Like a Bowerbird, I have become an avid collector. I imagine inside my mind there is an open space delicately lined with found language, words of beauty – it is quite a thing to behold! I tuck each snippet away, weaving one line, one word, with others.
It is the hope of every male Bowerbird that his blue-blessed bower will attract a twittering mate. My bower will attract great ideas from which stories will flow. As I gently tuck these phrases into my collection, other previously collected words stand out, or are plucked out, and used to prompt my writing. Of this I am certain: collecting small well-crafted gems from other writers inspires me in ways I would never have thought possible. Photo credit.
I am always on the lookout for interesting bits and pieces as I read. I recently read ‘How to Read a Book With a Flashlight‘, an article by Kit Steinkellner on Book Riot’s webpage. It reminded me of when I used to do the same thing when I was a child, and this prompted me to write a short autobiographical piece:
As a kid, I read by torch light long into the night. I’d roll a shirt up and lay it along the bottom of the door so my parents wouldn’t see the shining light and come in and make me stop reading and insist I go to sleep. They would take my torch from me. I was afraid of the dark.
My fear of the dark came before my love of reading. Maybe I was born with it. All I know is that we were a family of campers and country living folk and being afraid of the dark marked me as different from the clan. In the country, there are no streetlights shining hope in the night; and the dying light of stars, as beautiful as that may be, was never enough to light my way. I lived for nights of a full moon when I could rest easy.
Camping trip nights were my worst nightmare. There was no staying caravan sites, with their path lights and toilet blocks shining out beacon-like for the needy traveler. We roughed it in secret local places where we were lucky if there was a rudimentary drop toilet (just a seat over a hole in the ground really – more horror than useful). The days were immensely fun – the freedom to explore, the closeness with nature, the parental permission to get dirty and not have to clean ourselves up, the fire, singing and storytelling, and the toasting of marshmallows; but the nights were an endless lying awake, breathe held, listening to the dark noises just outside the flimsy layer of canvas tent. Who knew what was just outside waiting to attack!
At home, we had an outside toilet and I always needed to go to the toilet before I went to bed – actually this was another ploy against the dark: if my bladder didn’t wake me, I could sleep through ‘til morning and avoid any unnecessary horror hours staring at the all-pervading blackness. Every night I went through the same ritual of begging and pleading my sibling and parents to accompany me to the back door, to stand guard against the darkness, while I ran outside and peed as quickly as humanly possible, trying not to look into the trees silhouetted by our back light.
My family was resource conscious – two minute showers to save water, close doors behind you to keep heat or coolness inside, put your food scraps into the appropriate waste bucket for chickens or pigs or compost, turn lights out if you weren’t using them, etc. There was no chance of a night light for me. Plus, what teenager has a night light…right? (Yes, I carried my fear of the dark THAT long!) My sibling was mortified by my fear, what an embarrassment I was, but sitll used it to exploit me, to tease me, to exert power over me. My parents were frustrated by me, unable to understand my irrational fear. My father would ask, “What are you afraid of? Just tell me so we can address it.” He was a ‘fix-it’ kind of guy, looking for a solution. He would stand by the light switch saying, “Everything is exactly the same with the light on or off. See?” And he’d switch the light on and off as if that would rid me of my fears, make it ok, make me ‘normal’. How could I tell him that what I was afraid of was what I knew was there but that you couldn’t see, and that when the lights went out, the unseen were in their element, and who knew what might happen to me if I was left in the darkness while I was awake. I mean, what sensible monster, ghost, witch, hobgoblin, bunyip or demon would show themselves to a parent, let alone while the lights were on!
All I wanted was to fall asleep and wake up in some kind of light. I was darkness averse…and reading was my closest friend. If I could read in the middle of the blackest of nights, I forgot about the lack of light and eventually fell asleep under my book dreaming peacefully of the world of the novel, rather than sleeping fitfully, plagued by nightmares of dark creatures. But my resource conscious family did not tolerate wasted light, and finding my asleep under a book, torch batteries wearing thin, brought waves of lectures about wasted resources and the state of the environment and I felt ashamed. Don’t get me wrong, I love the earth and her environment, but I just wanted to sleep ‘fear-free’, and wasting a bit of energy on light was the only way I could see to achieve that.
So I devised schemes…I stayed awake until my parents went to bed, I rolled up shirts and lay them across the bottom of the door, I hid myself under my blankets with my friends ‘book’ and ‘torch’ and we would enter other worlds until the early dawn hours of grey light, when I would open my curtains, move the shirt, climb back into bed and sleep.
I read a lot of books this way. It’s a wonder I didn’t need glasses! It’s a wonder I stayed awake during the day! And by the time I was an adult and my passion for books and reading felt as much a part of me as my fingers, my eyes, my imagination.
And yes, I did get over my fear of the dark…well, mostly anyway!
Photo credit: flashlight