The Value of a Good Story

You may have noticed I changed the header image of my site. That was actually sparked by the comment of a close friend. Why have a random photo of books when I can display the ones I loved most growing up?

I actually had a lot of fun choosing exactly which books I would include in that photo. And of course it was an extremely difficult task – I was and still am a voracious reader, and being forced to exclude some books was heartbreaking. But I do think I managed to capture many of my favorites! You’ll probably notice that most of the titles are well-worn (“Island of the Blue Dolphins” is barely legible), and I guess that’s the true mark of the countless days I spent reading as a child. I have distinct memories of pretending to be Karana, stranded on an island and making a skirt of cormorant feathers.

I still love reading children’s books. Sometimes it seems to me that novels written for older audiences underestimate the value of a good story and try too hard to evoke a deeper theme. The adult is more sophisticated, the author feels. I must write something intellectually stimulating; I need some heavy prose. Some deep emotion. And in the search for something profound, the good story falls by the wayside.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying every novel written for older audiences fails to tell a good story. It’s just that due to the nature of the genre, middle grade books don’t feel the need to wow their audience with anything more. In children’s books, we’re more likely to find adventure and the hero’s journey. We get unforgettable characters with runaway imaginations. And more than anything, the stories are just plain fun. As we journey into young adult, we (understandably) get into more angst, and before long we reach the adult section, where a good story is simply not enough. No, we’re too old and wise for that now; we’re no longer children. We expect more.

I think the best books, regardless of their audiences, are well-written, tell a good story, and leave us with a meaningful message. Does it have to be over-the-top brilliant? Heck no. But if it makes us feel, makes us laugh, cry, or smile – well, that’s enough for me.

I’ll leave you with a quote by C.S. Lewis that I absolutely adore. It has to do with growing up and the fear of being childish:

“Critics who treat ‘adult’ as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence… when I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”

-C.S. Lewis


Lessons Learned From The Alchemist

A little while ago I read The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. And I loved it. The story not only resonated with me, but it also caused me to reflect on my own life and my own Personal Legend (more about that to come).

The story itself is quite simple: Santiago, a young shepherd in Andalusia, has a recurring dream about a treasure at the base of the Pyramids. He ultimately decides to make the journey to Egypt to find the treasure. On his way, he encounters people from different walks of life and learns about the world.

Perhaps the beauty of the book lies in its simplicity. In just a few words, Coelho is able to convey universal truths about life that are applicable to anyone at any point in his or her own journey.

Some of my favorite moments:

At one point, Santiago loses all he has to a thief. He has given up everything to travel to a strange land, and now he is alone and possesses nothing. He realizes he has two ways to look at the situation: he is either the poor victim of a thief or he is an adventurer on a quest for treasure. He decides, “I’m an adventurer, looking for treasure.” In such a simple way, Coelho shows us that we too can decide whether we are victims of life’s trials or whether we are adventurers on a quest to fulfill our Personal Legend.

Along the same lines, there comes a point where Coelho writes, “When each day is the same as the next, it’s because people fail to recognize the good things that happen in their lives every day that the sun rises.” It’s something that I don’t often think about, but now that I do, I realize how much truth the statement holds. There have been so many times when each day seems to blend into the next. I have a set routine: go to class, do homework, take exams, eat, sleep, repeat. And I forget to acknowledge good things that happen to me – because indeed, every day is like an adventure, and every day is full of good things, full of new and exciting possibilities. It’s all about how we look at it.

And, above all: the Personal Legend. Coelho uses this term to mean one’s destiny or purpose in life. The entire story revolves around the fact that everyone, every living thing, has a Personal Legend. A life’s calling. And we know what this calling is from a young age, but few of us pursue it. According to Coelho, the world’s biggest lie is that at some point in our lives we lose control and no longer have the ability to fulfill our Personal Legend. This is what we believe, but it’s not true. In fact, “people are capable, at any time in their lives, of doing what they dream of.” In other words, it’s never too late to start doing something you’ve always wanted to do.

I don’t want this post to become too long, so I’ll stop now (although there are really so many other moments and life lessons that struck me as incredibly thought-provoking and inspiring). I highly recommend reading The Alchemist if you haven’t already (or reread it if you have!). It’s a short read but contains so many universal truths.

The Confidence of a Kid

I’ve been struggling lately with my writing. Writer’s block? Not really. It’s more like a judgmental voice at the back of my head saying, “That’s too cliche.” Or, “Who would ever want to read that? Don’t kid yourself.”

