Chapter I: Wonder
Close your eyes and imagine your younger self.
How young? That age where you believed anything was possible. When you wanted to be an astronaut-veterinarian-singer moonlighting as mad scientist when you grew up (and don’t you pretend like you never believed something like that).
Ok, you there yet? Good. Now, open your eyes again because I need you to keep reading the rest of this little story.
Little you is sitting on a park bench on a warm spring day. Other kids are at the playground, playing tag, crawling on the jungle gym, challenging each other on the monkey bars. Or, if you’re at the park that I’m currently at as I write this, the kids are not doing any of those things and are instead sitting around looking intently at their phones. Either way, doesn’t matter. It’s a warm spring day and you’re on your big green park bench. You’re probably holding an ice cream cone in one hand. In the other hand, you are most definitely holding the string to a bright, red balloon.
Like I said, it’s a warm spring day. The birds are chirping. The adults are off either feeding the ducks or rounding up their kids at the playground. One eccentric woman nearby is rollerblading for some reason. You’re happy as a clam.
That is, until a bee zigs and zags by you, giving your little heart a start for the briefest of moments. In that single, short, instant of distraction, when all your attention is turned, you let go of your beautiful, red balloon.
You emit a little gasp as you realize what just happened. Wide-eyed, you stare up wordlessly at your lost possession, as it bobs away quicker than you ever would have thought. It looks so out of place up there, like it doesn’t belong that high — even though you now realize that the balloon has been trying to get away and up into that sky from the first moment you got it. Now, its desire has been achieved, untethered and jail-broken, bouncing around in the air. Ever getting smaller.
It moves so quickly. One moment, it’s a bright red tomato against a blue egg shell tablecloth. The next, a juicy apple. You blink and now it’s a cherry on top of a sundae as it drifts by an ice cream cloud. Finally, it’s just a speck — a microscopic blemish in the middle of a vast, endless sky — and you’re squinting so hard you can’t tell if it’s superman or an airplane or your once beloved balloon.
Now, you ask yourself the same questions every kid asks when this inevitably happens:
Where will it go now?
How far will it drift?
Will a bird pop it? Or an airplane?
Will it go to outer space?
What happened to the ice cream that was I was holding in my other hand?
Fast forward a few years, now. You still remember that day at the park. You’re still young enough to wonder where the balloon could have gone. Maybe another country. Probably Nepal. The world is a big, big place and there’s lots of countries that balloon could be.
Maybe a young man in Barcelona saw it drift — just out of reach — past some angry bulls running through the streets.
Or perhaps it was spotted in the far background of a photo taken in Paris, behind two lovers kissing in front of the Eiffel Tower.
Possibly, in Tibet, another small child much like yourself glimpsed it and, seeing the balloon looking ragged from all its traveling, she managed to pluck it out of the air and draw a little smile on it. Then maybe she gave it to a nearby monk to put a similar smile on his own older, somber face.
It probably got eaten by a crocodile when it made it to Australia, but let’s hope not.
Are you still with me, reader? I never promised this would be a short story, or even a realistic one. But, I will promise that it will be fun, if you let it. Let your mind blur the lines between what is and what could be. After all, that’s what story-telling is all about. Open-mindedness is my favorite trait in readers like you. You’re willing to read on? Great, I like you already. You can’t tell from where you’re sitting, but I just high-fived you.
Back to our story. It’s weird, but let’s say you continually think about this balloon as you go about your life. It’s not the only thing you think about, of course, but it’s in the back of your mind somewhere, occasionally making appearances. The older you become, the more things get in the way of your balloon thoughts.
You go to school.
You learn to drive.
You go on dates.
You learn that talking about your missing balloon is not the best way to break the ice with someone cute on said dates.
By the time you go to college, you’re still wondering what the balloon is up to. You finish school and you’re faced with that great existential question that you probably should have answered before you spent fifty-thousand dollars on a degree.
What do I do for work?
What kind of life do I want?
What did I want to be when I grew up?
Where’d my dang balloon go?
All your friends are getting jobs at big companies, or getting married and having children. Most of these people lost balloons when they were kids, too. In fact, it seems everyone has at some point. But most of them have given up the search. They’ve found other things, sometimes better things, to fill their lives with. They don’t have time to think about their childhood balloon because they need to meet deadlines. Pay bills. Get the kids to school.
Maybe this describes you in real life. You might be reading this story late at night after a long day at work and after the kids are in bed. Maybe you don’t really care about that balloon you lost so many years ago. If so, that’s ok.
