19 November 2012

My Fairy Tale

I don’t remember what she looked like, and I never actually talked to her, but to this day she sticks in my mind as a woman that changed me. It was just subtle nudge, but fifteen years later I now see the impact she had on my life.

I was in university, and if you’re imagining a life of wild parties then you couldn’t be further from the truth. I went to school, attended my classes and I went home. Essentially I was shy and not very good at making friends. Somehow I had made friends in high school and I still hung out with them, but to me meeting people at university was like trying to make friends with passersby at the mall: thousands of people crossed my path, but never long enough to connect.

Still, I was trying to break out of my shell and find ways to meet friends, and yes, if I was really lucky, potential romantic partners. Following the idea that the best way to meet like-minded people is to pursue a hobby, I started studying Aikido (which, put very simply, is the Japanese martial art of redirection). No, it wasn’t sexy by any means, but it was fun and it pushed me out of my comfort zone.

I can’t say that I made any friends in Aikido class, but I did garner something that was both exciting and scary: a party invitation. Not counting family gatherings, I had never been to a party. Yes, you read that right. It’s crazy, but that was me.

So it was with a great deal of excitement and anxiety that I pushed myself into going to this once-in-a-lifetime event.

And it was about as bad as I feared. Lots of people, a few that I had said a few words to in class, but mostly ones I didn’t know. All of them clumped up into little pockets of conversation that I had no idea how to break into. (Even today, I still don’t know how, but at least I’m a bit better at faking it.)

Then I saw her. All I remember is that she was tall and slender, with dark hair and angular features, and she dressed stylishly in shades of brown. Was she beautiful? I don’t know, but she captured my attention and I found ways to drift toward her and her circle of friends, just close enough to listen. My hope, I think, was that if I stood nearby and nodded sagely at the appropriate moments that one of them would notice me and invite me into their little group.

That didn’t happen of course, but I did manage to hear her speak. She was smart, that much was quickly evident. Very smart, well spoken and passionate about the things she said. I love women that are smarter than me, but in equal measure I find them scary, so my heart started to race as I listened to her.

She spoke of fairy tales, the old ones, the classics that we all grew up with, and new ones, adult fables of a darker nature.

And I was transfixed. From a very young age I had devoured fantasy and I always knew that one day I would be a writer. This was my way to start talking to her, I thought. I loved fairy tales and I would one day write them myself; obviously she would be delighted to talk with me!

But that was just one edge of the sword. On the other side, I wasn’t a writer yet, not a real one, just an amateur jotter of words. I’d have to step up and show confidence in my future writings and myself. I didn’t have that power within me.

And so she escaped.

It was painful, and I hated myself for losing even the chance to talk with her, but the regret I felt has long since evaporated. Now I write and I have a woman in my life whose reality easily surpasses the fantasy of a night long ago.

That night of longing and missed opportunity came to mind when my wife first read The Princess Mage and it made her laugh. “Not because it’s funny,” she assured me, “but because the main character, Aeryn, is so completely you.”

She was right. I didn’t try to write myself into the story, but perhaps it was unavoidable. I strive to write about real people in fantastical situations, and so the self-doubt I’ve experienced innumerable times in my life was bound to find it’s way into one of my characters. Just like Aeryn, I would find the idea that a Princess could be interested in “little old me” to be unlikely in the extreme.

Looking back, I see my first Fairy Tale Woman for what she was: a little nudge from Fate, a bit of seasoning for my memories. As for my Princess, well, it took me a few more years to find her.

And now it’s my turn to laugh; my wife hates the word Princess.

So please don’t tell her this story.