And all I can think about is that I never had this issue before. When I was a kid, everything I wrote was gold. Everything was going to be the next bestseller. And you can bet I believed it! As a result, all of my work from the younger years – every story, every poem, every comic – was written with unwavering confidence. Don’t get me wrong – none of that work is by any means Shakespeare. If anything, it’s absolutely ridiculous. But boy, was it fun to read! Among the gems I’ve uncovered are:

  • An advertisement for hyacinths that steal underwear
  • A story about an alien who farted his way to Earth and continues using farting as a means of transportation to explore numerous countries
  • A comic of how I imagined my parents met (believe me, this one was hilarious)
  • A tale of two secret-agent mice rescuing a horse from the top of a mountain
  • “Faline’s Adventure” – in which a young horse hops on a duck’s back to cross a stream
  • Numerous stories about kids finding portals to hidden worlds and struggling to find their way back (they encounter some pretty wacky characters)

I think the first draft of anything should be written like a kid. Forget the self-editing, forget the voice in the back of your head. Write for pure enjoyment. Because during that time, during the first draft, you are invincible. You’re invincible, you’re perfect, and your writing is the best thing that has ever graced this planet. Once it’s written, you can go back and edit – you can tear it to shreds if you need to – but right up until the end of that first draft, you’re a kid on top of the world. So write like it!

“Everybody Dies, But Not Everybody Lives”

I came across a really nice video a while ago. It not only cheered me up at a time when I was feeling low, but it also got me thinking. The main idea was something along these lines:

Most people don’t regret what they’ve done. They regret what they didn’t do.

This past winter semester of college was possibly the most stressful I have experienced thus far. Now that it’s the middle of summer and my head has cleared a little bit, it’s beginning to hit me how fast everything is going by. I’ll be honest – last semester wasn’t the most enjoyable. I felt like a workhorse, constantly toiling, but without a clear end in sight. I was so caught up in struggling to stay on the boat that I lost sight of where the boat was going, and I forgot to enjoy the ride.

Watching this video made me realize that I still have my whole life ahead of me. I realized that I don’t want to waste it away “sweating the small stuff.” There are so many things to do, places to explore, goals to fulfill. And I don’t want to look back on my life fifty years from now and say, “If only I had…”

I think it’s easy to forget, especially at certain points in life, that whatever we’re going through is a small piece of a larger puzzle. This is precisely what I did last semester, and I don’t want to spend another one like it. But sometimes it seems to me that life is a paradox. People tell you to think of the “big picture” but they also tell you to “live in the moment.” So what does it mean? Well, from the perspective of a college student, it means keeping in mind that studying all night and cramming for tests is part of a larger goal, a greater purpose. That’s the big picture part.

But the big picture is made up of small memories that stand out in your mind. I like to imagine life as a string of pearls – a collection of shining moments. Like a beautiful spring day with a balmy breeze that makes you feel like you’re by the ocean if you close your eyes (how often do those come along?) or an evening spent laughing with your best friends. I guess if we barrel through life just wanting to get to the end of our big picture, we don’t realize how much we’re missing. In the words of Henry David Thoreau, “I want to live deep, and suck out all the marrow of life.”

If you’re looking for some inspiration, take a moment to watch this video!

Glitter Glue Heart

If you haven’t already, you should check out the new page I added to the poetry section: pastiches. And scroll down until you find the poem called “Glitter Glue Heart.” I just wanted to talk a little bit about this poem because I wholeheartedly enjoyed writing it and it makes me really happy whenever I go back and read it. It was inspired by Taylor Mali’s “Silver-Lined Heart.” At the end of the poem, Mali urges the audience to “put your goddamn pen to paper and tell me what you’re for!”

So I did exactly that in my poem. And you know something? Once I did that, once I essentially made a list of things that make me happy, I felt so incredibly good. More than good. I felt… liberated, somehow. Relaxed. Peaceful. And alive. I felt like everything was going to be just fine, and I felt like life truly is a beautiful thing. And every time I read it, I feel the same way.

To focus only on what is good seems like a pretty deceiving way to live life. But I think it’s equally deceiving to live a life focused only on what is bad. And unfortunately, that’s what seems to happen to a lot of us. We’re caught up in our own stressful lives – stress from school, work, relationships – and then we get exposed to so much negativity in the media. I know there’s a lot that’s not right in the world. But I think it’s okay to realize that there’s a lot that is right, too. And just because someone else somewhere else might not be happy doesn’t mean we need to feel guilty for being happy.

One of my professors shared this with our class last semester:

It’s basically a website dedicated to sharing good news. I wouldn’t use it as my primary source to know what’s going on in the world, but it’s a nice addition to whatever news you may already be following. It covers topics like science, business, sports, health, and world news. It has a lot of interesting and uplifting information – and it’s a nice reminder that there’s a lot of good things happening out there.

Now, I encourage you – what are you for? What makes you live? In Taylor Mali’s words, “Tell me what inspires you, what fulfills and fires you, put your goddamn pen to paper and tell me what you’re for!”