But let’s say for the sake of this story that imaginary “you” — this fictional “you” that is the main character of our little tale here — is still yearning for that balloon. You want that lost sense of wonder and whimsy. The regular world doesn’t satisfy you and you miss that feeling you had as a child at that park. That feeling that the whole world was open to you. The feeling you could be anything and everything. No matter where you are in your own life right now, place yourself in those shoes for a little bit, thinking that anything is possible. Believing the rest of this story will be much easier that way.
Obsessed at this point, you decide to search for your childhood wonder. You’re going to find that balloon. To do that, though, you need money. But, making money means time spent not looking for your balloon. Thinking about this catch-22 makes you dizzy and sad.
Nevertheless, you hesitantly get a job. A few jobs, actually. Doesn’t really matter what they are because all you care about is saving up enough money to fund your quest. Luckily, this is just a story so we can skip whatever parts of your fictional life we don’t feel like reading. So we won’t bother pouring over the mundane hours of labor. The bosses who don’t care for you. The attractive coworker or, maybe, the coworker who thinks you’re attractive. The paychecks. The savings. The taxes. Oh, the taxes!
No, we’ll skip all of that. After all, Ian Fleming doesn’t make us read through all the expense reports that 007 has to file after every exciting mission. No, we only read the fun stuff. The car chases, the exotic places and fierce gun fights. Paperwork and bureaucracy do not make for a good blockbuster movie.
So, you work for a while, and live like a pauper, saving money for what feels like an eternity. Finally, you can start your journey! You can go off into the unknown and find your balloon. Step one: you charter a…balloon. A big balloon. A hot air balloon, to scout the skies over distant lands in search of your floating friend. Like the hero of a Jules Verne novel, you search far and wide as the captain of your floating ship, riding the winds from place to place. You make yourself cozy in your home in the sky.
*Am I being too silly for you at this point? Then I thank your for indulging my whimsy thus far, dear reader. Storytelling is like making a friend. If you’re enjoying this little tale, if you find it easy to hop into the shoes of this fictional “you” (or, even if it’s difficult but you’re at least giving it your best shot — flexing your creative muscles of the mind) then I feel like we would make good friends.*
One day, though, high up in your hot air balloon, you discover a flaw in your plan. As you roam from city to city in search of your treasure, you find that the world is a big, big place. Every time you stop, you talk to people. You learn about them in the hopes that they have a clue that can help your mission. Maybe they’ve seen it, glimpsed it. Maybe they’ve even lost their own balloon, done their own search, and have been successful in finding it again. You find that you’re endlessly exploring through the stories of the people you meet on your travels. There seems to be no end to your search. So many people, so many places.
The world is a big, big place.
But, you know what’s even bigger than the world? The depths of a single person’s mind and all the stories they have for you. And, there’s seven billion of these endlessly interesting minds all living in this endlessly interesting, big, big world. Each of them is literally a lifetime of stories, lessons, cultures, ideas. As you try to absorb it all on your travels in your big hot air balloon (did you give it a good name? Every ship needs a name), you start to become a bit lost. You’ve oddly become a version of what you were looking for: a lost balloon looking for a lost balloon.
You are the best kind of lost, though. You are lost in the wonders and stories and excitement and colors of everything you see and learn. Over seven billion endless minds. Over seven billion lifetimes of stories all set against the background of this big, big world.
It’s overwhelming in the best way. It’s like that feeling you get when you walk into huge bookstore, shelves stacked to the ceiling, maybe even multiple floors. Or, maybe it’s the feeling you get any time you try to buy something online.
On one normal day of your travels, you stop in at a bistro for a snack (is any day “normal” at this point? You’re living in a hot air balloon traveling the world to find a childhood plaything). It’s a warm day, so you take your food outside to the patio. The place is busy, full of local workers and businessmen taking a quick lunch, so you have to share the counter space with someone who is reading a book.
You sit next to this person.
You notice they are reading a book about a faraway place.
They notice that you are staring at their book.
Striking up a conversation, you two start talking about their fascination with books and your fascination with faraway places. Charmed, this person listens to your story. When you get to the part about searching the stomachs of crocodiles in Australia to see if your balloon is in there, your one person audience laughs in disbelief. “That’s crazy” they sigh, “You’ll never find your balloon that way. You have to narrow your search,” they grab their book, “Do some reading, plan things out a little.”
This person you just met at lunch drags you to a bookstore and grabs a few things. Then, it’s off to a coffeeshop. Sitting down together, they drop a stack of books on the small table between you both. “You could spend your whole life exploring one place,” they say. Then, they pick up a book, “Or, you can read about hundreds of new places in just a few hours.”
You quickly become friends due to your overlapping passions.
You: passionate for exploring the world to find your balloon.
