(And in case anyone is wondering, yes, that is me behind the bandanna and the camo.)
…beginnings. Can’t live with them and can’t live without them… give me a few minutes to stare at this laptop screen o’ mine and figure out how to start this.
In retrospect, this post is kind of rambling, and probably a bit confusing. My apologies. I'll try and smooth it out as best I can.
The farthest back I can remember… I don’t quite know how old I was, but as long as I can remember, I loved animals. My favorite books and movies were the ones in which the animals could talk—The Lion King and Balto movie franchises were pretty much my life for years. The first things I read were Calvin and Hobbes comics from my library, because I loved the fact that Hobbes was a talking stuffed tiger. My everyday activities had to do with animals. I collected stuffed animals and named them things like Mufasa, Kovu, and Balto. My mom would put together animal puzzles and nail them onto my bedroom wall…
|Behold, the two animated animals that were my life for years.|
But looking back, there was one aspect of my animal obsession that continued to carry on throughout my life, and still does.
When I was young, I didn’t just obsess over animals (I admit, I was rather proud when, at the age of six, I knew what an okapi was at San Diego Zoo but no one else did…)—I also pretended to be animals.
Yes, yes, I know, most kids do that. But I did it excessively. For almost three years, I would randomly just throw back my head and howl like a wolf. For three years, my mom would be cooking or reading to my little brother, and then all of a sudden she’d hear a random howl coming from the other end of the house.
It drove her bonkers, needless to say. Not to mention it scared people.
But then, fortunately for all of them, I stopped randomly howling. Of course, this meant I took up hissing like a cat instead, but that was a little more bearable. Except when I’d hiss at my mom when she gave me an order I didn’t like (such as ‘stop watching TV’)—that didn’t go down so well.
I’d spend hours roaming the house on all fours, imitating the gait of the lions I saw in National Geographic videos. My favorite television show (if it could be called that) was Really Wild Animals—starring an animated Earth named Spin.
|That spinning globe is my childhood incarnate, practically.|
What I’m trying to get at with all of this, is—even back then, I wanted to be something I wasn’t.
It wasn’t just a silly child’s mentality. That may have been part of it, but not all of it—I was unhappy with myself, even then, even though it was subconsciously. I didn’t want to be Teddy. I wanted to be Simba, or Balto. I wanted to go on adventures and talk with animals. I wanted to wander vast forests and trek through frozen wastelands. I wasn’t happy with where I was, what I was doing, or who I was—it just seemed so much more exciting to be a wolf or a cat.
That’s not all. Remember in the last post, I said I am and was always scared? Well, besides crying in my mom’s arms, there was only one thing I could do back then to cope.
I would talk to my stuffed animals. And they talked back, at least for me. I spent hours, late into the night, conversing with my stuffed animals and telling them stories.
This wasn’t a childish fantasy, not entirely. I was borderline obsessive. If anyone told me my stuffed animals were fake, I would literally fly off the handle and start screaming at them that they were lying. If my brother went anywhere near my room, I had to watch to make sure he didn’t touch my animals. And if he did (and he often did; he liked to throw all of my stuffed animals down the stairs to upset me), I would tackle him. Literally. We’d wrestle and kick and generally just scuffle until Mom broke us apart (and there you see my irrational temper pop up).
I actually believed these animals were real. Mind you, this wasn’t just me at five. It was me at six, and seven, and eight, and nine, and ten—all the way until I was twelve. And I think you’ll all agree that twelve-year-olds know that stuffed animals don’t talk and they’re not real.
Well. I didn’t. I lived in a world of my own, a dreamworld where animals could talk, where they could understand me, and at night I could go across the railroad tracks and visit other worlds through a portal.
At around this time, I discovered something wonderful—writing.
I learned how to use a pen and paper, and suddenly, I had a way to let my wild imagination free—in the form of writing fiction stories.
