ALCHEMY OF WORDS
ALCHEMY OF WORDS
Your life becomes the shape of the days you inhabit.
To a Foodie, you are what you eat. Buddhists say you are what you think. And for Fashionistas, you are what you wear. To me, you are the stories you tell. The stories you watch, the stories you read, the stories you live.
If this is true, then if I watch too many movies, or read too many books, or if I'm too involved with pop culture, will I lose touch with reality? Put another way, will I create a false reality, one that’s not really mine? I know people who live in these fantasy worlds, where they are more involved in the lives of imaginary characters than in their own. Living other people’s lives instead of theirs.
One’s real life is often the life that one does not lead.
- Oscar Wilde
These questions lead to another: What is reality, anyway? I remind myself of the importance of myth. I remember the vital purpose of imagination. And I resolve that the retelling of human stories is essential to our humanness.
Before there were movies and books, there were stories. Usually told by elders around fires, these stories wove together the people and the land, the wind and the sun, the animals and the rain. The stories were their lives, just as the rivers were their blood. There was no separation.
In modern life, most of our storytelling is done through movies and books (also television, theatre, opera, video games, and urban legends). Though any stories that people tell, however they tell them -- on video, paper, canvas, or clay -- they all tell us something, not just about the subjects they depict, but about ourselves.
Where our lives begin and the stories end is perhaps not so important. Because the stories are really pieces of us. Reflections. Living metaphors. By allowing these stories to blur the edges of reality a little, we may come to see ourselves more clearly.
When having a smackerel of something with a friend,
don’t eat so much that you get stuck
in the doorway trying to get out.
-Winnie the Pooh
Stories -- and the myths they represent -- are great, that is to say, until we get stuck in one. Like good books, we are meant to finish one and pick up the next. Not to read the same chapter, page, sentence over and over.
One way to break out of a story is to go see something of the rest of world. A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I took a months-long backpacking trip through India. I was stuck reading the same story and decided there were no books in my part of the world that could tell me anything new. So I took off in search of buried treasure in the East, to a place where ancient treasure is reported to be hidden. I put aside television, movies, and everything I thought I knew about myself and my place in the world and just went in search of a new story.
It was transformational in ways I may never fully digest. I did find treasure there, though not quite the ones I set out to find. Among the stories which India told me was the one where I needed to go to India to figure out that I didn't need to go to India. And I couldn’t have known that any other way. Because familiarity blinds us to these kind of simple truths.
There are billions of universes inside every one of us. We carry them in our blood, our breath, our DNA. And in those universes, every particle of every star, every atom of every moon, each drop of water, has its own history to uncover, its own path to travel, its own story to tell. Each one unique. Each one waiting to be discovered.
But you have to know how to listen, and you have to know how to look. You have to put down that same book you’ve been reading, turn off the reruns, mix up some new paints. You have to pull out some fresh paper and pick up a new pen.
Let me know what you find. I love a good story.
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This is one of 66 essays in the Gold Nautilus Award winning collection, Happiness Is an Imaginary Line in the Sand.
The book is available here: https://bit.ly/40s3Gh0
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