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, but see them for the engineering marvel they are. When they ask, you tell them you read a lot as a kid, then you let them poke at your surface thoughts to give them better clarity and fill in their doubts about the meaning. 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, careful not to drop them and break the memories they inspired apart. How long you spent rearranging 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 you were inspired by books and talks 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 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. They talk in low voices about you. You seem calmer, more assured, they say. The spark in your eyes has died out, they whisper. Parts of you are burning. The party is in your honour, but none of them was invited. You hear them through windows partly open, damp air leaking on your face. 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 outside yourself and 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, and your spark hasn’t lit up so much inside you that you let it die out a little before you could start typing, or you would have bursted 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 the capital, 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. I guess playing God 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. These cities are made out of graffiti, rock & roll 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.

Wide, soft moments keep growing outwards, at the edges of the map of my heart, like an oil stain. They resound in me like waves, so powerful that I can hear them beneath the cliffside, no matter what form the cliffside has taken this time. I let them live up until they come down like hammers, demanding to be written down and into my cities. I keep writing because they keep coming, long after I’ve lived them. I can’t resist them – they are strange and full of promises, temptation at its finest. They allow me to set my story in order, long after it happened. I grin. I am invincible. Lying on the sofa with my eyes closed, I lucid dream while I’m awake, and need no other form of escapism. It is here, in between the spaces where no one roams but me, where I find my tranquility, and inspiration follows like the loyalest of dogs. Isolation makes life feel cinematic, and the quality of stillness gets me high, and the intensity it holds builds up until it turns into creation. From here on, it is easy. I feel my heart begin to harden and my words begin to form, put everything in a cone of light, then pick my pieces. This is the place where I start to write, they start to see me. They praise how integral imagination is to me. Art blends with life once again. I can breathe easy. I know this will happen again, and again, and always all over again. Biting my lips, I try to steady myself.

This is what being your own story feels like, for all I know – taking what has happened to you and turning it into whatever you wanted it to be, but never was. It doesn’t work quite like it should, but it does feel terribly nice. I don’t have a clue about what it’s like not knowing this trick, but I can imagine it if I try really hard. Correct me if I’m wrong –

Picture this: there is an empty space next to you at the table. You make it the shape of everything you need. Now you say hello. This is you at your best, commonly known as your strength, but you haven’t been properly introduced yet. You don’t know what it is, and you don’t know it’s yours. You let it vanish as you keep doubting your power.

Then: you walk to work, heels echoing on the pavement, still a bit of warmth from the bed clinging to you. You take a seat on the bus and fall asleep to the sound of traffic. The night before you were at your desk, hoping it would knock at your door, take off its wet clothes, and sit with you by the fire. You craved its hand around your waist and a new story over a glass of red wine. You were tired, but couldn’t fall asleep, so you waited and you waited until dawn. You feel frustrated. It was only just starting to reveal itself to you and you couldn’t grab it and make it your own. You don’t know that finding your superpower isn’t like dating, that it’s already in your hands. You don’t have to wait for it to find you, you find it by creating it. That’s your superpower.

Or: a beautiful man keeps smiling at you like there’s no tomorrow. He has perfect teeth – square, white, even. He becomes your lover and soon you are making out in the corner booth of a bar. The light is dim and smoky, and he lets go of his secrets into your mouth, and you learn what his thoughts taste like and what he is afraid of, things you thought you had guessed before you first sat down and started writing, but surprise – you knew nothing then, which is why you couldn’t write. It is only when he gently bites your neck and you open your eyes and see him in the near-darkness and your heart falls out of you that you understand you had only just scratched the surface before him. He seems to walk through every door you’ve ever seen marked shut, and know everything you’ve never even known you needed. Steam rises from both your cups at once and you reach for your cigarettes, and even though your world doesn’t make sense anymore, or it’s only just beginning to make sense, when he says, ‘Look, baby, these tornadoes are for you’ you watch, because there is nothing better than finally meeting somebody who speaks your mind and beyond, especially when that somebody is you.

But you don’t know that, so you fall for the closest thing to your own reflection, because you’re wearing a smile and the sun in your eyes in this mirror. Those tornadoes are not for you, and you’ll know it when they pass you, one by one. The only ones you can play with without losing parts of yourself are your own. Every other kind is the destructive kind, the kind that will shatter your windows and blow away your roof if you get close to the eye. Create your own. Then recreate to your liking. Being your own story, that’s your only superpower.

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