I used to think that everybody was essentially the same. Sure, we looked different (thank God) and had all these odd little quirks; but at our core, I believed, we all wanted the same things and took a lot of the same stupid, counter-productive paths to try to get them. This belief helped me to empathize with people who acted very, very differently than I - I just assumed they were acting out, in different ways, the same sorts of insecurities and fears that I had.

With time, however, my opinion has sort of shifted. As I have grown up and become a little less afraid, I've had to conclude that not everyone is quite the wreck that I was. What's more, I really am an odd, quite different sort of a duck. I wash ziploc bags to re-use them, love guacamole while hating avocados, and say a lot of stupid things when I get anxious. I am also more creative than most people I know. I like to explore possibilities and to wonder about what might be. I easily construct alternate realities in my mind and just as easily (sometimes) destroy them if I lose interest.

I have always done this. If I see a woman in a frumpy dress dragging her screaming child between supermarket aisles I catch myself imagining her story - wondering about the things that led her to abandon her girlhood dream of sailing around the cayman islands catching swordfish, how she let that dream desperately slide into diapers and daytime television.

I do it to myself, too. For example, as a young child living in a terrorist-afflicted South American country, I would often imagine gruesome scenarios where guerrillas would blow up my house and kill off most of my friends. I envisioned myself barely escaping with my life and my BB gun, and then hiding in the trees where I would kill off the terrorists one-by-one by shooting them with deadly precision in the eyeballs, temples, or under the armpits into the heart. By the time I had finished telling myself these stories, I would be crying right along with "story Josh," imagining standing over the rough graves I'd dug for my family, a small child weeping at the horror of violence and his own lonely vengeance.

I did not ask to be this way, and for the longest time I disliked myself for it. There is a lot to be said for the value of living in the moment... of learning to BE. In difficult, anxious or painful moments, for example, it does NOT help to mentally escape into a story world where I can be the one doing the scripting. I do need to be who I am, and to take each day and each moment for what it actually is. This unhealthy tendency of mine often had me checking out of my marriage when it got tough, and more recently had me spending an inordinate amount of time worrying about an imaginary relational future with a person I barely knew. She's a pretty hep cat and you never know, but seriously - right now, I am pretty emotionally discombobulated by the whole "getting left by my wife" thing. Like I said... not helpful.

There is, however, another side to it. I have a friend who likes to say that "every mountain is climbed twice." It is impossible to create any significant reality without first dreaming it into being, and despite the fact that I do this mental storytelling to a sometimes unhealthy degree, there is a sense in which everyone plays these games. There is a sense in which I was in fact right about my essential similarity to everyone else. Humans have been called the storytelling animal, and I tend to believe that we are made that way, as image-bearers of an incomprehensible, story-telling God. Everyone tells stories as they attempt to understand and sometimes re-direct the essentially incomprehensible courses of their lives.

If I do this more than I ought - if this is who I am as a slightly more gifted (or at least, more experienced) storyteller, then so be it. I may in time learn to balance my mad storytelling impulse to a point where I will no longer confuse fact with fiction and inflict on others the consequences of my mental creations. In the meantime, however, I am going to cut myself some slack and hope that others will do the same. This creativity of mine may sometimes result in pain and confusion, but it also leads to paintings, poems, and (I hope) super-amazing film scripts. If my greatest strengths come with their own inherent weaknesses, then I will choose to accept myself, warts and all. I think it's worth it, even if it does drive me crazy. Viva la difference!


  1. "Does it break my heart, of course, every moment of every day, into more pieces than my heart was made of, I never thought of myself as quiet, much less silent, I never thought about things at all, everything changed, the distance that wedged itself between me and my happiness wasn't the world, it wasn't the bombs and burning buildings, it was me, my thinking, the cancer of never letting go, is ignorance bliss, I don't know, but it's so painful to think, and tell me, what did thinking ever do for me, to what great place did thinking ever bring me? I think and think and think, I've thought myself out of happiness one million times, but never once into it."
    — Jonathan Safran Foer

    i think this is beautiful.


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