In the next instalment of this series by Cate T. S. Casalme, Lydia Hoffman reflects on Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends and how it transported her to a world of magic and wondrous experience; one that she strives to create in her life every day as a university student.
None of it really makes sense. The lines barely come together, looking more like a scribble than a carefully crafted illustration. The words rhyme, yet bear little resemblance to any poem within the literary canon. At first glance, the pages seem to reveal nonsensical musings designed for a nascent observer.
Growing up, Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends was my portal. Once opened, the purple walls of my childhood room melted away, and up sprang the two-dimensional world made up of Silverstein’s scrawls from the corners of each page. I eagerly thumbed through the pages with chocolate-covered fingers, staining each corner with a brown thumbprint. The stories I attentively read had simple diction, yet they told of impossible wonders like flying boys and rats that ate cats. Glancing at my old, ragged copy from so many years ago, the binding magically opens to a particular poem. On a wrinkled yellow page, eight lines compose the stanza that I read nearly every day:
Sandra’s seen a leprechaun,
Eddie touched a troll,
Laurie danced with witches once,
Charlie found some goblins gold.
Donald heard a mermaid sing,
Susy spied an elf,
But all the magic I have known
I’ve had to make myself.
At the time, I honestly connected with this poem due to my temporary love of leprechauns. But over time, I started to understand how it describes a person’s ability to imagine something more spectacular than a chance encounter with a mischievous fairy leading her to a hidden pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Now I see that the poem describes a person who has not been handed many of life’s incredible opportunities, but who instead takes the initiative to create her own.
After revisiting the poems, I discovered another artifact from my youth tucked inside the back cover. My old homemade bookmark, tattered and nearly illegible, inquired in bright pink Comic Sans, “What do you want to be?” The faint pencil markings barely disclose my response: “a magician.” Though I love a good magic trick, I truly yearned for the ability to turn my life into an adventure of my own design. These days, instead of dreaming up enchanting creatures, I spend my time scouring the internet for the cheapest way to see the Northern Lights or the coolest car to drive across the country, all in the hopes of making some magic of my own.
This collection of poems serves as a guidebook for how I would like to live my life. The eponymous poem urges me to return to a time that combines majesty and mystery, and to find awesome wonder in the unknown. I must abandon the perfection and comfort that accompany the gray hue of an ordinary existence in favor of the bright and striking colors of invention and creativity—to go to where the sidewalk ends.
Silverstein’s collection is still my portal, and so I strive to go to sleep a bit happier than I awoke by actively pursuing creativity in my day. Now that I am at university, I look to the future as an opportunity for joy rather than striving for conventional success. My plans often largely resemble those scribbled illustrations from my beloved copy, but I embrace the messiness as an exhilarating opportunity to be passionate about whatever I do. The sidewalk ends somewhere, and I will not be afraid to step off the edge, away from the safety nets that life has provided for me.
Like this article? Interested in telling The Tribe about your own book that made you? In this series called “To The Books That Made Us” created by first year Caterina T. S. Casalme, pieces of literature big and small, academic or not, are discussed in terms of their effects on you. If you’d like to contribute to “To The Books That Made Us”, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.