ailis_fictive: Ailis (Default)
[personal profile] ailis_fictive
I don't remember I time before I could write.

Oh, I remember learning the mechanism of forming letters just fine, but I was telling stories before that. The earliest piece that I know of, that I remember seeing when I was nine or ten (it may still exist, somewhere; I hope so) is a poem in my mother's handwriting. I think it was about winter, and I was two or three when I wrote it.

I came to science fiction and fantasy at about the same time-the spring and summer I was eight--from two completely different directions. At the time I read mostly history and historical fiction; when my second grade class did a performance based on Robin Hood I became completely obsessed with Robin Hood. I more-or-less memorized Howard Pyle (which I blame--or credit--for my later taking to Shakespeare like a duck to water; having completely internalized Pyle's self-consciously archaic language meant that Shakespeare was an easy half-step farther. I do get that there are people who find Elizabethan English difficult; I've just never been one of them) and read my way through the rest of what the libraries I had access to could offer my on Robin Hood. That took only a few weeks. Historical fiction was still good, but there was something a little darker, a little richer, a little wilder in the Robin Hood stories that I'd gotten a taste for. I discovered that I could scratch that itch if I started looking for the books with dragons on the covers or spines, and so I started reading fantasy.

Science fiction was a little more direct. I was an only child, and on my father's side had only one cousin; we grew up more as brother and sister than as cousins, since neither of us had anyone else and he was just under two years older. That summer, the summer I was eight, he suggested that we could play "Star Trek" and I could be Sulu. "Who's she?" I asked.

That is especially amusing given the fact that, two years later, George Takai was the first Star Trek actor I met, when I talked my parents into letting me attend a talk he was doing at the local college.

By third grade I was writing intensely derivative (and somewhat kinky--oh my poor teachers) never-finished novels based on whatever book had caught my attention most recently. One of those, based on The Hobbit and featuring an elf-girl joining them in Mirkwood, metastasized over more than a decade into three or four books, part-written, in a world that eventually borrowed little from Tolkein but a few stock fantasy elements (mages, dragons, elves; the dwarves have almost died out.) There exists somewhere, and I rather hope I never find it, my first "published" fanfic--from a zine, this being when the internet was a few scattered BBSs--a fairly awful (in memory) little story about Dr. Crusher. (It wasn't entirely that I loved Beverly Crusher so much, although I did, but I lucked into a fannish newsletter that was a wonderful community and helped me through some of the less pleasant parts of being an over-clever and geeky pre-teen in a tiny town that was not unfriendly but really didn't know what to make of me.)

Though high school and college, I wrote. I finished and submitted a number of short stories (though never got one published--I did get a rejection for being "sci-fi, not fantasy" for a story about astral projection as a means of divination, which I'm still rather amused by) and I poked at my main series and developed bits of a few more novels.

I'd had issues with depression, looking back, through most of my adolescence. I was at boarding school, and this was before adolescent depression was distinguished from "being moody" and treated as a medical issue that increased later risk of depression (which it is, and which it does) so I was never diagnosed or treated, and I never went farther down then some slightly hysterical journal entries in the darkest nights, and smacking my knuckles against the wall because even a little pain was enough to bring me back.

In one of those fits of horrible timing that I've come to know as just the way my life works, I made the decision to go to grad school in England shortly before unexpectedly and very rapidly setting down some deep roots in Upstate New York. Tearing those unexpected, hardly acknowledged roots up triggered the worst bout of depression yet--the one that finally made me ask for help. In retrospect, it must have been awful for my parents, having their only child falling apart on the other side of an ocean; at the time, it was pretty awful for me. I was dreaming in black-and-white, and self-destructive to the point of 3 am walks along London canals; I can point at the piece of sidewalk I was on when the anti-depressants kicked in and half-a-ton of weight lifted off my shoulders, and I can still remember the first time I saw color again in a dream (blue and gold and forest green, imagery from a medieval manuscript.)

And somewhere, between the depression and the drugs, I lost the ability to tell a story.