This didn’t help me get out of my dreamworld. If anything, it made it worse. But it was fun, and it only became more of a part of me as time went on. By the time I was ten, I had written my first completed story—an Indiana Jones fanfiction for the 2008 NaNoWriMo.
I kept writing, and writing. By the time I was twelve, I knew for sure I wanted to be a writer.
However, though my writing could be considered a ‘good thing’, my bad thing—an unhappiness with who I was—only got worse as time progressed. When I was ten, my mom let me and my brother watch The Frisco Kid, a Western movie with Harrison Ford in it.
Ten year old Teddy was positively captivated and put up quite a fight when she had to go to bed, even though she got to finish the movie the next night.
But the shoot-outs and the horseback riding and the careless, sarcastic attitude of Tommy (Harrison Ford’s cowboy character) had me completely enthralled.
Out of curiosity, I asked my mom the name of the actor who had played the cowboy. She told me. When I told the neighbor boy (who had just moved in and loved cowboys and stuff) who the actor was, he exclaimed that that was the same actor who played in both Indiana Jones and Star Wars.
Well, that did it. He had been telling me I needed to see those movies for forever, and now I begged my mom to let me. She gave in to Star Wars quite easily.
After seeing those movies, I fell into another dreamworld of sorts. I was, as one might expect, obsessed with Han Solo. For a good year, I was Han Solo. I had an imaginary Wookiee who followed me around my house, and I would bound up and down the stairs shooting down imaginary Stormtroopers with my blaster.
Unfortunately, these movies were not teaching me how to respect my parents. As a result of wishing I was Han Solo, I also got cocky. I strutted around, being sarcastic and giving my parents a pretty bad attitude.
I didn’t mean to be a bad kid. I just thought, “Well, Han Solo is so cool, and he has all these fun adventures; I wanna be like him!” And I was like him, but that doesn’t make him or me a good person.
I also had lightsaber duels with my brother, but that was just because I liked to swordfight. I was a Han Solo kid; not a Jedi kid.
I think my life really turned upside down when I watched the Indiana Jones movies though.
(Bear with me here; I’m getting to the point, I promise.)
My mom, when the fourth movie was about to come out in theatres, relented and bought the three-movie set from the store so that I could watch it. She previewed it first, checked for ‘bad stuff’, and sat with me so she could fastforward the aforementioned bad stuff.
I was hooked.
From then until I was fourteen, I was obsessed with Indiana Jones. This was when I became completely unhappy with who I was (not that I was my own person to begin with, what with all the wishing I was Han Solo or a wolf).
At first, it was small. I bought things from the thrift store to make myself an Indiana Jones costume (complete with a fedora I bought off eBay), at first, and I’d go out in my backyard and pretend I was fighting Nazis for hours.
But then I started to refuse to wear anything feminine. I put up a huge fight whenever Mom tried to get me to wear a dress or a skirt. It progressed to the point where I refused to wear anything except jeans and boys’ shirts.
Then when I was about eleven, after much begging and whining, Mom agreed to let me cut my hair short. As in, crew cut short. Indiana Jones short.
|Me and my brother; me as Indy and my brother as Neo from the Matrix movies.|
By this time, it was clear to her (and later on to me) that I was very unhappy with being ‘me’. I wanted to be someone else. I wanted to be a boy for quite a long time, actually. Because I wanted adventure, and in the movies, the guys were the ones who got to go on all the adventures.
This thirst for adventure and excitement… it got me into trouble.
I would mouth off and taunt the older kids who walked alongside the railroad tracks during the summer. And you wanna know what they did when I taunted them? They threw rocks and shot BB guns.
Instead of being scared, I was completely oblivious to the fact I could get hurt (I was still scared, but about all of the wrong things—ghosts and goblins—not the fact I could get myself killed razzing teenagers).
I remember the first time it happened. These teenagers started throwing rocks in my direction when I was out playing with the neighbor kids and my brother. I was wearing—what else?—my Indiana Jones costume.
