“The realm of fairy-story is wide and deep and high and filled with many things: all manner of beasts and birds are found there; shoreless seas and stars uncounted; beauty that is an enchantment, and an ever-present peril; both joy and sorrow as sharp as swords.”
J.R.R. Tolkien, On Fairy-Stories
In which I attempt to validate what it means to be a writer amidst apathetic hyperrealism, and also to remember who I was, and what I am.
Water runs from the tap, floods each crevice of my body. I wish I could write that it covers a lustrous expanse of smooth alabaster skin, but it trickles over an imperfect marring of birthmarks and freckles: fine white hairs visible on my stomach and pale breasts tugged slightly outwards by gravity. My incandescent beauty is only fantasy—one of the few I am able to have anymore.
When I was a little girl, I stepped effortlessly through visions of smoke and half-truths: Arda, Tír Na NÓg, Cittàgazze, Aredante, Charn. I read and wrote with a blissful abandon that I can scarcely imagine today. I sought to walk in worlds of shadow, and return to the daylight when it suited me—but as years passed, I was not permitted to. I do not know why, but the people of this world will bind you here. They will mock what made you, insist that in their ill-kept reality of cheap television and organized sports, what you find true is absurd, childish. Eight years later you will have hickeys and scars and half-shaved hair and a smoker’s cough; you will have acceptance letters from your top universities and a lifetime of disappointment to forget.
When I was a little girl, every word I wrote felt inspired. I walked through dreams more real than any lover’s lips against my skin. But in the harsh light of adolescence I learned to seek that same clarity in razor blades or fingertips—in blood dripping down an empty sink or a quickening pulse as my lips parted and my body arched to meet the curve of my spine. Ecstasy and agony joined in these moments: they were all that I had left of my vanished worlds.
When I was a little girl, I killed characters often, and sometimes brutally. I do not believe it was macabre. I wept for them, and for those they left behind. I wept for myself and what it took from me and what it all meant. I think I killed because my protagonists needed this: even then I knew that living for something was a fallacy–that we had to live in spite of something if we hoped to live at all.
How could I have conceived something like this so young? Maybe I foresaw my depression, my self-loathing, the fragmentation of my family, the departure of the father I loved so desperately, who came closer to walking in those worlds with me than anyone else ever has. But I do not think so. I think that maybe I knew the worth of tragedy long before I felt it, simply because I had read the stories: I knew that Frodo never truly returned to the Shire, that the last of the Valar faded into Westernesse, that Lyra healed wounds in the world with a love she could not keep, that even Narnia fell into ash and ruin.
It’s funny what registers as candid for me. I’ve written about my body, my family, my depression, myself. But this strikes at the untested heart of what it means to make me vulnerable. I have never before written about my childhood, about that love of the intangible that forms the burning core of who I am. These are my words, my worlds, my solace. What would it mean to let others in?
Fantasy and science fiction: The Chronicles of Narnia and His Dark Materials and Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings. When I read or I write, I remember who I am and no standard in the “real world” can take that from me. I cannot be ashamed to walk through other worlds, any more than I can blame those who remain shackled to this one. We are where we come from, and I am what I write; my eternal childhood is captured in paper and ink.
Water trickles out of each margin, each gap of my still-breathing flesh, where I used to see droplets of spilled ink and little pools of Garamond font. The bathwater drains and then there is nothing: no mist-filled forests or canyons of wind, no barren seas of moonlit snow or skies frozen with stars. It is 11pm on a Wednesday, 30 degrees outside, my history essay needs writing, and I am alive. I begin to think that maybe its time to start cleaning out my bookshelf.