Pretending in the Dark

My current work-in-progress has a lot to do with natural darkness, with my character’s job, and her nature, keeping her awake when most people would sleep. She encounters things that are scary in the dark (basically, she fights and soothes ghosts and spirits) but for her the night is also a comfort.

Books like r Brown Taylor’s Learning to Walk in the Dark have serendipitously fallen into my hands while I’ve worked on this WIP, helping me to figure out and understand this comforting side of darkness. But I’ve also been gathering plenty of examples from my own memories, reminding me that I like the dark, too.

I don’t remember ever being afraid of the dark. I think I liked to have my door open a crack, when I was small, but that was probably more to maintain a connection to my parents, still awake, than to scare off any monsters (under my bed held books and lost socks, my closet had no door, where would a monster hide?). Sleepovers with friends became more personal when, curled in a sleeping bag or unfamiliar bed and protected by a shroud of darkness we’d whisper secrets we were too awkward or uncomfortable to say aloud in the daylight. Christmas was always the most beautiful, the most magical, when there was only the scant light coming from a multicolored string on a tree.

I played most of my pretend games at night, after I’d shut the door (I’d learned the benefit of that) turned off the light, and crawled into my bed. Sometimes I’d act out stories with the stuffed animals who took up a decent portion of mattress at the foot of my bed. But more and more often I generated everything out of my own head, painting it onto the dark. A girl who ran away to live in the jungle or on an island (I gathered a decent amount of inspiration from Scott O’Dell for this) or woodland animals living oddly human lives. I’d get a little too into this sometimes, acting out the story on my covers, and generated a lot more noise than I thought. My mom would open the door to find out what was going on. The light would cut across me, rip me fully from the game, and I’d mumble something, probably that there was nothing going on at all, and I’d lie back down, waiting for my embarrassed self to be left alone in the dark again.

Dark can be scary. I’d never park too deeply in a lot that didn’t have street lights illuminating my whole way, and noises always sound loud and menacing when you can’t see what’s making them. But the dark is also where I pretend. I made up adventures in it as a kid, and now my favorite time to write is in that early time before the sun starts to come up (the trick is getting myself out of bed in time). The dark is like a comforting blanket, draping over me, keeping me safe so I can think and write whatever I want.

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