By Johannes O Marlowe
Growing up as the odd kid, you find ways to entertain yourself. Odd and other synonyms: you are the creepy kid, the friendless kid, the talks-too-much-about-strange-things kid—so you find solo activities.
You probably have what they call a vivid imagination and it lends itself to your pastimes, which, for the most part, consist of daydreaming, archiving the results on paper, and then daydreaming some more until you have a story. It’s a little underwhelming to call it a story, in fact. You pour your soul into each world and replay the scenes enough times for them to feel like memories; you feel realer here than in reality, draping yourself in another person’s life and walking the universe in their shoes for so long that their emotions become your own. They laugh, and as you write a sentence or two or three describing the soft bliss of some joyful moment, the sound rushes through you—someone else’s laughter, someone else’s response, but you feel it just the same. They cry and you cry with them. Feel love; you feel the love with them. Their dreams are your dreams. Their fears are your fears. As far as you can tell, your stories have never just been stories: to you, they are every life you never lived and they have never felt like anything less. Sitting alone in your room for sixteen hours straight, eyes un-moving from a wall of text on a computer screen—blink, blink, blink: the cursor reminds you you’ve been staring—you have never felt more alive.
Language is a special kind of magic. Each word contains a tiny universe; every precise and imprecise spelling weaves a spell. There are those simpler sorts, news articles and encyclopedia entries, and there are the stories we have been passing down for generations upon generations, to fill the spaces between lives: fact and fiction and every beautiful thing in between. Shakespeare's tall tales and, say, the half-lucid ramblings in the comments of an old video might have little in common—really, what does someone's keyboard abuse hold to something like the likes of Hamlet?—but both are just as valuable an expression of humanity and beyond as anything else. What a fascinating thing it is simply to have immortalized a piece of existence like that.
Here's that tale of the odd kid again: you find your presence here too mundane, too lonely, too any and all of the above, and, wielding your mind like a sword, you create something better. Left unchecked, this can dip into dangerous escapism, but it's a calculated risk—and in many cases, it's the best option. We create our own meanings, and for me, this is storytelling. I live for my writing and I'm never far from a project or several; I don't know how. There have been times when the world gets me so down that all that pulls me out of bed in the morning is the prospect of an excited reader's comment on a new chapter, and there have been many more times when all that keeps me going is knowing that the stories I write mean so much to others. The thrill of seeing someone's love for something you've created is like nothing else I've ever felt—and there's pride, sure, the kind of feeling that comes with compliments, but these days, I consider it closer to a gift-giving warmth. You enjoyed my writing! You, another human person, had genuine fun reading my writing! That's wild. Here, let me write more; I hope you love it just as much.
And to be clear: stories are never only text. Music, films, paintings, carvings, costumes, comics, simple spoken improv—all that and more, all stories, all magical. Existence itself is one long and eternal story.
I've been told paper books are going extinct and maybe this is true. More alarmingly, I have heard at least once that books in general, printed or digital, are going extinct; maybe this is also true. I believe, however, that no matter what mediums end up erased by the sands of time—hypothetically, by the way, because books are rad and old paper smells great and I don't trust anyone who claims otherwise—the stories themselves will last. Maybe we move onto virtual reality as our main storytelling medium!
Cool beans. I'm down with that.
But we will always have stories and storytellers because they made us. They are our hopes and dreams, achievements and discoveries, records of every big and little wonder that ever was, and most importantly, they are that magic that keeps us alive—from me to you to the very first humans that ever lived, the very last that ever will, and everyone in between.
And that will never die.