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.

The Continued Love of Baby-sitter’s Club

Earlier this weeMary Anne Baby-sitter's Clubk, when I worked in the children’s room at the library, a girl dropped off a stack of Baby-sitter’s Club books. Then she checked out a new stack. “I love these books,” she said to me as I prepared to check them out for her. “I love them, too,” I replied. “I read them when I was your age.” I worried that this comment would sound weird, or would make her not want to read these books anymore, but she was excited. Through a gap of 16 years, we had a connection of taste.

Baby-sitter’s Club — along with Boxcar Children, Animorphs, and Goosebumps — was a distinct part of my middle-school-aged childhood. I read these books at home, on the bus, under my desk at school, got them from the library or made my mom let me get one or two or five on a trip to the bookstore. Probably there were others, once I read like eating potato chips and forgot about within months. When I see these series, I think of the 90s, and it’s funny, and great, to see them still gracing the library shelves.

Sometimes these books have fallen to pieces, or they simply haven’t been read to the point that they can’t earn their spot on the shelf. I had a depressing day when I marked up and stamped DISCARD on every Animorphs book, then stacked them up in the pile of recyclable trash. But I understand. Like I said, these were a product of my childhood, and there are plenty of new book series, both great and awful, to check out in piles and devour.

But sometimes, the things that I loved as a kid are still loved today. That girl isn’t the only one I’ve seen run through Anne Martin’s books. It’s a little strange, seeing kids pick up something that seemed tailor made for a couple decades ago, but it also gives me the idea that there’s a part of my childhood that I really liked that kids are still sharing in. And that’s nice.