Essay Option 2. The late-eighteenth-century popular philosopher and cultural critic George Lichtenberg wrote, "Just as we outgrow a pair of trousers, we outgrow acquaintances, libraries, principles, etc. . . . at times before they're worn out and at times - and this is worst of all - before we have new ones." Write an essay about something you have outgrown, perhaps before you had a replacement - a friend, a political philosophy, a favorite author, or anything that has had an influence on you. What, if anything, has taken its place?
My bookshelves are empty now. For years they were stuffed to overflowing with paperbacks, and piles teetered on every flat surface in my room. It took four or five stuffed paper bags to clear out those books, but it wasn’t the problem of transport that was the most difficult to conquer when it came time for them to go.
When I was thirteen I went to a summer camp that changed my life in many ways, and one of those ways was my relationship with an amazing girl, called Gryphon. When I met her, she was wearing a pair of homemade, white, feathered wings. She was interesting, funny, and painfully intelligent. Perhaps one of the most enduring things she gave me was an introduction to a series of books that would shape my imagination and our relationship for years to come.
The books were the “Heralds of Valdemar” series by Mercedes Lackey, a fantasy series for young adults that was light on plot and heavy on cliché. Nevertheless, the books delighted me at thirteen and I still regard them fondly in the light of nostalgia and shared history. There were thirty books in the series, and I had every one by the end, arranged on my shelves by internal chronology. Though it only took me about a year and a half to read through the entirety of the series, my collection remained crammed on my shelves until only a few months ago, and I read and re-read them until the spines were creased with being bent and a few of the books had to be replaced after falling apart.
Although my initial wildfire obsession with the books faded, the connection I forged with Gryphon over them grew to take their place. She and I lived in different cities, and it seemed natural after a time that our casual IM chitchat graduated to sharing our own stories. She introduced me to the idea of taking characters from television shows, novels, and movies and creating original, if derivative, fanfiction. In time, we naturally fell into a rhythm of roleplaying, with both of us developing a single world. What began as an amalgamation of television programs we both enjoyed, evolved into something more original as new characters were created and old ones killed off with soap opera-like drama. We began excising the elements of the world that were copied verbatim from other media and replacing them with ones that we had developed ourselves.
Our world flourished and we communicated for hours every night for about three years, as well as spending the three weeks at summer camp planning the storylines to come. By the end, we had a cast of hundreds of characters that we had written about, developed back-stories for, and drawn pictures of until they were as well developed as we could make them. But, as we raced towards our final year of camp together and, subsequently, she towards college as a freshman, and I to Japan as an exchange student, our communication began to taper off, and in time I found myself left with the hanging thread of a plot buzzing around in my head.
In Japan, I could not share my story with others. The time difference isolated me from my friends back home, and my proficiency in Japanese was not good enough to explain the story to my friends there. For the most part, it remained within my own mind, and over time I independently began a new narrative thread, one that discarded much of the history that Gryphon and I had built together. I created a more streamlined world that I could support on my own and began planning to someday share this story with others. I trimmed many of the derivative aspects and developed new ones to take their place. I followed the story of one character at length and imbued him with many aspects of myself and my struggle living in the foreign Japanese culture. As I developed him further through writing and drawing, I began to incorporate other characters, ones that Gryphon and I had dreamed up over the years. I took time to examine and redefine them, creating a world that was far more personal and less superficial than the one we had been crafting before.
I’ve returned home from Japan now, and I have emptied the shelves that once held the books that inspired me to imagine. Taking them off the shelves and out of my room wasn’t the difficult part, it was letting go of what they represented that proved the most challenging. They had transformed me, and created a relationship and a way of imagining that have shaped in me a love for storytelling that is one of my huge passions. Now, though, I am transforming what they gave me into something beyond the basic.
My path and Gryphon’s have diverged in the last year, but whenever we are together, the connection that binds us is rekindled with as much closeness and intensity as ever, and I don’t believe that will ever change. We share a common creative history that we both treasure and that no amount of time or distance will erase.
The shelves that once held fantasy novels are filling, slowly, with different types of books, ones on language, thought and the mind. I don’t know what other things will come to fill these shelves in the next few years. Whether they are novels or books of research or even stories that I create myself, I am curious to see what comes next, though a little apprehensive. The things that have filled me up before have taught me amazing things, though often those lessons include the loss of what came before.
I have it within me to create my own stories, not to derive but to invent. I can seize the elements of a story that bring me joy and expand and explore them fully. I have not truly outgrown any parts of my life, but transformed and refined them. What will come out of these things next, I cannot say, but I am eager to find out what it will be.