok. Sometimes they were close to being good. But there were always stories being told, woven by the little boy’s imagination, of why things were the way they were. The titles of these stories don’t bear repeating, and I’ll leave them for the reader to surmise for they are the usual suspects. They began to fill the shelves in the little boy’s soul, lining the ever developing space of his psyche.
This, I’m sure, is not a unique phenomenon to this specific little boy. If you’ll permit a brief intrusion from the narrator here, I can explain. Sometimes in moments of my own introspection, I can become aware of my own shelves and marvel at how they have grown. Shelves of endless volumes stretching into the shadows of my soul. If I’m honest, as I look to those farthest reaches, it becomes… disconcerting… to wonder what is still in those depths. Many of these I know to be some of my most ancient tales, and some of them were put there before we measured time. Yet, some of my most valuable personal journeys have been in stepping down those darker corridors to re-discover what I had come to forget was there. In doing this, there is a certain rite of sacred awe in reading those old tombs, written sometimes in a childish scrawl and at other times a primordial script. The experience certainly snaps one out of the trivialities of our more regular, daily lives. But I digress, the voice of an old man spinning the wistful tales of old reflections.
Life went on as life tends to do, with the little boy always getting a little bigger. He learned to write his stories down, the ink of his imagination flowing through the pen of the objective world. The scintillating web of adventure and dashing exploits which would play in his head found firm homes in letters on the page. In them, he was always the central protagonist, whether he made this point explicit to his audience or not. In one, he was the field captain of a planetary expedition force, battling alien swarms to bring peace to the universe and protection to its colonists. In another, he was a misunderstood computer hacker, a modern day Robin Hood stealing to bring down a system that only served the powerful. Others still were a little more… real. He would re-write the events of his day, editing out those that did not serve, or were just plainly painful, replacing them with any number of options like a lived choose-your-own-adventure.
As his stories became shared and known, the little boy, little by little, gained notoriety. Those around him were interested in what he was writing, absorbed in the words he wove. The little boy saw this eagerness in those around him, and began to write for them. His words became ever so crafted for their consumption. The stories he told his parents went one way, those he told his teachers were colored just a little differently. He had an entirely different set for his classmates, and a darker set still that he kept just to himself.
One day, the time came for the little boy to make a decision. He had outgrown the little school that he had spent his little life at so far. It was time to go to a bigger school. He had the choice of going where everyone else was, or to some place totally new. Being a little distanced, and having told so many stories that were just a little bit not about him; the little boy felt a little lonely in all the mistakes that the people around him had read. So he went to the new school in the hopes of writing new, fresh, and truer stories.
The reader can probably already extrapolate where the little boy ended up in his venture for a new, more authentic beginning. Like so many of us who have tried to erase the proverbial slate, it didn’t quite come clean. Far from it. It takes us several of these new beginnings, sometimes taken in journeys to far off places or experiences of diametric diversity, to really grasp that we must begin at home first. Or, stated from a place of darker platitude, that we cannot run from ourselves. The voice in which we write our tales in rarely changes, and we so often fall back into using the same devices, themes, and metaphors to craft these new beginnings.
Even still, arriving in his new school, the little boy found that that his reputation had arrived before him. Through his stories already told, even the ones that lingered in his own self, he had made it impossible to be totally anonymous. It took some time for him to find acceptance in this, as it really was his first experience in trying to forge a new identity by leaving an old one behind. Regardless, he did find that due to his previous notoriety from his written word that his new friends came with imposing expectations and his new teachers with lofty prejudices. This made the little boy’s life both easier and harder. Easier in that climbing the social ladder became an unhindered act; harder in that the little distances that were put between him and the authentic connections he craved became wider, even if it was just inch by inch, story by story.
For the little boy, life continued in this little cycle for quite some time. A move into something a little new to replace what was getting a little much, with the fresh eventually spoiling itself into the not-so-fresh. If you were to spread all of the picture book pages of the little boy’s life in front of you, you would see the bind of this expression of his soul energy replay itself in many arenas, across many eras. Like a chessboard, the pieces would change, the configurations be reorganized, but the same essential features would play out, the familiar endgame arising from the similar opening gambits and translated midgame tactics. Blind to their own lack of creative genius, players of these rote games often find themselves angrily claiming that they are different, special, and novel; even in the face of their losing feedback and evidence from outside observers.
