A Pair of Useless Wings

This angel is not happy about her wings either.

Last night, I dreamed I grew a pair of wings with iridescent, shining feathers. They did not fly – or not that I could ever figure out. I couldn’t control them at all. They would shudder and flap one moment, and hang limp the next. They knocked against the walls, hit the ceiling, reduced a set table into a spangled mess on the ground with a casual flick. They didn’t fit under my clothes, so I had to attack my shirts with scissors and rip out sweaters with my fingers. They sometimes dragged on the ground.

And they hurt. Horribly. The skin around where the wings had erupted was red and raw and oozing. I left circles of blood and pus on the sheets.

And the worst part – the very worst – was the incessant compliments. It was all people could talk about. Oh look! they cried. Those wings! Look how they shine! Look at the colors! How lucky you are. How proud of them you must be.

My wings collected dog hair like you wouldn’t believe. They broke glasses and knocked books off the shelf. They sometimes smacked my kids on the back of the head. They made it difficult to drive, and sometimes tripped little old ladies as they hobbled down the street. They molted. They shed dander. They were a mess.

And it was funny, because my whole childhood, I imagined myself with wings. I imagined myself to, when confronted by a bully, or by stress, or by a simple social interchange that made me feel uncomfortable (there were, alas, a lot of those in my wobbly youth), I could simply shoot suddenly skyward, and leave the earth behind. I could become invisible. I could become air and wind and cloud – nowhere and everywhere at once.

Instead, I got a pair of oozing, dusty, malcontented wings. I was more weighted than before. And I was more fully present, too.

For those of us who write for children, this disconnect between what the child wants and what the adult understands is a sticky thing, and sometimes tough to parse out. When we sit down to write a book for kids, we must do some serious communication with our selves as kids, and I don’t know about the rest of the children’s authors out there, but my childhood self? She was a moron. For real. When I think about the things that she wanted, I end up with silly things, or painful things, or things I cannot use. A pair of useless wings, for example. Or hypothermia from my new-found ability to breathe underwater. Or a fist-fight with a bear that I accidentally insulted with my new gift of animal-talk.

What we want is not what we need. What we want reveals much of who we are, and where we hurt, while what we need reveals much of the external pressures of our physical environment. My needs were largely met as a child, but I wanted escape. Hence, wings.

What did you want as a child? What did you need? And were there any moments during your transition from childhood to adulthood in which you realized that what you wanted were about as useful as the ability to swear in Bear? Or a pair of painful, spastic and unflyable wings?

If so, I, for one, would love to hear about it.

Secret Doors

Our dear friends, John and Mike, purchased a large, rambling house right by Lake of the Isles recently, with the intention of renovating it into what is guaranteed to be an astonishing piece of beauty. Now John is my husband’s business partner at the architectural design firm Design 45, so I had been seeing the plans to this project for a while as my husband worked on them. But I only went into the house recently.

After exploring its many back staircases and hidden rooms, we went to the basement and found the thing that is currently haunting the stories that my children whisper to one another at night.

A secret door.

A long-since boarded up secret door at the very back wall of the basement. An inch-thick rectangle of plywood has been bolted across it and covered in thick coats of gray paint again and again.

“What is this?” I asked.

“We don’t know,” John said.

“A door.” Mike said. “Or at least it was. The children of the previous owner said that it used to be connected to a tunnel that went under the road and ended in the park.”

I stared at them.

“You’re kidding, right?”

“It’s not true,” John said.

“They said it was true,” Mike said. “I don’t know if it was so that they could access the park without having to go in the road or if it was a 1920′s speakeasy thing or what, but they were pretty sure there used to be a tunnel there.”

I was astonished. “Well, can we open it right now?” I asked.

At this point, my children were nearly hopping out of their skin. Secretdoorsecretdoorsecretdoor etched in their wilding faces. (Is wilding a word? If not, I think we should all declare it so. Wilding is giving me an inordinate amount of pleasure right now.) Their hands shook; their eyes shone; they jumped and jumped and jumped.

“There might be treasure in there!”

“Or zombies!”

“Or all the spiders ON EARTH!”

“Or zombies!”

“Or suitcases full of money.”

“Or zombies!”

“Or another world.”

“Or zombies!”

“Or magic tools.”

“Or ghosts AND vampires AND an anaconda AND zombies!” Leo was beside himself at that point. “Also, the Kraken!”

“We’re not going to open it,” Mike said.

The heads of my children collectively (and metaphorically) exploded. “WHY NOT?” they exclaimed.

Mike shrugged. “Everyone deserves a secret or two. Even a house.”

And I suppose that’s true. If they had opened the door right there and then, we would not have three weeks worth of Secret Door stories wafting through their play and their art and their dreams. We wouldn’t have the nightly requests by my son for yet another installment of “Leo Barnhill And The Mysterious Door,” of which there have been thirteen so far.

And it makes me think about my writing work as well. I don’t like reading books that open every door, that explain every little thing. I like it when the author consciously obscures the truth, when they force me to simply guess at what lies beyond the locked door. Sometimes, it’s enough to know the door exists, and what is beyond it is for me, the reader, to endlessly wonder and wonder and wonder.

In general, I hold Wonder in high regard.

There is a door – a secret door – in the basement at my friends’ house. I wonder what’s inside?

Now, as I wade through the revisions for my next book, Iron Hearted Violet, I am deliberately leaving some doors closed, some questions unanswered, some trails un-trod. Because I need to leave some space for my reader to wander. I want my readers to linger in this world I built, and to explore regions that I haven’t even thought to visit. I want my readers to wonder about the doors that I did not open, and for my story to engender new stories. And I like that idea very much.

Very much indeed.