Instead of running for the house, I sensed a chance for ‘adventure’ (also known as, ‘stupidity’), and ran straight towards these teenagers. I hid behind a log where the rocks couldn’t get me. They bounced off the log right above my head but didn’t hit.
When the teenagers paused, I popped up and just gave them this cocky grin. They saw my fedora and khaki shirt, and one incredulously burst out, “Who do you think you are, Indiana Jones?”
This made me so insanely happy, it’s not even funny. I was absolutely thrilled; I thought I was finally getting somewhere (don’t ask why, I can’t remember why). My response? A very enthusiastic, “Yes!”
They kept throwing rocks. My friend from next door, Matt, came running down and hid with me behind the log, exclaiming, “What are you doing?!”
I didn’t even have any regard for his safety. I just sat there behind the log, grinning like an idiot.
Eventually, my dog went and saved the day. Nobody’s going to stick around for long with a German Shepherd running at them—even if the German Shepherd just wants to play.
It didn’t end here.
My obsession with adventure kept me getting into trouble long after I was ten and eleven. I got shot at several times by teenagers on the railroad tracks. Rocks thrown at me more times than I can count. One time, I ran down to the tracks to meet these teenagers who had been throwing stuff at me—me and my trusty wooden staff, which I actually had no idea how to use but was planning on fighting with anyway.
These teenage boys were extremely close to beating the tar out of me. I was saved by my brother, who came running down with a walkie-talkie, through which my mom was screaming bloody murder, horrified that I was in trouble. I was embarrassed, and arrogantly told the teenage boys, “This isn’t over!” before going into the house and getting a sound thrashing from my mom.
Oh, and there was the time I instigated a fight of sorts with a twenty-one-year-old guy at the park. That was a pretty stupid thing to do. He was throwing pinecones at my brother’s friend. So I started ‘threateningly’ towards this adult guy with my wooden katana (sword). The guy took my challenge. Me, my brother, and my brother’s friend all tried to overpower the guy who had hold of my arm and probably would have thrown me in the lake if my brother hadn’t been kicking him. My Tae Kwon Do classes were apparently doing nothing for my self-defense skills. (In the end, my mom had to save the day by shouting at us to knock it off, and that we were leaving the park.)
So yes—I wanted adventure, and I was willing to pull any manner of stupid stunts or get into any sort of trouble to get it.
And yes, there were Tae Kwon Do classes. We needed to do 'P.E' for school, so my mom enrolled us in a Tae Kwon Do class.
I had a lot of fun there; I may not have learned any good self-defense mechanisms, or if I did, they won't be helpful. I met a few people who I thought were friends and they weren't, long story short.
One thing I did learn though was the concept of respect. Our instructors (we had two; one taught on Monday, and the other on Wednesday), Master Kim and Instructor Morgan, required specific gestures of respect. We were to address them as 'sir' at all times, and we were to bow entering and exiting the building, as well as at the end of all sparring matches.
The whole 'sir' thing might not seem like a new concept to some of you, but to me and my brother it was. We were used to addressing everyone by their first names; my mom never really taught us to use 'sir' and 'ma'am'. After we left Tae Kwon Do, though, the addressing of adults as 'sir' and 'ma'am' stuck with me, and I attempt to remember to use those terms as required.
After I turned about thirteen, I mellowed out a bit. Part of this was because my mom stopped taking me places as often, because school made us busier. Part of it was also because the recklessness I felt started to fade away as I realized something—I loved life, and if I wasn’t careful, I could lose it very easily.
Right after I turned thirteen, something else happened. My mom found this swordfighting group called the Youth Rangers of Gondor, and took me there.
|Me, my brother, and a few friends at a Youth Rangers of Gondor meeting.|
I think it helped curb my obsession with dressing up in costume and imitating movie characters quite a bit. Once a week (or once every few weeks usually, depending on how often my mom was able to drive me there), I would get to dress up in costume, pick up a sword (made of rather tough foam though, so it wouldn't actually hurt anyone; same with all the other swords), and head off to a wooded area of the park near a lake and swordfight other people.
