Spiderweb at Lake Chabot, May 2013
When I was in my 20s, a very long time ago, I began to dream of a character. I knew only three things about her at the time. Her name was Allannah, she had curly hair, and she was going to save the remnants of the human race. I fancied myself a writer though I had no idea what that meant.
I worked in downtown Oakland back then, and I took the BART train to work. I would sit on the train with my college-ruled notepad and #2 pencil, furiously scribbling Allannah’s journey through post-apocalyptic California. When I wasn’t on the train writing, I was thinking of her story. Anytime I had my thoughts to myself, my mind would deviate to Allannah’s world where I would develop her lover, her nemesis, her friends, her plight, and the plot line to her story.
I was getting to know her the way I might get to know a new friend. How would she react to this situation or that person? What would she do in her most desperate moment? Would she reach in and find her strength, or crumble under the weight of her destiny? It was exciting to discover her.
Out in the real world, I had my own life to plot out. I changed jobs. My new employer was less than a mile from my home. My train-writing time disappeared. Then I married my childhood sweetheart. Then I had a child. Then I had another child. Then I got another job. Then I got another job. Then I went back to college. Then I….and I…and I….and I…
I did all sorts of things. It was 25 years, after all; even a procrastinator like me can do a lot in that much time. It’s all good, though. Life is good. Life is busy, and crazy, and beautiful, and cruel.
The one thing I didn’t do in all that time was write. I put all those pages, so lovingly written while riding the train, into boxes stacked in the basement. They sat in that cold, dark, dusty, spider-infested world under my house for years. I forgot about them. Think Jessie from Toy Story. Very sad.
The physical representation of Allannah’s story was set aside, left to the spiders and dust, but Allannah never left me. I thought of her every day. Her world continued to evolve and grow. Her plight continued to torment her and force her along her path.
She changed quite a bit. Sometimes a young prodigy. Sometimes the interesting, older woman. Sometimes a powerful witch. Sometimes a robotic, engineered soldier. Turns out she’s a little of all those things, and more. She is a strong, independent, intelligent woman who walks her course, regardless of influence.
Then I got another new job. This one in Berkeley. Back on BART for me. The first thing I did was start writing again.
Of course, I don’t use paper and pencil anymore. Now I have my little laptop. I sit on the train every weekday and bang out Allannah’s story. I pour the story that has grown, and at times festered, in my head for a quarter of a century, onto my computer.
A while back, Hubby noticed the boxes in the basement and mentioned them to me. I wasn’t interested in having them in the house. The basement is spider territory. I don’t do spiders.
Finally, after weeks of thinking about Allannah’s early days, I asked him to bring the boxes up. I reverently pulled the yellowed pages from the boxes. I read them (terrified of spiders the whole time, mind you) as if seeing my best friend for the first time in decades. I learned a few things:
- I need to see someone about my fear of spiders, it’s a bit over-the-top,
- Allannah is, despite her circuitous path, generally the same young woman I dreamed up 25 years ago, and
- I’m a much better writer now than I was then, though darn if I don’t still have a long way to go.
Yesterday, about a year after I started writing again, I finished Palisade. Allannah has finally met her lover, fought her nemesis, found her power, and lived her destiny. I don’t know if her story is complete, but it is finally written.
Never have I felt more accomplished, and oddly empty at the same time. When you live with a girl in your head for that long, it feels a little breezy in there when she leaves.
Now for the hard part, I have to reveal her to others. People will tear her apart, form their personal opinions of her. They might love her or hate her. But they will see her exposed and vulnerable; they will see her for who and what she is.
They will see me exposed and vulnerable; they will see me for who and what I am. Allannah’s path may be written, but mine is just beginning.
Deep breath, Ronna. You got this. After all, Allannah and I share more than just our curly hair.