I went to a Christmas caroling party a few years ago where many people had highfalutin jobs. They were numbers people. Something I most certainly was not. They’d saved lives, designed buildings. They were from further flung places, big cities. Their children spoke several languages and giggled at their own striking accomplishments.
At the party, my brother told one of the caroling women a seemingly embarrassing story from my youth. He turned red, already feeling sorry for me in front of the small crowd that gathered around us. The story goes, when I was 4 or 5 years old I used to pretend I was a cat named Samantha. I’d lap milk from a bowl and rub my eyes with my “paws” and skirt around the house on all fours. Thinking about this time reminds me of other instances: building jumps out of couch pillows and sailing up and over these “fences” like a horse. I wrote stories from animal perspectives and ran to the bottom of our sloped driveway whenever my dad washed his car so I could let my horse figurines “swim” in a pothole lake.
The woman laughed and covered her mouth in disbelief and began telling us about her own daughter, who had recently held a plastic play phone up to her ear and said, “Ring, ring, ring.” The woman told us of her concern when this happened, how she hesitantly took the phone from her daughter and asked her if she knew that no one was really calling. I remember a small part of my heart breaking that day, not for her future—sure to be bright—but for the unanswered phone that held the possibility of other worlds.
I was in college at the time, studying literature and journalism. I made things up and got As for imagination. I wrote essays and articles about music, art, and community happenings. Some could argue that I spent four years practicing how to lie and how to tell the truth, and learning how to distinguish one over the other when the world tries to blur those lines.
Then I got my first real-world job, where I wrote countless love letters to writers about how their work moved me and, at times, shook me. I was working in the literary department of a talent agency in New York where the unread manuscripts from aspiring writers steadily streamed in. Only some would be sold to publishers and make it onto bookshelves, yet I felt enamored by all of them. Their pages were proof of time spent in fictional places, living and breathing pure creation. All art is this, time spent in a rule-less stupor.
I remember the man who interviewed me for this agency job. He was wearing a burgundy velour suit and his office was lined, floor to ceiling, with the flashes of color that each carefully decided binding provided. He asked me if I really wanted a career in the arts and I thought of all the times I’d been dazzled, fevered even, by reading. How these other worlds helped me learn to walk in others’ shoes. How the mountains and valleys of our lives are all part of a similar landscape. And I said yes. So thank you, dear Arts, for being the unapologetic account of our time here, the refuge for creators and our stories and the many ways in which we tell them.