How to Be Your Own Story

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When you fictionalise your life you have to make up some of the words yourself – the way they taste, the way they sound in the air – and twist them until no one can tell what hell you dragged them out of. When they ask, you tell them you read a lot as a kid, then you let them poke at your surface to give them some kind of clarity. They don’t need to know how you encouraged yourself to leave the mind and step onto paper, with all your words held tightly in your arms. How you were careful not to drop them and break the memories you got them from. How long you spent reorganising them until they looked nothing like the story underneath the story. No. They don’t need to know the words are you. You must tell them that you were inspired by books and films and general knowledge, and carry on with your life as if art was merely an insignificant slice of it, and the first time you tried it you inexplicably ate it whole. No big deal.

The process can be excruciatingly slow. Either no fire makes it out, or not enough fire goes in. In the centre of it all you find yourself completely alone, your existence becoming clouded, strange. You keep quiet and still to conserve mental space, waiting to put together the new pieces when they’re ready. People talk in low voices about you. You seem calmer, more assured. The restlessness seems gone now. The spark in your eye has died out, they say. Parts of you are burning. The party is in your honour. Just that none of them was invited. You hear them through windows partly open. You hear them through thick walls. Sunlight pours across your skin, your shadow flat on the bedroom door. You have soft eyes and long hair that you wear loose and keep stroking smoothly as you listen. There is shame. There is fear. But then there is dizzying freedom. Your heart beats messily everywhere but in their hands. It beats in your mouth, ears, nose, and toes. It’s a delicious sensation. Peace for you will come later, when your imagination isn’t so vivid, when your spark hasn’t lit up so much inside you that you have to let it die out a little before you start typing, or else you would burst into flames. You let them say you’ve matured and you smile, but your smile is a secret.

This is the map of my heart. My name is tallest mountain, and this up here is the moon. This is the sun. I’m still naming the stars after people I know, but I change the first letters and stir together the remaining ones. This way, nobody can connect the dots when they read me and wonder at what really happened to them. I guess this type of play has always been my thing, what attracted me to literature in the first place. I like to define, then colour outside the lines. I limit myself, then I rebel against it. I burn the forests – here, and here – down. I am the forests, so I come back – but over there. These cities are made out of graffiti, music festivals and tree-lined streets. At night, headlights shine in all directions, and I spill dark blue ink and sprinkle star all over them. Boys wrap their fingers around necks of beers and girls standing by the windows in yellow towels, holding hands and breaths. When the day comes my sun splashes it like water, and the brilliance spreads among people. They go for long drives under freshened skies and have orange juice and toast parked in the sunlight, breadcrumbs falling into their laps. There’s a thing in my stomach about telling a brief history of my heart without having to confess anything. I don’t romanticise people out loud, but I sprinkle them with writer dust and lower them into my writings. My face no longer has the helplessness of someone who isn’t believed in, my hands are no longer an afterthought. I know how to make things come true, advancing upon them like holy cities, pushing aside everything that is not them.

Life outside doesn’t stop. Wide, soft moments keep growing at the edges of the map of my heart, like oil stains. I let them grow until they can no longer be ignored. They demand to be written down, given a place on the map. I keep writing because they keep coming, even long after I’ve lived them. I can’t resist them, for I know they are right. They belong here. Some are strange and full of promises, temptation at its finest. I need them to set my story in order, to add meaning and reason to it. New river and roads will be built with them. Some are heavy and smell of rotten, but they too need to go in. I just need to change a thing or two; there. That will be new land, but no one will live there. It’ll just be the distance between two places. I grin. I feel invincible, like I can take anything life throws at me and turn it into whatever I wanted it to be. Lying on the sofa with my eyes closed, I need no other form of escapism. From here on, it is easy. I feel my heart begin to harden and new words begin to form, move into a cone of light, and wait for me to pick my pieces. This is the place where I start to write. Art blends with life once again. I can breathe easy. I begin to create, then recreate to my liking – wisely, recklessly, furiously. I know this will happen again, and again, and always all over again. Biting my lips, I try to steady myself.

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