Like many others, but in a totally unique way, it wasn’t until this cycle disintegrated the little boy into existential crisis that he found the footing out of it. The stories that the boy told himself and others exhausted him in ways that nipped like a million hungry goldfish on his subtle edges. It was in the despair of this condition that he found the receptivity to discern the changes of play his emerging life required of him. A wider view of the chessboard, developing love for his opponents, and replacing a need to win with a distilled thrill of the game were central planks to this new way. By taking the time to remove his hard focused eyes off the ground and the path ahead, he was able to look to the sky. In doing so, the little boy was able to feel the connection of his path in the ground to the heavens above; able to feel the loving wind of the Divine as it lightly danced off everything around him. The kosmic goldfish started swimming with him, instead of nipping at him. His steps started to become lighter.
It was in this awakening that the little boy found experiences which more truly served, having them step out of the intricate woodwork of his life at what could only be described as opportune times. It is said that the twin sisters of Serendipity and Syncronicity shower their affections on those travelers who both look to their forms in the heavens while retaining the sense to watch for their dancing, starlit shadows on their path ahead. It was precisely in doing so, reflectively walking the city streets by the light of an evening moon that the little boy walked squarely into a telephone pole.
After yelping out a tapestry of curse words, and rubbing the newly forming bump on his forehead, the little boy saw the sign stapled neatly to the pole. He stared at it for several long moments, slowly letting the content sink in. It was for an event, a happening, a long thing of deep import. “The Grand Experience”, the title said, blazoned in a large neon circus script. “A Time of Your Life Designed to Change Your Life”, the poster went on to promise. The little boy devoured the details in rapt curiosity. Only a few would have the opportunity to attend, the selection was to be made by “a panel of Eminent Persons”. And, it was to happen promptly after dawn the next day. The little boy paused only as long it took to make note of the details before scurrying home.
That night the little boy found sleep elusive, but he was blanketed in a calm confidence, held securely by the alignment he felt to The Grand Experience. He wondered about the panel, about the others who would be selected to take part. He realized that he knew only a very little about what the Experience was to look like, even if it seemed like it would last quite some time and be of quite some intensity. It was in the midst of these circular wonderings that he fell asleep.
Morning came with birds singing their melodic chorus through the window. The little boy sprang from his little bed, had a little breakfast, and scrambled out of his little house. There was little time to spare. He ran all the way to the Town Auditorium, where the selection for The Grand Experience was to take place. He gave his name and his particulars to the kindly folks at the door, was given a number, and ushered inside and off to the left. He found himself in a waiting room, being told to do exactly that. He sat down against the wall in a row of chairs that was provided and got his bearings. There were several other little children there, all with the call of The Grand Experience dancing in their eyes. Every few minutes, one by one, they were called through a door. Once gone, they never returned.
The door opened, and the boy’s name was called. Walking through it, and down a little passageway, he found himself in the middle of a large, floodlit stage, in front of a microphone. A short distance away, a number of Eminent Persons were sitting on a raised dais covered in white linen, and all intently facing the stage. They were older than the boy, some of them grey, but they were all kindly, too. The little boy could tell: they knew The Grand Experience.
“Hello,” one of the Eminent Persons said, warmly.
“Hello.” said the little boy with a slight stutter, hearing his voice echo through speakers around the dark, empty, auditorium.
“Tell us a story about yourself.” said another of the Eminent Persons on the panel.
The little boy went silent, thoughtful. He fidgeted a little as he looked up at the blinding floodlights, and then back at the panel. He thought of all the stories he had told, and the path which had brought him to this moment, on this stage, in front of this microphone. The vast space of the auditorium was thick with presence, immersed in a silence that was total.
Then, a little boy’s voice, resolute and reaching every corner:
“I am not my stories.”