It begins when you wake at 5am – and must be ready to go by 5.15, at the latest. Normally, when I give an “at the latest” time to you, it means you turn up at least ten minutes after the time I’ve requested.
You will not be late today.
You will be so pleased with yourself – for arriving on time, to this most important moment. And then, you will realise…
… I’m not coming with you.
You must go on this journey without me and I won’t even be able to hug you goodbye.
Time’s ticking – I now have nine minutes to tell you everything. One minute ago, it was 04:50.
Want to wrap your head around what’s happening in this story and start again at The Beginning?
Or want to scroll, read on, see the rest of it?
In the time we have left together, I’ll have to tell you everything I want you to know through a story – Storytelling Tip: Nothing else, but a story, can shine a light on a whole life, in such a short space of time.
Okay… Once upon a future time, you look at your own children.
You will have many – some born to you, some given to you, some claimed by you. They are all loved. They are each bright, shining.
Once upon a future time, you are glad you gave so much time and effort to raising these little ones, growing them into tall flowers.
The first child, you will meet soon after the first time you finish reading this story, as in, The End.
Together, you will start a different, but connected, looping tale. Storytelling Tip: All stories are connected.
I will write now of the way you look after that child, when no one else will – though you are still growing yourself. The way you take their hand. The way you carry them along the last part of the hot valley walk, while you sweat half-to-death – which is your own fault, for reasons you will understand later.
You will be a sibling, a carer and a friend to that first child. You will show everyone around you all the things that children are capable of, in the way you take on the welfare of a younger person in need.
Storytelling Tip: You can always write a different story for yourself, than the one that other people have imagined about you.
At The End of this story – when you have read it a thousand times over – you will find out about another new life on its way to meet you. A new baby growing. (Yes, it’s that thousandth time at last – the part you’ve always shaken your head at, all the other times of reading this.)
You are now thinking, “Have I really read this story a thousand times?” You are wishing you could go back to The Beginning and pay more attention – this is one of the things we all think, when we get to an important part of our stories.
So, a new part of you is coming.
You are delighted, excited and unnerved to think that I told you, from The Beginning, this would happen.
You will feel like part of me is in that baby, wondering if the baby even came to be born because I wrote about it… It did and it didn’t. I mean, I honestly don’t know – why don’t you decide that part of the story for yourself too?
These moments – of the past rushing up to meet the future – they have you puzzling, wondering:
“How can I write my own story?” Should I read these Storytelling Tips I’ve been given?
You think on how to plot narratives. How to detail characters. How to take parts of your real life and weave a fiction with them.
You will wonder, how can you make sense of yesterday, tomorrow and today, through a story? Did I mention my Storytelling Tips? Ha. Sorry to go on and on.
(You can also ignore all the writing advice, if none of it suits, as there’s really only one rule – write what you want to read.)
At some point in this tale, you can see slopes of grass, rocks, forests, paths we trod – I based all of this bit of the description in this story on our family photos.
I can look ahead in time and see the rows of cottages – on the other side of the valley. I can remember how we used to look at those snug homes, wishing we were indoors, on windy holiday campsite mornings.
Did I make the right choice? Setting your future story in that location? I had to place it somewhere I could imagine. I had to see, in my mind’s eye, how your life might flourish and unfurl – among the ferns, flowers, fields and farms – in the place we loved so well, on so many outdoor holidays.
I took a piece of something I knew really well – a location – and then wrote a story set there. Another Storytelling Tip – but you knew that by now, right?
I see you there – Once upon a future time.
You often paddle with your children, in the ancient riverbed, near where you live now. All our family photos help me to imagine you with them, in the way I’ve described.
When you are with your children like this, you will think of your childhood, which means you will think of me, as I am now thinking of my future grandchildren. Even though I’ve stayed here, at The Beginning, we will also be together in this way, in your once upon a future time.
You try to land pebbles upon the jagged, giant rock that stands in the always-moving water, near where you live now. Since you were but a toddling dot, you have loved to throw stone after stone, into that endless flow.
This writer thinks you will never see a stone land successfully and remain upon that rock – and you will also never stop trying to make it happen, so maybe, in your story, a stone will land one day after all.
You feel like you are living in our family photos, when you are at the river. Your digital memories intermingle with your present and future days, whenever you dip your toes in the onward flow of water and time.
You will sometimes deliberately go there, just so you can feel the past around you. Sometimes you will stay away from it, wanting to be free of all that’s happened before.
And, with six minutes to go before you wake up today, I’m going to make this the middle of the story. Storytelling Tip: I’m the writer, I get to decide.
Just lately, so many people have panicked, pulled out, fled too soon. Or they’ve put up with where we all are, afraid to ever make a needed change – like the sayings go.
But I waited, calmed my breath, assessed daily the situation and regularly called the people who run the farm, where we’ve so often holidayed. That is why now, when we must, you are able to go and live there, upon their land.
And you are well prepared, in a practical sense – I have given you all you need to survive, physically, in the outdoors.
And I have taught you that, just because people like us aren’t often found in our country’s greener spaces, doesn’t mean we don’t have the right to be there. We do. Remind yourself of how the sayings go, if anyone ever tries to make you feel like you are taking up another person’s space.
But you are still young and, like all young people, you find adults annoying and you roll your eyes and say:
“Yes, I know!” Or:
“I can do it myself!” Or:
And all the other things children say. Children are right, when they say all these things, by the way. And you will need to think you’re right, in order to thrive, while growing yourself up the rest of the way without me.