Your friend: passionate for exploring literature and maybe helping you find your balloon.
The two of you lose track of time learning fun, new things about the world around you. Days go by. Weeks. The two of you start to make lists.
A list of places you’ve read about that you both want to see: Cape Horn. The Canals of Venice. Mount Kilimanjaro.
A list of festivals and cultures you want to experience: Cherry blossom season. Sturgis. Skiing in the Alps.
A list of foods you want to try: Pufferfish in Japan. Spanish wine. Chili on a cinnamon roll?
The two of you are now inseparable friends. You travel together. One place to the next. Each location so much more fun than you thought it’d be, getting wonderfully lost in the details of every city. Sometimes in these cities, you pick up odd jobs for short periods to keep your funds stocked. Other times, you’re both in a little coffee shop on a rainy day, digging through a good book, sneaking peeks out the window at passerby between chapters, wondering what their story is and if they might have clues to finding your balloon. Even if they don’t, you bet they have interesting stories to tell you nonetheless.
Often traveling. Often reading. Always having fun. Trying new things. New foods. Making new friends and meeting up with old ones in-between trips.
As you go through this adventure, you find that most people — in fact, everyone you’ve met — had a balloon at some point. Some people found them. Others didn’t. Some gave up on their search. Others assumed their balloon forever gone. Maybe it deflated or popped as it got higher and higher in the sky. Maybe there was nothing to look for.
You feel bad for these people who go about their lives without any sense of wonder or desire to find their balloon. Your friend feels bad for those who are still searching but have become even more lost than you were.
On one fateful trip, your friend decides that, maybe you two can help the others you meet. Maybe you can share with those people the things you’ve experienced, and maybe your stories will give them clues in their own search. Or, maybe your tales can help those who gave up — inspiring them to resume the mission to find their own lost childhood wonder and passions, reigniting their fascination about the world and helping them to look beyond their everyday lives. Maybe you can help them to catch a glimpse of the fun and craziness of the world around them.
Because you and your friend have lost a little bit of your sanity due to all your travels and are possibly delusional, you decide the best way to share your stories is to write a book. Little do either of you know that writing a book is hard. And the process of getting one published…well, it’s just asinine.
At the very least, you’re both smart enough to know that, despite how wonderful the world is, no one really wants to read a droning travel journal filled with banal notes from around the world.
So instead, you take a page out of your lost balloon’s playbook. You decide to add a dash of unexpected whimsy. A little fiction. You take your life full of fun-to-experience-but-boring-to-read stories and add magic so they’re both fun to experience and even more fun to read…you hope. You add dragons. Chance encounters. Fish that were this big. You add hot air balloons and crocodiles. Wonder. Colors. Emotion.
You hope your readers are willing to open their mind and play along to these stories that you embellish. You realize it doesn’t really matter whether the events you write down actually happened exactly the way you described them as long as your readers enjoy the ride and maybe get inspired themselves about the world around them. They don’t have to travel the world in a hot air balloon looking for their passion or meaning to their life. They just have to have a willing spirit, and some time to read.
Through your stories, you try to transport your reader friends across the looking glass to experience the big, big stories set in the big and bigger world around them.
Plot twist spoiler in act three: The “you” in this tale is me. I know, I know. You’re blindsided, right? Biggest surprise since that perfect grade you got in High School maths. Hopefully this story managed to transport you into another life. My life. Some of what you just read is true, though most of it is a…half-fiction.
Actually, this entire tale up to now has been kind of a test. If you’re still reading this — still enjoying this — if you can use these words as tools for your imagination and visualize yourself in this story, willing to accept the truth with the fun and the nonsense and the balloons, then you have passed the test. You have passed and this book is for you. You can read on, we can become friends, and you’ll love the stories I have in store for you up ahead.
Are the stories true? Sure, a little.
Are the stories all made up? Sure again, but they’re believable. Mostly.
Does it matter one way or another? I don’t think so. You just have to read on and enjoy the ride.
I’m a storyteller and a traveler. I can’t promise honesty. I can’t promise a good plot filled with heroes and villains. I can’t even promise “good” writing, whatever that is. But I can promise it’ll be a fun journey. It’ll make you laugh. We’ll become fast friends as you get to know me through these stories and I, in turn, get to know you by the simple fact that you keep reading through this silliness. There may even be some metaphors along the way, much like that dumb balloon, that show us a thing or two about life.
So, get cozy, because we’re diving in head first starting with the next page.
Enjoy this little overview intro to my life? Want to read the rest of the story? Follow along on Medium as I write each chapter! You’ll get to see all of my other writing, both fiction and nonfiction as well as access to each chapter of my story as soon as I write it.