July 7, 2020

The Stories We Tell Ourselves

Carina Frankal

“I grew up with stories”

This underwater forest has fueled my dreams and waking moments for the past 4 years with a powerful gravitational pull. This place has become my underwater home and every day, I crave the icy-cold water that brings me into my body, grabbing my mind’s full attention like nothing else.

Photo by Faine Loubser

My preference was fantasy fiction, where I accompanied fantastical tales to faraway lands, different in every way to my own. The bad person invariably got punished or better yet vaporised. And the good married the prince, and lived happily ever after. Apparently, I read every book in my junior school library; from Grimm’s fairy tales to the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Through high school I engaged with more inflammatory titles, from D.H Lawrence’s Lady Chatterly’s Lover to Andre Brink’s novel Looking on Darkness, which was banned during the apartheid era.

My childhood was unconventional in that I don’t really remember my parents featuring too much. My mom didn’t live with us and my Dad travelled abroad for 2 weeks of every month. We lived in Camps Bay and our backyard fed directly onto the lower slopes of Table Mountain, which I explored frequently with our German Shepard named Pontus.

My search for adventure was partly inspired by Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, which I’m embarrassed to say, included adorning myself with a clichéd wooden stick replete with knotted handkerchief. I shudder to think what else I might have mimicked had I had access to social media.

My rich imagination wasn’t always lauded, but I did excel at creative writing. I thought I would be a writer of children’s books, and after completing school and wondering around the world for a couple of years, I enrolled at a creative media college in the United States.

My dream of becoming a writer was quickly quashed by a Journalism 101 teacher who told me (or did I tell myself) that I couldn’t write. And at that point, unconsciously perhaps, I dropped writing as a career choice and become an enabler of other peoples stories.

Photo by Carina Frankal

I realised only recently, that I’m the author of all my stories and can create whatever narrative I want. Erasing labels of identity, attributed by others or self-subscribed, is freedom.

4 Years ago, when I erased the self-imposed narrative of ‘I don’t swim in cold water’, I created a portal between the stories that fuelled the imagination of my youth, and the verdant stories right here in front of me. The world of fantasy and adventure experienced in the ocean often belies language.

Nothing I’ve ever read about faraway lands can match what I see and experience on the coastline and below the ocean’s surface in the seaforest home on my doorstep. This is a world where even James Cameron’s Avatar would feel inspired.

It is during this time of social distancing, that I found myself reconnecting to the mountain which I am fortunate to have an amazing view of. Whilst doing yoga in our converted attic, I caught a glimpse of the Upper Cable Station, which the skylight disembodied from Table Mountain. I could only see the station, high up in the sky, with clouds floating around it.

This biblical scene reminded me of a memory from my youth. I remember looking up at the cable car at night, darkness obliterating the mountain, the bright light visible from what I told myself was God’s house. Maybe it is? I now know the San and Khoi people called Table Mountain Hoerikwagga – Mountain in the Sea.

Photos by Carina Frankal

I believe that the stories we tell ourselves are the most powerful. We shape these stories with unseen layers from our past, cobbled together within our current environment and this drives our trajectory towards our unique future selves. Had I had stuck to the story of ‘I don’t swim in cold water’, I would never have experienced that I actually love cold water, which has enriched my life immeasurably.

I am grateful for my childhood access to the literary greats which ignited my creativity; to the mountain which nurtured my soul; and today, to the ocean and incredible friendships forged, which are helping me discover my own story. As an adult, I still get overwhelmed by the modern world’s steady rush of media, and happily default to reading a book where I can determine the pace, design the scenery and cast the characters. I can feel the story of my own life taking shape, and more and more, I am casting myself in the central role.

Photo by Steven Frankal
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