I’ve left you here as well a list of all those things adults say. I always tried not to be that kind of parent, but I was anyway. We all are. In the absence of me being able to tell you off, celebrate you, overreact and protect you, you can look at these and imagine what I might say.
And there’s more yet – more quick, easily-passed knowledge. Humanity’s wiki of experience is full of these clichés, “wisdom quotes” – the way the sayings go.
I used to think these kinds of things were a joke – now I grab them quickly, snatching back time – in the five minutes I have left to tell you everything. . They may be of use to you. They may be all you have.
I think of all the other things I haven’t told you about yet. I always planned to make you lists of things one day – books, films, TV shows, places – things that say something about me. Things I think you should know.
But, I’m out of time. So I’ve left you all the music I could pull together quickly.
It’s not enough. I’ve missed so much. And there’s not a single piece of inappropriate language on there (I think) – though you will know what to look for, if you’ve been listening to all my tastes for all these years.
But I had just a few minutes to throw together all the music I could. And you have hours there. Each track the start of another.
If you use a song to explore what else connects to it, you can go on listening to music forever.
I can imagine you, wide-awake, in your tent, listening to all the music, when you should be asleep. I can write about this – not because I really know your, “Once upon a future time” – but because I’m thinking of what I know about you and what I know about myself and making them into a future possibility – Storytelling Tip.
I remember times, when we have lain awake, chatting and singing songs in our tent. I can easily recall the feeling of our sleeping bags – pulled tight, darkness all around us. I can burrow into the detail and create descriptions of torches, lighting up our chins, while we sheltered cosily.
Back then, you would demand more songs more stories and I – my tired, adult eyelids drooping in the dark – could never say no to you.
And that’s just what this feels like now, as I write it – at The Beginning. I’m telling you one more story.
And, this writer is guessing, that you won’t always enjoy reading it.
At times, you will feel angry that we are not together. Other times, you will believe that reading this is the only way you can feel close to me. Neither, and both, of those things are true.
You will spend too much time looking at our family photos, until you won’t know if you’re an adult or a child anymore.
You will look at your own children and realise – as adults eventually do – that the things you thought separated you from me – time, age and experience – are the things that will later bring us back together.
It will all become clear. We will be but a breath away, from once again reaching out to touch and hug each other. You will think, what if you knew me when I was a little? How would we have played together?
Storytelling Tip – you can imagine a different future, or another version of the past, by telling yourself a new story about it.
In a future dawn – like my present one – I write that you rise.
Meanwhile, here, at 04:50, I let the dawn light into my eyes.
In the future, you step outside and remember our family photos – you think of me, always out of the tent early, drinking tea in the porch and enjoying the view.
I know, I miss you too.
In the future, you stand, look up at the sky, stretch, head out to the toilet, then back to dress. You ‘forget’ to clean your teeth, again. But then you remember me, nagging:
“Brush for two minutes, look at your mouth, reach to the back.”
Those things adults say.
You smell your own breath and grin, remembering how cross I could become, about the little things you didn’t think were important.
You will think of what you might have said back to me, one of those things children say.
Then you will honour me, by going back to the campsite washing place, to brush your teeth properly. You know I’m right!
Your morning sun creeps upwards in your sky – like it does for me, at The Beginning. The birds, which were singing so much, in my dawn, just a few of my moments ago, are calming down now around you, in the future.
As you enjoy your clean teeth and the morning light, you realise you have come to love the sunrise, just like me. You wish you could tell me this. Don’t worry – I already know.
At The Beginning, once I stop writing, you will wake in our house for the last time – in your room, next to mine. You will pull on socks and clothes, layering your daytime outfit over your pyjamas – the amount of times I’ve told you not to do that.
You’ll think of me, in the room next to yours, and you’ll enjoy ignoring my imaginary voice in your head. Shrugging in advance, at whatever I might say later – of those things adults say.
You will imagine yourself replying sarcastically, with one of those things children say.
Later, you will regret not listening to my imaginary voice in your head, as you walk six miles – from the crossroads where you are dropped off – sweating hard, in your layers, your pyjamas stuck to you.
Know, at this point, I would say one of the most regular of those things adults say:
“I told you so.”
The midday, midsummer heat will shimmer above the sticky, tarmac road. You will be scorched, as you travel up the centre of the valley. And you will have a little one to carry for the last part of the walk too, remember?
Imagine me now, at The Beginning, shaking my head – knowing this would happen – which I am.
Remember, how I would get, when I would give you a list of all the things you hadn’t listened to me about?
Well, I knew you would regret not charging your phone last night.
I knew, on the journey, you would feel wretched that you can’t text me, or check if you have any messages from me.
When you eventually switch on your phone, you will see After Words.
You will read my story once straight through, then read it again slowly, many times, clicking on all the links.
I’ve tried to stretch time, make ten minutes of the written word speak of a lifetime of me – far away, but also next to you.
I’ve put myself in a story for you, hoping it would help you later. But now you are reading the story, I’m not really in it anymore – you are.
The sun has again risen,
I am letting the light in
This story is like a poem –
It has The Middle,
A looping rhythm, of me and you.
Once upon a future time,
You’ll get lost in your story,
You’ll feel lonely without me,
It’s going to be okay.
You can choose The Beginning,
You can write The Middle, The End,
You let the light in,
On this After Words day.