A Meditation on Childhood Stories

I found an old diary of my mother’s a few weeks ago containing a number of humorous anecdotes and stories from my childhood. I don’t have many tangible memories of my younger years so it was nice to find something connecting me to them. Showing her, we laughed at the oddity of the questions and remarks, often concerned with religion, the afterlife, and property law of all things. But next to many of these, there were annotations from later years such as “wow he hasn’t changed at all” or “some things stay the same I guess.” And at first, they comforted me – it felt good to know that I was so seemingly steadfast in my character, a paragon of consistency. And yet, the more I thought about it the more it started to bother me. If I am so similar to my childhood self, and an earlier version at that, does that mean the experiences I’ve had haven’t shaped me? That all that I’ve been through, the good and the bad, the moments that I thought had defined and distilled me into the essence of who I am truly had no impact? And the answer I came to was that I didn’t know, and I don’t think I can. I’d love to wrap this up in a neat little bow and say that we are a product of our experiences and that they draw out the character that was inside of us from the start but, honestly, that feels far too convenient for my liking. I always was of the oft cited opinion that it is the little moments in everyday life that make us who we are, not the big ones we would expect because the thing about subscribing to clichés is that there is a safety in them. You can wrap yourself in them, fill your mind with soft and smooth platitudes that envelope you with a warm sense of certainty. Honestly, deferring to the unknown even in itself seems a cliché, but one where there seems a possibility of leaning out, one foot out of the covers so to speak. But perhaps not knowing what exactly it is that made us the way we are is important. The ability to pinpoint every instance where my life changed its course – where I changed? That knowledge is powerful but the kind of power that is dangerous. Which is not to say it’s bad – it’s to say be wary. I know that I at least have gotten far too lost in trying to answer what is to come by looking at what came before.

I love and I hate childhood stories. I love them because they’re funny, and I hate them because they make me sad. And sometimes I hate them because they’re funny, and I love them because they make me sad. Memories and stories in particular are strange like that, where one moment, when you know each beat and each cadence, the rhythm and the diction, you assume it’ll make you feel a certain way. The same way. And often it doesn’t and you resent them for that, or at least I do because there’s something devastating in losing what you thought was constant. And often it’s the stories you write with no intention, as this one, that make you feel the most nostalgic, like awakening a sleeping behemoth who quietly and politely asked if it was his turn. I’d love to have the power to make things constant and in my omnipotence of thought finally be the one to decide to let them go. But there’s a part of me that loves spinning in the wind and watching words crumble in my hands like crisp rice paper and feeling the fire inside my chest spread and illuminate the soles of my feet and the darkness of my mind. And a larger part of me hates that, wanting both a blazing inferno as well as the fire quenched. And the even larger part of me is telling me to stop playing with fire in its entirety and to move on from this metaphor.

I have grown to like uncertainty, granted in its purest form. Not the uncertainty of bonds between people or external life at all really, those are quite stressful, but rather the uncertainty of thought. As a six-year-old, I was pretty concerned with our place in the world. I guess I still am. But, if I am so desperate for my experiences to have shaped me rather than just being who I already was (and is that even a bad thing to begin with?), then I say fuck it anyway – let the uncertainty ebb and flow and let it take me with it. I’m ready, even if I don’t know what for and you know, that’s just fine.

 

Coleman Yorke is currently a junior in Columbia College studying English and Psychology. His favorite thing to do is sleep because having to be awake and doing things is hard. However, when conscious, he thinks reading is pretty cool.

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