For several years, the meetings of the Youth Rangers of Gondor was one of the main things I looked forward to. I met several friends there, all of whom have mostly moved on, except for one.
The Youth Rangers of Gondor taught me a few things. The one thing that stood out the most was that, at those meetings... I wasn't afraid to be myself, or to be as silly and dramatic as I wanted to be. That's what the meetings were for. For children and teenagers to roleplay as knights or ninja. I didn't need to be afraid of being judged, because everyone else there was just as crazy as me. In fact, I made a lot of people laugh many times because I wasn't afraid to do crazy stuff.
Well, at this point I still had the trouble of trying to pretend I was someone I wasn't. It was mostly mannerisms now; there was one television show character who used to cross his arms and raise both eyebrows in a sort of careless way. I subconsciously imitated that, until my mom put a stop to it.
Anyway. This is where all of that stuff about me wishing I was someone I'm not ends. I mean, it was still there, but there's not much to say about it.
I became obsessed with pirates at around this time. So I changed from being Murtagh at the Youth Rangers meetings to being Captain Jack (a spin-off of both Jack Sparrow, and my own novel character Jack Renegade).
|Me dressed up as Jack Renegade from my novella-thing, "Sangre: The Phantom's Lair"|
As a result of this, I wrote a... I don't know if it was a novella or a novel, but it was something or other... about pirates. It was the first thing I had actually finished since 2009's Indiana Jones fanfiction. I was very happy with it, and took advantage of NaNoWriMo's CreateSpace offer to self-publish it.
I was very happy about that then. Now I look back and wonder how I could have inflicted a writing so horrible onto Amazon. And I mean that jokingly; kind of. It definitely could use a lot of work, I realize now, though.
Anyway, that, on the plus side, made me write more often. I participated in several NaNoWriMo competitions after that. The Camp NaNo in 2011 (in which I wrote the first book of a fantasy trilogy that ended up having to be completely redone), the NaNoWriMo in 2011, and the NaNoWriMo in 2012. I finished books for the first two; I didn't quite manage to finish anything in 2012.
After I turned fourteen, I became painfully aware that the world is a much darker place than I had originally thought.
I met some people on the YWP side of the NaNoWriMo site. I made some friends; good friends, I thought at the time. I was wrong, but we'll go into that later.
There was... in a very short summary... lots of drama last year. That's the short version. What really changed my view on things was the fact that one of my friends struggled with self-harm and thoughts of suicide.
Now, at the time, I thought two of my friends did. As it turns out, the other friend was lying to me.
Anyway, this was my first real knowledge of the concept of suicide. I had heard the word before, and I knew what it meant - I had never really thought seriously about it though. I thought it was a rare occurrence, like wars or natural disasters (which I know realize aren't exactly that rare anyway). I think my mom wanted it to stay that way, in an attempt to protect me.
I cried a lot last year. My anxiety became much worse, as a terrifying realization came to me - these friends of mine lived very far away, and if they were going to hurt themselves, or something happened to them... I wouldn't be able to help, and I might never even find out what had happened.
So that anxiety was always eating away at the back of my mind, like some sort of insect. I spent many nights lying awake worrying.
Something good happened last year though. It came about by typical teenage dramatic circumstances, but that didn't mean it wasn't good.
I finally stopped trying to pretend I was a boy. I finally allowed my mom to make me dress up in more feminine clothes and I started to let my hair grow out long. If my comment about teenage drama in the previous paragraph didn't clue you in, this sudden change was because of a crush. Which I'm not going into, because it's not important and it'd bore people to tears anyway.
Anyway, that was probably the one good thing that came of all the insanity last year.
I was changed last year. I became more pessimistic, more anxious... and I learned a hard lesson, one that taught me not to trust people so easily and freely.
