Thursday, June 25, 2009

Dreams of Childhood Fanfic

A post by Justine Larbalestier reminded me of my own first attempts at writing.

It was the summer of 1976, our second summer in the new house. I was 12 and I discovered the TV show 'The Magician' in late night re-runs. I was instantly hooked and made a deal with my parents; if I went to bed extra early I could get up at 11:30 p.m. to watch it then go straight back to bed. I can't say what it was about the show that addicted me. To this day I have a fondness for Corvettes.

I remember that I wanted to insert myself in that world. My first year at the new school was a spectacular failure (shy loner + new school = unhappy target). I wanted escape, I wanted to be the one in control of my world. The only way to do it with more permanence than day dreaming was to write myself into a different world. I borrowed my mother's Olivetti typewriter and wrote several stories that summer. The main character was a world-famous magician and she had all sorts of adventures including one set in Hawaii, a place I'd never been, before. I hole-punched the stories and put them in a report cover so it felt like I had a real book.

It was fanfiction. I had no idea it existed, at the time, didn't realize that was what I was doing. All I knew was that writing those stories made me forget the unhappiness of 6th grade.

That same summer I read The Hobbit and was instantly hooked on fantasy. I found Katherine Kurtz' Deryni books and McCaffrey's Dragonrider books among many others. Of course I had to have a fantasy character of my own but she was set in her own world, this time, an analog of ancient Egypt which I was also crazy about thanks to Zilpha Keatley Snyder's The Egypt Game. I made maps, developed a history, even made a clumsy attempt at lang con, including an alphabet I created.

As I got older all of the stories, maps and materials went into a cardboard box. I'd write from time to time on legal pads or in journals, adding them to the Box o' Writing but I wasn't serious about it at the time. I was still trying to figure out what to do with my life. I took the box with me to my first apartment and some of the stuff I'd done as a child actually provided a basis for my first (unpublished and rightly so) novel.

The box came with me to Oregon then back to California, surviving mostly untouched. Then, around 1993 or 1994 I did something I regret to this day.

Between 1990 and 1992, our roommates got us involved in Amway. Yes, I know. At the time, though, I was desperate to figure out where I belonged and it seemed like the right fit. If you know anything at all about Amway, one of the ways they keep you hooked is to sell you motivational materials. At the time it was cassette tapes. One in particular talked about if you haven't used or worn something in the last 6 months you should get rid of it.

Although I was no longer in Amway that idea stayed with me. I thought if I'd held on to something so long and hadn't done anything with it I should get rid of it, that I was a failure for holding on to stuff I wasn't using. I'd lugged that box of writing around for years and barely looked at it. So, one day it went into the trash along with other things that weren't worth donating somewhere.

All those childhood dreams of different people and different worlds gone. I thought throwing it all out would somehow make me better, more worthy in unseen eyes. I thought that because I hadn't touched the creations of my childhood mind in so long those creations were no longer worthy of having space in my life.

I don't keep a lot of mementos. I'm not sentimental by nature. My husband is the opposite, keeping the oddest bits. It makes for interesting discussions when I'm on a cleaning binge had have to talk him into throwing out 10-year-old catalogs.

I miss that box, though. I can still see the map I created for my fantasy world, the symbols I drew on it, the cities I created. I remember bits and pieces of the stories I wrote as a child and I long to have that book report cover in my hands so I could leaf through the adventures I wrote.

I keep all my journals now. I printed out the unpublishable first novel and put it in a binder so that when I could no longer access the soft copy version (written in WordPerfect on an old IBM XP) I had something I could read, something that would remind me of the joy of writing that awful, wonderful thing.

Never, ever cut yourself off from your creative voice or the product of your creativity to please an outsider, to pander to the nebulous They. Protect those creations, even if they make The Eye of Argon look like sheer brilliance. Treasure your flights of fancy whether written in childhood or written yesterday. Old dreams don't take up much space. So long as you don't live in them, they don't take up much time, either.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Confidence of Night

It's gone midnight. The heat is bleeding off, finally. Much as I love the summer heat and sun, I love summer nights, too. There is a cool confidence to the night I find soothing. Standing on the porch, gazing at the night sky I feel more at home within myself. It isn't a matter of darkness hiding me. It's a matter of possibility stretching out like the barely visible arm of the Milky Way. Each star is a pinpoint of potential.

I love driving at night during summer. Flying along Highway 5, new-mown hay acrid and green, stinging my nose. The highway quiet and empty between towns. Sensible people asleep while I swoop along the gentle rise and fall of the road. Driving at night in the summer means adventure, something new to see. I've always had a good vacation when it started out with a night-time drive.

It's dark beyond the window, a slight breeze easing the heat of the living room. The Beebe is streaming on the laptop, telling me news of things that American media will not tackle. I'm grateful for this technological that age allows me to hear voices of dissent from other lands, voices that make me uncomfortable, that remind me complacency is a path of cowardice.

Everything I hear, everything I see is a lesson, right now. There are always lessons but it has a way of swelling like a storm blowing in off the Pacific. Sometimes it feels like a baseball bat smashing knowledge into my head, as though some exasperated goddess has gotten tired of me being obtuse, or complacent.

So many people seem to learn these lessons at a much younger age. How do they do it? What life did they live that they 'got it' and I'm just now 'getting it'? I'm 44 and I feel like I'm just waking up. Where others have 60 or 70 years to utilize these lessons I've got 40 or 50 (the women in our family are long lived and pretty sharp well into their 90s so I'm thinking positive). Is it enough time? That's a silly question, though. Of course it's enough if I use the time well.

The things I'm learning aren't important to anyone but me. It's important, though, that you don't ignore the lessons around you. Be open to them. Be willing to see lessons even in places that don't seem appropriate for a lesson. Then take them into yourself and act on the things you learn.

I feel content for the first time since December. I think I can do anything, when I feel like this. I would like to make that true, this time.