One of the earliest memories I have is from when I was 5 years old, and I told my mother a story about Thomas the Tank Engine going on an adventure all throughout the island in which his television show is set. The event was prefaced with a “Mom, have you ever seen the episode of Thomas the Tank Engine where…” and proceeded along a devilishly lengthy, rambling, incoherent story line with a barely discernible plot of non-canonical characters and holes large enough for the titular character to be completely swallowed up by.
In other words, it was the greatest story I’ve ever told.
Preserving this ability is difficult, and in a world that oftentimes punishes the whistleblower, the loudmouth, the airhead, and even the lowly bard, many children grow up without the support system necessary to nourish their beautiful fabrications. I am eternally grateful for the household I grew up in, with my parents and brother as a constant support structure for my creative self; however, even my loving family and friends couldn’t help but end my often-rambling stories with a “We’re eating dinner now,” or “how long is this gonna go” or even the blunt, abrupt “Shut up.”
I can’t say I’m angry, or that I don’t understand, or even that I wouldn’t do it myself. The stories were long, they were oftentimes entirely boring, and still filled with massive plotholes. Perfect excuse for a simple end to an endless conflict, saving time and sometimes literal money. Sure, there are a whole lot of things known to be wrong with telling people to stop using their voices, but that’s a different subject for another time. I am not writing about that today.
What I am writing about is recovery. How do we rediscover the things that made us tell those stories in such a way in the very first place? How do we view the world in order to return to the days when we were the only true salespeople of our hearts and souls? This, I suppose, is a storyteller’s question.
For a long time, I learned that the only way to compose a story in a way that people will listen to it is on paper. So in middle school I began writing creatively. Almost every day I was attempting to create my big break. “This short story will hit the New York Times Bestsellers by Friday” I would think to myself. It was all about impressing my teachers and blowing their minds, and creating material that would constantly surprise them. However, it’s hard to maintain a level of surprise when one is constantly attending the classes of the surprised. I soon discovered that surprises cannot be maintained, and striving to constantly impress my teachers is not always the strongest method of creation.
High School was a different set of discoveries. Discovering I could use the styles of other writers and artists to influence my own work, as well as building and crafting my own use of tone, style, format, and syntax to craft my own individual voice on the page. However, there was something still missing. I was using all of the tools to be a mature writer, but not necessarily a good storyteller. When I left high school, though, I had two satires under my belt and a portfolio of prose, poetry, and plays to bank on. But still, there was something missing.
In college, writing became one of my main focuses, along with acting and history. I’ve written countless prompts and drafts of stories to be told and explored. I’ve become my own characters, and my peers’ characters onstage and in practice rooms and offices. It’s hard to sum up all the growth I’ve experienced in these past few years, as it is still an ongoing process, that I know has not ended, but truth be told, the process has not concluded the search. The only difference is, I now realize that I am no longer looking for my past.
The truth of the story lies in the present.
Writing is not about the future, impressing my teacher in class on Monday or maturing my sounds to appear older than I am. Telling stories is not about where I want to be in five to ten years, or my thesis in the Spring. Telling stories is about what is happening to me right now, as I sink into this red couch in a bright lounge somewhere in Boston. It’s about scratching my nose and clicking the keys of my laptop, and the way my bare feet are hugging each other because I’m not wearing any shoes, because the bare idea of writing makes me sweat.
The truth of storytelling, both oral and literary, is that nothing else matters, from the moment the teller says “What if” to when they finally say “That’ll do.” And little 5 year old me knew that, but just didn’t know how to express it, and in this time looking back, I can confirm that. Thus, it may be that that Thomas the Tank Engine caper was the greatest story I’ve ever told.
But it is not the greatest story I will ever tell, believe that.