When I was in college one of my writing professors said something that really stuck with me. At that time, I was still a bright, impressionable student with a lot to learn and experience about the world. And he was the kind of English teacher that one could reasonably expect to find on a mid-western liberal arts campus: cool, laid-back, and completely in the know.
Unlike so many of the angsty writers I knew at the time he was the type who commanded respect. He spoke in a clear, matter-of-fact way, having graduated from his anti-authoritarian youth into a seasoned professional with an unwavering voice.
The man was savvy with his words, and that actually became one of the things that I grew to appreciate most about him: his ability to cut right through the bullshit.
I, on the other hand, would spend countless hours of my precious idle time crafting elongated, complex clauses separated by Oxford commas and well-placed semi-colons, just hoping for the right chance to prove myself to the world.
Well, not much has changed in that regard.
Anyway, according to him, there are really only two kinds of stories that exist in the world.
Pretty bold statement considering that the Earth alone is made up of no less than 7 billion humans, each with their own unique perspectives. And if the scientists are to be believed, then we haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of uncharted territory within our own galaxy.
So much of the experience of being alive, is still left to be explored—undocumented as of yet.
Still, my professor would maintain that there are only two viable stories: “Hero Comes to Town” or “Stranger Goes on a Journey.” Which means that despite the nuance of language, personality, and experience, we’re really all the same stripped down.
I carefully considered what it was he was suggesting. I analyzed several of the popular stories that came to mind, everything from classic literature like Alice and Wonderland and The Color Purple, to cringe-worthy teen favorites like the Twilight Series.
As far as blanket statements go it wasn’t that far-fetched; these stories all followed the very motifs he had outlined. But applying that logic to the whole of human storytelling, that was arrogant.
The other thing my professor liked to say was that you can’t write about things you don’t know, that leading a life rich in experience is the only way of becoming a good writer.
Once again, twenty-one-year-old me was floored.
How dare he insult my vast imagination that way?! Afterall, I was a fairly-intelligent young lady with a bright future and interesting things to say. When in doubt, couldn’t I simply dream up the major life experiences I hadn’t yet witnessed first-hand?
What I didn’t realize at the time was that I would spend the next few years of my life testing out my professor’s theories. Don’t get me wrong, I totally respect teachers and authority figures, but nothing is more important to me than forming my own opinions.
So instead of just taking his lessons at face value, I came to understand them as a challenge of sorts, setting out on a mission to prove him wrong.
Let’s see, I enrolled in that Creative Writing workshop during my senior year as a newly-repatriated study abroad student with no real clue of where I was headed. I had completed enough course work the previous year in France to qualify for a second major, but I still dreamed of being a Writer (with a capital “W”).
By the end of that same school year, however, I had all but convinced myself to set out on a path towards becoming a talented Nonprofit Executive with a long-lasting impact on the world. Ha!
I’ve dabbled in a little bit of everything since then, vagabonding through life and stopping to smell the roses wherever (financially) possible.
So I’m what they call a seeker. Someone who never stops searching for meaning and authenticity in a world of half-truths, unearned confidence, and social media-fueled sensationalism.
I won’t sit here and act like it’s all been rainbows and unicorns. I’ve broken my own heart enough times to reasonably give it up, but then I turn around and learn some new lesson that makes it all worth it.
My experiences have led me to the top of the highest peaks and through the loneliest of lows, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I guess you could say that I’ve been the Heroine of my own story for quite some time now, always moving through life and experiencing my own personal character arcs. I’ve had to learn some hard lessons about what self-sufficiency looks like and what it means to be a part of a culture.
And also about letting go of the things that no longer fit my narrative.
As far as Strangers go, I’ve met my fair share of ‘em: handsome strangers, cunning ones, down-on-their-luck hard knocks, staunch traditionalists, and other wandering seekers.
At times I’ve even been the Stranger myself. The foreign girl with a fresh new perspective and the audacity to speak it aloud.
I’m not done living yet and my story’s still unfinished. But yes, in some ways I’m finding that my English professor was right. All the stories I’ve ever known boil down to some version of “The Surprising Stranger Who Shook Things Up” or the “The Spunky Protagonist Who Took on the World.” The best ones feature some elements of both.
What can I say? I’m just a girl standing in front of the universe asking to be the author of my own saga. ♥