When I was seven years old I wrote my first short story.
The homework was to create several sentences based on words we learned in class. Like the overachieving chap I would prove myself to be, I immediately thought - what if I connected all the words together?
(In all honesty, I can't remember if I meant for them to form a story, or I was just trying to cheat homework by creating a single sentence with all the words. Quite likely the latter.)
But I spent the 20 minute walk home thinking about the words. (If I remembered the words, this would make for a much better story, but sadly, I don't.) I started writing as soon as I got home, and it was evening before I stopped.
I had a seven-page short story.
I went back to school the following day, giddy as ever, to present my achievement. My excitement was quickly curtailed when I was told to just present the sentences I was required to, and not recite the whole story - there was no time for that.
(Therein lies a lesson about the failures of educational systems, but that's for another time.)
The achievement, in spite of the lack of recognition, stayed with me. I wrote often as a child, and for a long time I envisioned myself as a writer.
I wrote short stories as a young teenager, short screenplays, and even wrote a book to a high school crush, painting the two of us as the leading characters, leaving the last chapter open for her to write. (This is the cheesiest it gets, I promise.)
But I stopped writing (for my own pleasure, at least) in my late teens. Part of it was because I moved to a different country, started studying in English and communicating mostly in English, and quickly became "disenlanguaged" (I can't figure out the correct word for the feeling of being disembodied in language, so I made it up.
The truth is, until a few years ago, I haven't felt like I'm a native speaker of any language anymore. My mother tongue, Romanian, is mostly reserved for communication with close family, and I rarely read and never write in Romanian anymore.)
It took me almost a decade to regain the confidence of writing.
As I am starting again on a journey I hope never to end, I am looking back to my roots to understand what attracted me to writing.
That instinct to take random words out of a homework assignment and string them together to create a story - where did that come from?
What are the origins of stories, and why do we tell them? How do stories permeate everything we do, inspiring us to collaborate or conspire against one another? Why do we take the most basic form of communication and persuasion - storytelling - for granted, and don't study its effects on cooperation, mental health, politics or policy?
My fifty year mission is to deeply study what stories mean for humanity, elevate our understanding of what stories move us and how, and learn how to craft and use stories purposefully to drive meaningful change.