“You make so much more sense now!”
I’ve heard this joke many times over the years, and it never fails to make me laugh. I say something random – about what I loved as a kid, or what scared me, or something my dad or mom did when they were my age. The older I get, the more it amazes me just how much those little, seemingly insignificant things from childhood mold who we become. They plant seeds that continue to blossom and grow, higher and higher, bean stocks reaching to who-knows-where. I can look back a long list of things in my childhood that helped shape who I am today (for better or weirder) and I thought, why not write about it? It’s a list, isn’t it?
Instead of writing the whole thing down (because logically that could take years) I’m just going to highlight a handful of the things that I can see influenced me the most.
What made me, in no particular order:
- the battered paperback copies of The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings my mom would leave lying around the house. I personally think this was her way of indoctrinating me from a young age. I can even remember the first time I picked one up and tried to muddle my way through a chapter – it was in The Two Towers, when Gollum first attacked Frodo and Sam. Needless to say, my curiosity was piqued.
- a heavy book with a green spine called The Book of Virtues. We had another, slightly smaller, companion book but it was ‘the green one’ that held my attention. Stories and poems and myths and tales of good men and bad men and magnificent feats and arduous quests – I spent (literally) countless hours with that book in hand. It was my reading material of choice.
- we had another book, an illustrated collection of myths, from the minotaur to the sphinx. This is probably where I first became enamored with fantastic beasts of the Greek sort, which led to being enamored with fantastic beasts of any sort – not to mention the idea that trickery and cleverness can get you out of all kinds of life-threatening situations. And sometimes win you a spouse or a weapon or both.
- which is probably why the illustrations of Apollyon in a little copy of The Pilgrim’s Progress fascinated me so much (a lion’s head?? Scales?? Dragon wings??), not to mention the other fanciful illustrations of giants and huge monsters and terrifying people who would most definitely 100% kill me if they could.
- sea monsters. I’m fairly sure the Apollyon illustrations (I know this wasn’t the intention of the book I’m so sorry to everyone, I promise the story did sink in) led me to create my own oddly cobbled-together sea monsters, and I would fill page after page after page of hideous underwater creatures with huge teeth and multiple eyes and various fins. Usually I would give these pictures to my dad. (I’m surprised he didn’t drown in them.) (The Apollyon illustrations also led to my creating a fantastic hero called Amanda, with long blonde hair and a sword, who would kill monsters like those Christian faced. Giant serpents, sometimes dragons, etc. and I remember once distinctly asking my mother for permission to draw Amanda chopping a giant cobra in half. Those were the days.)
- my sister Maralie listened to many, many soundtracks before she married and moved out, and I would sit on her floor and listen to the soundtrack for Zorro or French Kiss or Ever After and I would ask, ‘What’s happening right here? And what’s happening right here?’ ‘This is where they kiss for the first time,’ she would say. Or, ‘This is where he’s running away from the police.’ Or, ‘This is where she tells the prince who she really is.’ This is why I have difficulty writing without music most of the time – to me, music is almost necessary to the act of creation. I need music to fully create the scene I have in mind.
- mimes + puppets. When I was young, I had two favorite things to watch: the puppet scene from the Sound of Music (and, being way back in the misty past, I had to call somebody to come re-wind it for me over and over and over and over because it was only so long, you know) and a kid’s video featuring Arpeggio, a mime. Now, Arpeggio scared me. He scared me a lot. What kind of person paints their face white, grimaces all the time, and never says a word? Who DOES THAT?? Nevertheless, I did want to watch him. I wanted to watch him frequently, but I couldn’t do it by myself, so I would beg somebody into watching it with me. (Also, I once punched a good friend of mom’s in the face because she was wearing makeup that reminded me so much of Arpeggio, I literally remember Arpeggio in this situation and not said friend. I was only a few years old, but I did get reprimanded for this.)
- when my dad was in college, he slept in a coffin instead of a bed. If you think I’m joking, you can head over to said college, where we recently discovered they still talk about this. Also, my dad went spelunking and brought a pet bat home. This is the one story that makes people say, “Ohhhh, I get you now” more than any other. In case you were wondering. (Dad also answered the phone as a kid once and said, ‘Neal’s Mortuary, you stab ’em we slab ’em!’ But when your father, who happens to be a pastor, is the one calling – it doesn’t go over as well as you think it might.)
- my mom fell in love with my dad at first sight, and then had to set about chasing him so he could catch her. Once she laid outside in her swimsuit while it was raining, and when dad ‘happened along’ (she knew his routes) she told him she was rainbathing. I’ve always loved this story, ever since I was small. Don’t ask me how this shaped who I am today, but it did. It’s probably why I’m a sap.
- the Twilight Zone. This didn’t come along until I was twelve or so, but it had a huge impact on my desire to write and my desire to write unexpected, creepy, poignant things. (Nobody did unexpected + poignant + creepy like Rod Sterling.)
- Alice in Wonderland. This was the Disney movie I could watch over and over and over. My small soul reached out to Wonderland and whispered, ‘This is my aesthetic’ before I knew what ‘aesthetic’ was. Peter Pan (book + movie + play) was a close runner-up.
- Riders in the Sky. I loved this song. I still love this song. When I was very little, my baby sister and I had a tape of cowboy songs we would play on repeat. (Yes. A tape. Ask somebody to explain this device to you.) This song was by far my favorite – I don’t really remember the others, but I would listen to this song as often as I could. There was something so sweepingly sad and haunting about it, but also something so urgent and nostalgic. It gave me feels, ok.
- Robin Hood + King Arthur. I grew up reading stories about these two legends – reading stories, watching stories, listening to stories on audiobook. I’m fairly sure this is where my love for ‘motley crews + gangs of diverse people Doing Things’ came from. I am pretty sure.
- when I was a little girl, I got sick and had difficulty breathing what felt like /constantly/. I’m not sure how often it really happened, but it felt frequent. Dad would take a rocking chair outside (it was always at night) and wrap me up in a blanket, and together we would rock and I would look at the night sky. He told me that when birds began to sing, that meant dawn was almost here. He would rock me until dawn sometimes, too. I’m fairly sure this is why the night sky means so much to me, and always has. It is, quite literally, connected with my ability to breathe, and connected to a strong sense of love and home.
There are more – many more – things that influenced me as a young bean (Beatrix Potter, Labyrinth, Edgar Allen Poe), but this is a list jotted down on a Sunday morning before I’ve had a second cup of coffee. It might be lacking in more areas than I realize, but writing it down was a bit of a revelation for me as well – a way to put pieces together and better understand the full picture.