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A Whole New World (in my head)

There's a new world in my head. This might be something that would be strange for some and alarming for others, but for me, it is a relief.

For as long as I can remember, there have always been stories, characters and worlds shaping and reshaping themselves inside my head. In fact, I was in my twenties before I realized that this wasn’t true for everyone.

For me it starts with a character. The character shows up in my head the way that a new kid might show up in my classroom. I see them and am aware of their presence, but I don’t really know anything about them.

Also like a new kid in the classroom, every character who takes up space in my head, does it in their own unique way. Some characters are desperate to talk, share and connect, whereas others take awhile to warm up. It can take months, even years to really feel like I know what they are all about.

Sometimes, I feel like I don’t have months or years. Especially if I am already writing one story and the next one arrives with unrealistic hopes and expectations. It can feel like a lot to have characters tugging insistently at my synapses, vying for my attention. I have tried to ignore them in the past, even to block out entire worlds as they are taking shape.

Sometimes it works.

Over the years I have realized that not every story is begging to be written. There are stories I have told my kids (or students) or shared in conversation with friends (or total strangers) and that seems to be enough. The characters fade back to wherever it was that they came from and make way for new characters to emerge.

Then, there are characters like Skye. When Skye arrived in my head, she didn’t just tell me her story, she downloaded a twenty minute video clip into my mind and then demanded that I write it out. She was loud and insistent and it wasn’t even until I had written out what she had demanded of me, that I realized she was actually a missing part of the book I was already writing (and have since finished).

Other times characters are much more patient. There are characters, like Gallagher Redwood, who has been in my head for a few years. I’ve written some of Gallagher’s story, but she is distrustful and hesitant (you can’t blame her, she’s been through a lot). She tells her story in fits and starts, when she is ready. Maybe when we are both ready. She isn’t pushy, but she also hasn’t gone away. Gallagher is one of the most resilient characters that I have had the pleasure of knowing and I think I carry her in my heart as much as I do in my mind. The time will come when I will get to finish her story, I just don’t know when that time will be.

I think back on characters who have chosen to share their stories with me in the same way I think of old friends. Zen, Delilah, Skye and Pin Jun stay with me because of the journeys we have made together. Whether those books end up published and in the world or not, it is difficult to spend 80 000 words with someone and not have them become part of the fabric or your memory.

Except that in the last couple years my memory has grown patchy and my mind has grown quiet. Not quiet in an enlightened kind of way, but quiet in a deserted hallway of a condemned hotel kind of way.

It’s not that I haven’t written in the past year. It is more that my writing has been challenging. The few times I have delved into fiction it has been short spurts for contests where I have had to beg and plead with characters who are passing through fleetingly, but who do not choose to linger.

My mind, which had once been a haven for storybook travellers had since become a deserted truck stop.

I was really afraid that the magic of the stories that I had always taken for granted had left me forever. It is a strange kind of abandonment, to be left by something I thought was a part of me.

But now, Rachel has arrived. (I’ve actually just learned that Rachel isn’t her real name, but it’s the name her family has been using with her for the past five years.) She didn’t arrive on her own either, she brought her mother, her grandmother and a gateway to a new world.

I don’t currently have the time, mental space, or energy to write Rachel’s (Sorcha’s) story, but everytime I peak into my mind and find her there, with shadows and snippets to share, I feel a wash of gratitude rush over me.

My stories are a gift I’ve learned to treasure. I’m hoping their return to my head will summon a return to health for the rest of me. Perhaps this new calendar year will bring a rebirth to the energy and vitality that I once knew. With a new world blooming in my head, anything seems possible.

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