Happy Friday, denizens of the internet. It is cold out, and gloomy, and I find I can’t rouse the energy to talk about my dancing life. I have several shows and events in the next few weeks, and my after-work existence has consisted of bouncing from rehearsal to rehearsal with nary a moment to rest. The moments I do have time to think are consumed by musings on my stories, and as such I have constructed a history of my imagination.
John Green has often said nothing is more boring than hearing about someone else’s dream. And yet he still posts about his on social media–suggesting to me that the need to share things both bizarre and fearful is stronger than the intellect to keep quiet.This story is not so much about a dream but an idea, and where that idea came from. It does, however, start with a dream.
When I was 6 years old, I had a dream. I was wandering around the schoolyard, a hilly acre dominated by the pastel-painted building I spent my kindergarten and first-grade days. Populating the yard were my friends and classmates–faces and and names now mostly lost to time. As I walked, a green mist swept through the playground and changed everyone it touched into characters from my imagination. Mostly wolves. I was on a wolf kick then. And so out of the mist walked a great white wolf with emerald green eyes–my main character.
The dream unsettled me then and it still does now. I’d always been an imaginative child, but after this subconscious event I began inventing stories and characters in greater detail. I’d slip into their skin and cavort around, dragging my friends along with me. I’ve never really been sure, but I seem to recall nearly always getting my way in the pretend-play sessions–perhaps my sheer force of personality and crazy ideas quelled any argument. More likely I was an imagination-monopolizing jerk.
My first ‘universe’ if you will, was the epic tale of Snowy the wolf. It was a mythological story of the most archetypal sort–Sun-wolves, eternally locked in combat with the Moon-wolves. Snowy, a white wolf with green eyes and magical powers, had two brothers and a sister, all with sun-themed names and yellow eyes. The Moon-wolves were led by a single black wolf with red eyes. I don’t remember his name, though a picture exists somewhere at my parent’s house. Moonstones were like acid to the touch of the Sun-wolves, sunstones likewise for their enemies. The last time I played this story with a unsuspecting friend, Snowy was being tortured to death at the hands of the moon-stone wielding minions of the evil–a cliff-hanger interrupted by the arrival of her mother and never resolved.
My next universe detailed the somewhat-meta adventures of a small clan of plastic toys. A haphazard collection of dinosaurs, anthropomorphic chipmunks, and Happy Meal movie-characters. They were led by Yellow, a glow-in-the-dark pterodactyl who flew on disabled wings with the help of a magic rubber band harness. Constantly under siege by forces of evil, she led her followers through victories and defeats, aided by jungle girl Maya, amorously-unlucky, one-armed Mr. Knight, right-hand dino Claw, and her turncoat cousin, as well as a collection of largely disinterested fairies. Interestingly, the universe in which they lived was a large Cave (my room), controlled by a benevolent overlord (me) who would sometimes swoop in dues ex machina and change things. Obviously I’m biased, but it was fairly sophisticated for an 8- to 10-year-old, what with the leadership decisions, characters with disabilities, and grey morality.
Past the golden age of Yellow and company, the timeline of Holly-creations grows fuzzy. There are other universes I’ve forgotten. My many paper dolls had detailed tales long since lost. I only remember contentious fragments of the Beanie Babies’ hierarchy. The benevolent overlord of the Yellow-verse morphed into a brief flirtation with Athena, Morgan le Fay, and other powerful mythological women living in a cave and dealing with magic stones. As you do.
If I claim to remember the moment my child-like imagination turned on, the next obvious questions is: Do I remember the moment it turned off? Unfortunately yes. One day as a thirteen-year-old 7th grader I realized it’d been awhile since Yellow and friends had some adventures. I got up from my jigsaw puzzle and tried to dive in, only to discover it felt…wrong. Stilted. Immersion didn’t happen. I brushed it off, but as the months passed and the feelings didn’t improve, I eventually packed my friends away, with all the reverence and solemnity of a funeral.
Curiously, I didn’t have the introspection to realize that I was actually still ‘pretending’. Hours and hours were spent pouring over jigsaw puzzles–the problem-solving brain and hands kept busy while the creative mind spun tales of a nebulous magical world and a special girl who lived there. Often this process was helped along by music, mostly Enya, Clannad, Mannheim Steamroller, Putemyo world music, and a handful of classical pieces. This world didn’t have a name, but it did have a map, and a compelling cast of characters. Holly, the young queen, eager to fight evil and have adventures. Ivy, her loyal maid, always helping her out of scrapes and scolding when we got into trouble. A young, dashing suitor featured as well, a noble or lord or some kind–sadly his advances were not returned. The world evolved to include four gods, who lived in the Hall of the Elements, to which Holly was the lone communicator. Time and time again she was called to bargain with the Elements to not bring about my version of Revelations–a story chapter hugely shaped by the song “Bridge of Tears” from the Clannad album “Landmarks”.
But the pretending wasn’t confined to inside my own brain. By mid-year seventh grade I had collected a posse of friends, mostly male, on the lower half of the middle-school food chain. Colin, Colby, Megan, Alan, Lewis, Matt, & me–we were all weird. I was weird because I had jumped into the pecking order a year prior due to an exit from homeschooling, not understanding fashion or pop culture, and more importantly, deciding I didn’t care. All of us liked fantasy–the Lord of the Rings film trilogy was not yet complete in the world, and we drank up every second of it.
Colin, Colby, and myself originally bonded over Artemis Fowl–I, with my name, lack of height, and low-flash-point temper was a dead-ringer for Holly Short, Colby, with his premature growth spurt and tendency to loom was Butler, and Colin, with his piercing blue eyes and mysterious wealthy family was easily pegged for Artemis. Over time our tastes evolved and we started to weave this tale of vampires, werewolves, warriors, and a single, unnamed Enchantress played by yours truly. (Keep in mind this was Pre-Twilight.) Once, in the halls between classes, Colby and I were riffing in character, and he asked something about my name, so that the armies of darkness could steal my soul. Or something.
“Lenara.” I blurted out.
“Lenore?” He knew I had a thing for Poe.
“Lenara. Lenara Lenel.”
Colby didn’t know it, but that flash of inspiration would have repercussions on a vast internal scale. Lenara–a serious, magically powerful girl with green eyes and a penchant for skeptical eyebrow-raising–diverged from Holly, the goofy, moody seventh-grader with fantastical ideas and a tenuous grasp of reality. The magical world got a ruler, a name, and some art. Soon many spare hours were spent expanding on the adventures of Lenara and some wraith-like enemies. The original Ivy split into Ivy the maid and Alvar the disgruntled bodyguard–a character largely influenced by my dear friend Colby. The dashing young suitor quickly split into two people–Neros, the wise old king of the water city, and Fyrus, the sprightly young king of the fire city. The romance vanished.
And then, one cold dark winter day in 8th grade, I had an idea. I grabbed a notebook, hunkered down on the heat vent with a blanket to capture the warm air, and wrote a scene about an attack on Lenara by the wraiths of indeterminate origin. That scene led to another…and another…and another…and so on. These are Lenara’s origins, and my own.