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  • Cody Siegel

I Am A Storyteller

I’m sitting crossed-legged on the Great Lawn in Central Park with my hands

fidgeting in my lap. The air is sticky and bubbles flow through the audience as I

hold my breath, watching two actors prepare to perform my play. I am filled with

gratitude, if only that live theater has prevailed after a year in quarantine, and I

am once again part of it, my family and best friend beside me. I inhale the June

sunshine, witnessing the written word coming alive. I watch my character, Isaac,

struggle to tell his best friend, Devon, that he may not be straight. I finally exhale

when Devon replies: “You’re still the same kid you were in fourth grade.”

A spring day in fourth grade: It was 1944, and Normandy was my backyard.

Those were the days when I made my friends dress in camo while running

through the woods with paper flags taped to their backs, following them with my

dad’s Super 8. I had tried to corral my sisters, and their friends, to partake in the

dramatic unfolding of my epic film, Heroes of D-Day. I asked my mother to join

the search party but she gently explained, “Your sisters don’t want to invite their

friends over anymore because you keep asking them to act in your movies.”

Her words were white noise: After all, I was at the top of my game. With me,

everything was a serious production. Boundaries were nonexistent. Even at the

tender age of three, I was crafting Playbills and debuting as a director,

playwright, and yes, the entire ensemble in my weekly episodes of Cody’s Puppet

Pals. By age six, I was practically a professional! I was the kid who formed his

own elementary school theater troupe, with grueling rehearsals every recess. I

single-handedly wrote, directed, and costumed our plays in my basement theater.

But then I entered middle school, and my mother’s words came back to me

with piercing clarity. I wanted a clean slate, to make friends, to fit in. I didn’t

want to be labeled the “annoying” director for all eternity. I let my creative

endeavors recede, expending that energy as the cross country captain and Latin

scholar. Still, I missed that nine-year-old who had the chutzpah to transform his

backyard into a battlefield.

“You’re still the same kid...” But by the end of eighth grade, I barely

recognized him. My creative intensity had officially chipped away. Where I’d

been an indestructible child visionary, I was now a compliant people-pleaser,

becoming progressively engrossed in what was socially conventional. I grew

more and more divorced from my authentic self. Was there any hope of

reconciliation?

“You’re still the same kid...” The summer before high school I went to writing

camp where I rediscovered my love for storytelling. Writing became my oasis.

Once again, it fed me: I could define my own characters, and indeed, my own

character through poetry, plays, and short fiction. Over the years, my writing has

morphed into a deep commitment to constructing narratives that are healing to

myself and others. Writing helps me test the parameters of my humanity, and

exploring communication through poetry, stories, plays and personal narratives

hones both my sense of joy and critical thinking. The genesis of my childhood was

the smiles I elicited reading aloud my Beatnik, Ginsbergesque verses among my

peers. Stories are a tool of togetherness. They’re a way of putting your arm

around someone, pointing at something, and saying, “Isn’t it funny that we do

that?” It’s a way of reaching out.

“You’re still the same kid...” My heart flutters as I’m overwhelmed by the

sincerity of these words. Devon acknowledges the person Isaac was yesterday as

the same person he is today. Isaac’s identity may not need a label, but he still

longs to be seen and accepted. I can still be the same creative and bold

fourth-grader while also being a young adult with a heart big enough to embrace

vulnerability without shame. I look over to my sister to see her face shining with

understanding and admiration, then to my proud parents who have only ever

wanted me to be happy. I feel whole, and celebrated for who I am: A storyteller.


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