I couldn't think about at the time, which is why I can't trace the causality--whether it was the depression or the anti-depressants that broke that part of my brain. Robin McKinley has a line: "If you were picking up stones in the dark, you would know when you picked up a puppy instead. It's warm; it wriggles; it's alive." I picked up a story one night, one of my puppies, and it was dead. It was a stone in my hands, in my mind, no life to it. I've generally been lucky; I've had the usual ups and downs but no major trauma, so I say conclusively but with some self-consciousness that this is the worst thing that's ever happened to me. I was struggling badly at that point, and feeling the stories dead in my hands was a loss so deep that I couldn't think about it--I had to set it aside, because if I'd tried to register the loss...I honestly don't know. I've always had a practical side, both grim and amused, that kept me from any serious attempts at self-harm--but part of it is also that I've always been able to say "I cannot deal with this" and set things aside for as long as I needed to. Denial isn't always a healthy coping mechanism, but sometimes it's just what works.

I set aside the death of my stories for over a decade.

I got control of my depression, pursued other passions, deepened my self-identity as a craftswoman rather than an artist, of one who "makes" rather than one who "creates." I don't mean to disparage craft, at all--I love what I make, and I love other people's craft; I don't privilege art over craft. Art without craft is usually worthless; craft without art can still be beautiful.

Things tend to happen in my life as strange chains of events--that grad school in England came out of the fusion of a single night at the theater and a particular book, evolving over three years. Most of the last seven years of my life originate at a single conversation, which I went into with one plan and came out of with a slightly different one--and then the dominoes fell, one by one, and I ended up nowhere I ever thought I'd be. This time was no different--a comment in a journal that I read sometimes led me to a second journal, that I don't read, and a link to "Rocks in the Pathway." I was intrigued but went away....and then, a week or two later, came back, because I knew it was part of a series and I rather wanted to read the earlier parts. That led me to Archive Of Our Own--which I'd somehow missed until now, because I'd only dipped into fanfiction on the internet twice in the last decade, for a few months at the time, which I was looking for a particular sort of comfort.

I found myself reading my way through all the Vorkosigan fanfic on there, story by story. I'm not quite sure why it grabbed me so hard, but it did. I've loved Bujold's work since I picked "Brothers in Arms" off the shelf of the school library in my early teens, and realized eventually that it was related to "Borders of Infinity", which I 'd been picking up and putting back down for over a year. I read my way though everything there was; "Memory" was the first book I ever simply sat down and read in a bookstore because I couldn't afford to buy it, and "A Civil Campaign" was the first time I read the first half of a book in teaser chapters online, and then sat down and finished the book in a bookstore, because I still couldn't afford hardcovers. The fandom grabbed many of the things about Barrayar that have always fascinated me, that I can trace at least as far back as my Robin Hood obsession--complex loyalties that are at once personal and national, and that peculiar form of power-exchange that is fealty. I read (obsessively) and pondered, and had half-baked ideas.

Then--as folks who've read some of the rest of my journal will know--I hit "In This Stranger World," and the story on the page didn't match the shape in my head. That happens...but this time, for the first time in thirteen years, the shape in my head started to breathe. It wasn't a story, it was only a little more than a drabble...but it was alive. I wrote it, thinking it was probably an isolated case--and then it happened again. An idea--or several linked sets of ideas, actually (heaven forfend I should do something the easy way)--came to life in my head, and I started writing.

About six weeks in, I started to think I really might be a writer again. A week after that, "The Wrong Ground to Hold" grabbed me and took off, and it wasn't a question any more.

I don't know where I'm going with it from here. So far, I've only written Vorkosigan fic, and something that's sort of Vorkiosigan in a very odd way, and a few other not-quite-drabbles in fandoms that I've read enough of that things started to come to life. I don't know if original work is back on the cards, or if I want it to be. In some ways having the stories is more important to me than writing them, although the writing and the sharing and the community is something that I think I might need.

But, one way or another, after thirteen years without that part of my brain...I can write again.

Date: 2013-01-17 02:39 pm (UTC)
dira: Bucky Barnes/The Winter Soldier (Default)
From: [personal profile] dira
Being suddenly unable to write is one of those nightmare scenarios I occasionally prod at, in a sort of would-you-rather-be-blind-or-deaf, would-you-rather-lose-an-arm-or-a-leg way, so please believe I am not exaggerating when I say that I am in awe of your ability to have come through that long dark night and found your stories alive again on the other side. I'm utterly humbled and thrilled to have been a bit of help to you on your way back, and deeply moved by the way you write about your journey. ♥

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Ailis Fictive

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