If you asked me this question on a sidewalk, or in a bar, or over coffee, I’d give a quick answer. I’d say something about loving the written word and wanting to make it my work. I’d say: “I’m new to writing,” and quickly attempt to change the subject.
It wouldn’t be a lie. Professionally and academically speaking, I am (relatively) new to Writing. Still, I have time here on this digital page to be honest. So here you go:
Nyctophobia, as defined by mirriamwebster.com, is the abnormal fear of darkness. For example: when entering a dark room I stop at the doorway. I reach inside to turn on the light. No light within reach? I’m not going in. Well, okay. It depends on how much light spills into the room from the space behind me. If the spillover reaches into the dark as far as the nearest light switch, I’ll venture in. Other factors include: the size of the room in question and the number and/or shape of objects in said room. Laugh if you like, roll your eyes if you must. Nyctophobia. Look it up.
When I was a kid it was much, much worse.
I won’t go into all the details.
I’ll only say that nightlights didn’t help. Nightlights, gentle readers, only lengthen and darken shadows. The remedy, other than refusing to sleep in my own bed, was to lie very still. To stare straight up into the darkness with my eyes wide open until I was too exhausted to hold them open any longer. In those long moments before sleep, I relived my favorite stories. Snow White was shway tougher. Sleeping Beauty borrowed the prince’s sword and cut her own way through the imprisoning briars. Belle lived happilyeverafter with her books and the Beast stayed a Beast because he was more fun that way. New plot lines emerged for the Ninja Turtles. It was not only a distraction, but a comfort.
When I was old enough to enjoy chapter books (10, maybe?) The Chronicles of Narnia changed my life. I became desperate to go to Narnia. In every new house we visited, I checked the backs of wardrobes, stealthily tried on whatever golden or green rings I could find, stared intently at any painting that featured a ship on the sea. I was a weird kid, come to think of it.
I graduated to thicker books: historical fiction, non-fiction, sci-fi and poetry. Favorite cartoons gave way to favorite movies. I learned to play guitar. I grew up and as I got older, I learned there are many kinds of darkness, the worst of which often happens in broad daylight. Stories continued to be my respite.
I wrote songs and poems. I’d scribble lines of stories in notebooks and never finish them. I saw writing as a means to academic success. I revered books. I never dreamt I could write one. Then, Junior year of undergrad, a friend convinced me to take a Creative Writing course.
My first short stories (now buried forever and may they rest in peace) were like matches struck in darkness. Brief flickering light, revealing truth about the world around me, truth from within myself that I didn’t even know. Comforting, diverting, hopeful, those first stories were just enough to break through.
That’s why I’m writing now, that’s why I’ll write tomorrow and the days after that. The world gets very dark, and that’s tough for someone as nyctophobic as I. But when I write, I escape to worlds other than my own and live within my imagination. I’m free, if only for a little while, from that fear.
There are other reasons I do it. A myriad, in fact. But if I’m honest, they all stem from the same place. So there you have it. I write to keep out the darkness.