Earlier today I was reading my sister’s college essay. She wanted to know what had written about eight years ago, so I looked through my email and found my own essay for Colorado College. I wrote it back in late 2006, before I became vegan, came out as queer or even realized I was nonbinary, became politicized as a person of color, and moved to beautiful Colorado which is now so near and dear to me. It’s pretty fun to think about the journeys we go on, and how we really have no idea where we will end up. (Though I’ll believe I’ll always be decidedly queer, vegan, a person of color, a bicyclist, a nerd…) So, here you go!
The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster affected me profoundly. I love children’s literature, and this story is a particularly delicious specimen. It opens in the most colorless possible way, describing the painful monotony of the protagonist’s existence. Milo, a child of ambiguous birthplace and age, represents every bored or uninspired person. He has every material want fulfilled — playthings of every variety clutter his room — but he is unsatisfied; his life has no joy, no purpose. He is not so much lost as completely directionless. I would not say that I see a caricature of myself in Milo; he and the characters he meets are too extreme, pure, and unfiltered to appear in the real world. Milo’s transformation, or epiphany, however, I see as completely honest, and analogous to my own. At some point along his enlightening journey, he realizes the value of a moment, the worth of one human life (his journey, in which he accomplishes so much and which stretches many weeks in his memory, takes only one hour in “real time.”) I’m not sure when I reached this same epiphany, but I know that it was sometime in my high school years. I realized that for me, experience and knowledge are more valuable than material goods, and that all I want to do is experience everything good and exciting and leave my mark of goodwill in the world, no matter how small. There are gems of wisdom scattered throughout the story, but one at the end strikes me as particularly true and potent: as Milo celebrates the end of his quest in the Kingdom of Wisdom, the Princesses of Rhyme and Reason tell him a secret about his task: it was impossible. Only after he is finished can he know this, for if they had “told you then [before you had started], you might not have gone – and, as you’ve discovered, so many things are possible just as long as you don’t know they’re impossible.”