One of my friends had been lying to me for several months last year about anything and everything. She wasn't really a friend at all; not a good one. Our relationship was nothing but harmful to me. But I refused to believe the people who told me to cut off the friendship.
I always have and probably always will stand up for my friends when others speak bad about them; in this case, I was simply standing up for the wrong person, and believing that she was telling the truth.
Anyway, I didn't get any sense knocked into me until about August of that year. I don't think I would have stopped talking to her even then, because I'm not strong enough for that - but I didn't seem to have a choice, as she stopped talking to me herself. I still don't know why, and it bothered me then, but now I'm just glad.
So, that left me with the other two friends, whom I was certain were actual friends. As it turns out, only one of them was willing to stick by my side. She and I still talk.
Anyway, by September, I'd lost yet another friend. He left because I apparently made his depression worse. I understand that, but what hurt the most was that he couldn't tell me himself. He told my other friend, and she told me. And then he cut off contact with her as well.
So we both helped each other (and are technically still helping each other) get over losing one of our best friends in that way.
But after that... I was afraid to trust. I still am. Whereas I used to trust so freely, I know have a hard time trusting. Sure, I love all of my friends; but sometimes, I can't help but fret and worry about whether they're being honest, or whether they're going to just up and leave.
That's the interesting thing about this lesson on trust I learned. I still trust very easily; I become friends with someone mere hours after meeting them. It's after I have known them for a few days that the trust issue begins to kick in, and I start to wonder and fret: what if I've made a mistake in becoming friends with this person? What if they're not who they say they are? What if they end up leaving too?
Sad to say, that worrying never completely goes away. Every friend I have... I still worry about the trust I've placed in them. For people like my brother, this wouldn't be a problem. But for me, it is. I came up with a reason that I think is valid for that.
Each person I become friends with... I entrust a little piece of my heart to them, and there's a special place in my heart for each of my friends and family members where I mentally and emotionally keep them.
So, the fear of being betrayed, or of losing them... part of it is because I don't want to lose them, yes. But another part of it is that I know all too well that if I do lose them, whether because they leave or because they were taken from me, it would hurt more than I can fathom.
Anyway... not much else has happened worth noting since then.
How have those things made me who I am now?
I'm not sure. I'm still the insecure kid who somehow manages to long for adventure and excitement, and yet, at the same time, is terrified of change. I'm the same. I'm still the five-year-old who wanted to be a wolf; I'm still the ten-year-old who obsessed over Indiana Jones; I'm still the reckless twelve-year-old who didn't know when to stop; and I'm still the fourteen-year-old who realized how dark the world was and spent hours a night crying.
I've changed, and yet, somehow, I haven't.
All of those things are still lurking somewhere inside me. I still feel that way sometimes. Sometimes I still wish I was a wolf. Sometimes I still do reckless things. And sometimes, I still spend hours a night crying, even though things aren't as crazy as they were when I was fourteen.
Things are still happening, and I'll continue changing, but the younger versions of me will always still be here.
And yet, I've learned a lot about myself and the world around me.
I've learned I can make a difference, even if it doesn't seem like it. Sometimes all it takes is a kind word to keep a friend from going over the edge.
I've learned that even though I can feel devastatingly lonely sometimes, I'm never truly alone.
I've learned that, somewhere inside, the little girl who wishes she was someone else and pretends to be something she's not is still there. She still comes out sometimes, as much as I try to keep her locked away. I still pretend to be someone I'm not.
I've learned that I'm stronger than I give myself credit for.
I've learned that the world is a dark place, and it's not going to change right away. But, to quote Samwise Gamgee, "There is still some good in this world... and it's worth fighting for."
And I've learned and am still learning that I have to surrender all to Jesus. I can't get through any of this on my own; only with His help. He can get me through it. Sometimes it's hard to believe that He's there with you every step of the way. But He is, and He always will be.