Some of my best childhood memories are of the local library. Mostly, the old library, which was tucked away upstairs in one of the older buildings along my small town’s main street.
I can’t remember when it moved, but I think I was still in junior high, at the most. Maybe it was even earlier; the book I woke up remembering today was for younger readers. I remember that my favorite among the local librarians pointed it out to me, either because she knew that I adored anything to do with magic or because she hoped it would teach me what my mother was failing to, I’m not real sure.
I haven’t thought of this book much over the years. Once or twice it came up and, try as I might, I could not remember the name, only the story. A story which, when I did think about it, disturbed me for a reason I couldn’t quite put my finger on.
You know how, sometimes, you wake up and something that was bothering you is suddenly super clear? Well, usually that is something I’m actually thinking about, not some story from the land before time. But I’ve been working on myself, on my shadows and faults, so I suppose it’s no surprise that a few extras popped up out of the dark to visit me.
Before I tell you about this story, there are a few other things that need to be known. For one, I was not a girly girl. I grew up with boys. We adventured, rode bikes, and had the sort of contests that boys have, like who can eat a handful of gooseberries without making a face (I always won) or who is brave enough to get shot by a BB gun (I was not stupid enough to fall for that one). I had Barbie, but she often suffered from bad haircuts, shark attacks, and stood on the execution line, a sacrifice to story, before G.I. Joe got rescued by the Navy Seals. I was no lady, despite my mother’s attempts to explain why I ought to be. Maybe I liked dress-up, but the thought of dresses outside of those brief moments was appalling.
I thought it sounded utterly boring to hold my tongue. Brushing my hair was a necessity and I didn’t care if I had dirt on my face. I wanted to be outside or reading. I was a horse girl, but not the mincing, prancing diva that runs around barns in expensive boots talking about boarding school. I was the girl that knew how to cut the wire on a bale of hay and knew which ointment was for horse cuts and which was for human cuts and which was good for both. I knew how to saddle a horse and how to pick out their feet and I knew there was no pain quite like having a half ton animal stand on your toes – which is why you’d never find me near a horse without boots on, I don’t care how hot it is.
What I’m trying to say is that I was a tomboy. Dirty, tangled hair, torn jeans, completely unaware that there was a difference between what girls and boys were capable of, just that some people were good at getting to the top shelf and others were better at hiding in small places.
Which is why I’m not what you’d call a feminist of the newer sort, which seems so determined that women need to be allowed to kick all men into the streets like badly behaved dogs. And I may not be a girly girl, but I still like my hair long and I have an LBD because it makes me feel good about myself.
I believe in equality. Stress equality. I believe that nobody is better than anyone. We need women. We need men. We need ladies and tomboys. We need men that arrange flowers and men that know how to shoot guns. We need readers and we need doers. We need poets and we need warriors. That is what life is. Diversity. So. Understand that there is no part of me that believes that there will ever be a time when one type of person can take over the world and as much as I want people to stop getting up in other people’s business and deciding what they can and can’t do, I don’t think me screaming at every guy that calls me sweetheart is going to convince anyone to stop.
And the reason you need to know that I have no interest in the whole ‘the world is trying to sew my mouth shut’ conspiracy is because this book. This book that has been low key haunting me off and on for almost three decades bothered me because that is exactly what it is. A story meant to tell little girls how it is evil to be anything but quiet, clean, and sweet.
Here’s a rough idea of the story. A little witch is going out for Halloween. The wind knows her name and calls her to come and play on her broom, so she does. But the wind gets a little crazy and she ends up taking a tumble and meeting two little kids out trick or treating. She thinks they are witches too, but, of course, they are just playing dress up. She goes home with them and realizes, too late, that the wind has gone and the magic of Halloween has faded.
The children take her home to their mother who, piece by piece, begins to tame the little witch. First she takes the witch’s dress, which is black and full of Halloween smells. “I keep my magic in that,” the witch says, but to no avail, the mother takes it and gives her a new dress. Next comes the hat. The mother takes it and puts it away in a closet. “I keep my magic in that, protests the witch, but she is, after all, only a little girl, witch or no, so mom wins. Next, she is given a bath and the mother comes the snarls out of the little girl’s hair. “I keep my magic in my tangles,” the little witch says, but mom combs out her hair anyway. By the time the next Halloween rolls around, the wind calls out to the little witch, but she can’t really hear it; she’s become like other little girls and dresses up as a princess instead. This is not presented as a horror story. At no point does mom explain to her other children that the little witch might be different, but that doesn’t make her less. Nope. The entire book is about getting this little witch to fit in. And, if I thought my favorite librarian gave that to me with that in mind, I’d be very disappointed.
If I have to explain the blatant undertones here, then I’m a little sad. Just like I was sad when I woke up this morning realizing what sort of book it was and why it bothered me. Little girls should be clean, quiet, and dressed in neat, nice clothes.
No wonder it was haunting me.
So why tell you about this at all? Because, lately, I’ve been thinking about the way other people think I should be. I’ve been thinking about how much of my life was spent trying to fit in. I was always obsessed with witches when I was younger and now I am starting to see why. I don’t want a life where anyone gets to point at me and say I should do this or that. I am beginning to understand that it has never worked for me to try and do anything the way others do it because I’m not like anyone else.
I have made the mistake of giving someone my heart before I truly understood just how much I don’t want to be in anyone’s shadow. I have tried very hard to be like friends of mine, even when it was clear that, as much as I love them, I am very much a little witch that never quite bought the idea of combing the tangles out of my hair or handing over my broom.
And I am not like other writers. I keep trying to figure out how to write like someone else. And now, suddenly, I just want to climb up into the closet, grab my hat, and see what it looks like when I throw the rules I’ve been taught right out the window and run – or fly – for the hills.
I fully believe in learning how others do things. But I’m starting to realize that I’ve never given myself the space to learn how I do things. I’ve always assumed I had to follow someone else’s path because how could my path be the right one. Even as I say this, I realize how unfair that was to me. I realize how imperative it is that I change this. Right now. No argument. I need to be okay with doing things the way they work for me. That includes writing and makeup and love.
I know I’ve been writing a lot of these blogs lately. That’s because I’m figuring out what I really want to write. How I want to write it. In fiction and out of fiction. And, maybe, I’m hoping my journey can help someone else just a little. Because I know what it is like to wake up and realize you don’t really know much about yourself. I know what it is like to wake up one day and realize you’ve spent your entire life trying to be someone else’s version of you.
So there is something I’m thinking of doing next spring or summer. It may happen, it may not, but I have at least part of what I need to do it. I am thinking of taking a solo hiking trip somewhere like the Appalachian Trail. I don’t have a tent anymore, just a nice daypack that I bought for Germany and only managed to use once. But tents and sleeping bags aren’t that hard to get a hold of.
Why do a solo hiking trip? Because I think there are things you can only learn about yourself in the woods. And the deeper into the woods you can get, the better. Doing it alone removes any hope you have of escaping yourself.
Yes, I do get nervous thinking about doing something like this; I am a woman and a woman on her own tends to be seen as vulnerable. So maybe I’ll take one of the dogs with me and do daily checkins along the way.
With an eye on this, I am also looking into photography for my blog and Patreon. I know that I’m not quite done with fiction, but I also know that all this self exploration I’ve been doing lately has made me aware of how much I want to share more than just a story or two. So stay tuned, folks. Things are may get a little weird around here; I’m pulling my pointy hat down off the shelf and planning to get a little dirty.