I was 8 years old when I stopped listening to stories.
I didn’t like them anymore. They were too predictable. Everything tied up in a neat narrative bow. The good guys always won. The bad guys always lost. What was the point? I struggled with it in the shallow depths of my precocious adolescent brain. Why take the journey when the destination was so monotonously apparent?
Stories had lost the ability to surprise me, that was the problem. Worse still, they didn’t seem to conform to the rules that, even at that tender age, I was beginning to discern in the world around me. Rebels didn’t always beat the evil empire. Also the empire wasn’t necessarily evil and, most heart-breaking of all, the rebels weren’t always good.
And lightsabers didn’t exist either which was a whole new level of anguish.
I was too young to dip my toe in the deep, murky waters of adult fiction (where motivations were muddy and happy endings rare) but I had grown too old - suddenly, awkwardly - for the light, frothy confections intended for children my age. I was trapped between fairyland and the half-glimpsed, half-understood world outside my window. I was unprepared for happily never after.
I heard a joke about 2016 recently. It went like this:
TEACHER OF THE FUTURE: Okay class, that was 2015. Now we’re going to tackle 2017. Please access chapter 18 on your tablets …
CHILD OF THE FUTURE (sticking her hand in the air): Wait, Miss, what about 2016?
TEACHER OF THE FUTURE (a faraway look in her eyes): Oh … we don’t talk about 2016.
Obviously we all have our own perspective on the past year but from where I’m standing 2016 has seen the world become crueler, more inward-looking, less tolerant, less fun. We’ve taken a step back and the shadows are beginning to define the faces we turn to each other. And while many of us are relatively protected from the brutalising blunt end of these changes, there are others who have had their lives torn apart - the war in Syria driving a worldwide refugee crisis, the astronomical food shortages in Yemen, climate change out of control and still unbelievably dismissed by key world leaders. We have the luxury of looking out on the world and weeping; for countless others that is precious time better spent surviving.
I can feel the child that I was like an itch in the back of my brain. Suddenly Evil vanquished and Good ascendent doesn’t seem so bad … or even slightly predictable.
My wish for 2017 is this:
- That we all pull together to write more happy endings for the world.
- That we recognise that doing so isn’t easy and that there is no guarantee of success.
- But there is something in the trying - communal effort where there was once division, hope where there was once suspicion or hatred.
- Writing a future to be proud of between the broad strokes of history.