by Julian Neuer
I don’t know about you, but now that I am turning fifty, some things are starting to make sense to me.
(Don’t get me wrong, most of them still don’t. Do they to you? Please send me an email if they do.)
I’ve spent my entire life with a strong suspicion that all the people around me are very confused. They’re confused all the time, even when they want to help me or when they try to explain how the world works. Especially then.
Everybody is always confused, even when they happen to be right. That’s because they can never be sure they’re right. If they say they are sure, it’s just another sign that they are confused. They just hope they’re right, and hope is confusing because it is not certainty.
In a way, the confusion can be reassuring, as you don’t have to take people very seriously. The confusion means that no one really knows what they are saying, so there is still a chance that you are the one who got things right after all.
But it’s also discouraging, because whatever you say in response to all those confused people, chances are that they will stay confused, sometimes even more so than before.
As I was saying, the modest untangling of a small portion of my personal confusion took the better part of half a century. For me, that’s a waste of time. How can it possibly do me any good, say, to have adolescence all figured out by the time I reach my fiftieth birthday?
That’s why I’ve decided to teach my son all the tricks in my bag. Teach him all the secrets now, when he’s still a child — he’s eleven —, so he won’t feel he has wasted as much time as I have. I was planning to do it casually, maybe in the form of bedtime talks, very short, very objective, something along the lines of what I wish someone had done for me when my mind was young and chock-full of confused questions.
I started the program last week. Each night, as I tucked him in bed, I tried to condense into concise sentences one of the precious truths it had taken me a long time to reap from my own tangled existence. “Life lessons”, I called them. I explained to my son that bedtime would be a time for life lessons. He seemed to like the idea.
The first nights, I served him jewels like:
“You shouldn’t make things more complicated than they need to be.”
“Use your time to practice what you want to be good at.”
“Trust me even when you don’t understand what I say.”
After a few days, I thought it would be good pedagogical practice to review the previous lessons before proclaiming a new one. That was when I found my son couldn’t remember any of them! I was outraged! To take for granted such a treasure of life lessons! How unwise. How disappointing.
Then I realized I couldn’t remember them either. I was making my life lessons so compact that they were slipping through our mental fingers, so to speak. The human mind, I concluded, has not evolved to process these concentrated bits of pure truth in any efficient way. Before I could explain this to my son, however, he confessed:
“I thought you were going to tell me stories about how you learned your life lessons.”
But of course.
Stories are how the human mind digests important truths.
Stories take longer than aphorisms, sure, but not so long as fifty years. My son was right.
So stories it would be.
Except that I couldn’t find them. I searched as hard as I could, but all I found were disconnected fragments, isolated events, indistinct impressions. Where were the stories, my stories, the raw stuff of my worldview? Either I couldn’t remember them or they didn’t exist at all — not in the form I was looking for.
Could it be because my lessons, my precious life lessons, had only been learned little by little, after a lot of trial and error, while I went stumbling through the decades? Were my lessons a trick of mirrors, an illusion that existed only with the benefit of hindsight?
Would my son have to live my life — or his life, for that matter — to learn the lessons I was trying to teach him?
There was only one solution I could see.
I would have to make up my stories.
And this is how this book came to be.
Here they are.
They are stories of fantasy and fiction, to urge you not to take for granted the world in which we live, because things could have been, could be, may someday be very different from what we consider “normal” and “commonplace” today.
They are stories that warn you that it is so-called “normality” that is fictional, because fiction can carry much deeper truths than “normality” can.
They are stories with lots of interior monologues and dialogues addressing the reader (is there really a difference?), because I think the only life worth living is the life of the mind.
They are stories about the lives of mysterious characters, some of them not even human. I can’t help you much here. I don’t know who they are, or where they have come from. They simply showed up and told me their tales themselves.
So we’re both in this together, you and I: if there are life lessons to be learned from these stories, it is up to me — as much as it is up to you — to find out what those lessons are.
They are stories I may have never lived — not that I remember, anyway —, but that I’ve had somewhere inside me all this time. There must be a lot of me in them, and I sure hope there are more of them in me.
The book, needless to say, is dedicated to my son.
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