This topic is motivated by selfishness as I've just finished an original (not fanfic) short story that I need some objective crit from people who don't know my writing too well and, more importantly have no practical experience of the background to the 'story.
So the tale will be coming soon, but I'll probably need to do more than one post as it's 11,000 words +. Will be a good test for how much the posting window will handle at least.
Commentary aside I think this thread might be useful for discussion in general about writing fanfiction and you'll see why if you can get into the story because it's autobiographical and essentially is an account of the therapeutic aspects of fandom and of writing fan fiction
Hopefully those amongst us who write themselves will recognise some of the points raised in amongst the bits about insomnia and the disappointments of reality in general...
And now I present to you - Dreamless Roads
Imagination versus life should not be a choice
except in dreams perhaps given clarity,
when a broken mind flees in extremis,
having closed its heart to others reasonings.
Trapped by life, unhinged by duty and coin,
looking for meaning and finding none.
Faith abandoned, dreams all dead,
nothing left of joy, just dread and ashes in my mouth.
Running from decisions imposed by ghouls,
losing the race for sanity and health.
All havens lost and no place else to turn,
Ill-prepared for the defeat of mercy and grace.
Maimed and mute, I walk the dreamless roads
seeing no one, wanting none for friend or foe.
Not looking forward and never back for misery
is all around and madness waits ever at my side.
I can see light, just out of reach that calls for me,
and a feathery darkness casts its case for peace,
with whisperings of finality and unending silence
And my mind’s life wills me to come home to stay...
I was really ill. That’s my excuse and it’s no word of a lie – I still have the scars to prove it. The worst thing? It was mostly self-inflicted, but then that’s generally the way of things when the wounds you’ve taken are so profound and deep there’s nothing to be done but to lie down. Maybe curl up in a tight ball too. Preferably alone. This kind of crying’s not something to be done with an audience really. Cry if you have the energy and enough moisture left to summon up and wash some of the stress away.
When you’re sad and cry your tears are practically seawater. Salty. Did you know that? It’s true. I know because my eyes were red all the time for about a year once and they stung like crazy. I still have a mutilated tear duct in one eye – like a little domed pinhead under the skin. Ironic really. I have a phobia about eyes and pins…
Anyway – back to the point of this. It was all my own fault, but then again I was ill so I couldn’t help myself. And that purple prose poem was the start of it. Funny isn’t it how some things in life you can pinpoint to a certain moment (pins again, see!) and can say that was when it all began? It didn’t really of course, but it was the moment when I knew, really at the core of it all, what the matter was. It was rock bottom with bells on and I needed to feel it because before that I was the world champion at blotting things out. Queen of the keep moving, don’t think, don’t look back, stay busy brigade. Well maybe not the ‘stay busy’ part since I’m far and away the laziest person I know, but in the ‘keep your mind busy’ sense, as in off certain subjects I was right up there on Olympus. Right in De Nile and refusing to admit to myself that everything, and I do mean everything was wrong, wrong, wrong. So, yes. Of course it began long before that, but writing that shit out was the recognition and self-awareness that had been missing and that I needed to feel deep down to the quick before I could truly begin to dust myself off and crawl my way back to someone who might turn out to be human again more or less.
Why wasn’t I human anymore? Well that’s obviously poetic licence, but behind all the tears and the raw aching feeling of being so alone I was on Pluto with not even a microbe for company, I was numb, dumb and lived in a perpetual fog. I wrote a poem about that too. Lost in fog. But that was later on when I was finding a way through the fog. Or following something, someone, out of it at times. Oh yes, I found a someone all right. It just wasn’t the someone I thought it was. But that’s going to spoil the story somewhat if I tell you I was following myself most of the time, or maybe not because what I was really doing was exploring a fantasy. It’s true! Silly, huh? I know, but life’s mostly silly when you get right down to it, and if you can’t laugh you’ll cry. Crying’s a waste of time they say, but sometimes you need to expel a river of bile and disappointment. It’s the only way to get rid of it all, so the one thing I learned making my way out of this slough of despond I’d lured myself into was that I had to feel something, anything and bottling things up, walking away, moving on, chin up, be brave and especially ‘least said soonest mended’, were all ways of keeping the poison down and re-infecting myself over and over until I couldn’t experience any emotion at all. Because it all hurt.
So the poem’s where it all gelled and got expressed in a way that meant something to me and it didn’t need to be good, it just had to say itself to me. But I didn’t write it. No, the me I was back then couldn’t have written it, so it had to be another me. The me that’s an elf.
I won’t bore you with the reasons why I got myself into such a mess because they were only a record of how I got there, to that place where even I didn’t recognise myself anymore because I’d become this dysfunctional piece of meat who took everything life threw at her, did what needed to be done while it was there in front of her and then just… got on with it. The next thing that needed to be done. I was like a machine almost – one that knew what was expected, what was fitting. What had to be done in the circumstances. Emotions still happened but it was like I was a prism or a mirror? Someone would laugh so I’d join in. You want black? Absorb all the visible spectrum and I’d cry in the right places as well for good measure. For a little while. Not enough. Not until I was on my own and then, then I’d cry, but I didn’t know what or who I was crying for you see, unless it was for everything and everybody. See, even now I can’t say I was crying for me, but how could I because I didn’t know me anymore.
Of course it was a breakdown. I did it very considerately, in instalments actually. Sometimes it was every day, a week tops by the time my dream job turned into a self-made nightmare. Now there’s a really great reason. I knew – knew, I wouldn’t be able to hack a managerial position but I kidded myself that I’d ace it. I had a job I adored and was really good at – scratch that, I was brilliant at it. And I had a boss I got on with like une maison en flambe, who loved my work, colleagues I liked – what could go wrong with handling a promotion where I’d be able to spread my glorious expertise and sphere of influence? The reality was that managing, as so very often happens, turned out to be not doing what you’re best at, but organising other people to do it instead. That was the problem. I didn’t want to do that because I was the best at it. If I’d worked in a culture where I could have ‘led’ by doing and not telling I’d have been unstoppable, but as it was the work I loved turned into something I grew to despise as I merely handed over projects I could have made shine to people who would do the job to the specifications without the magic spark that’s the difference between inspiration and calculation. And all I could do was talk about it and do the HR thing that I wasn’t anything like as good at. To use despicable management weasel words I could walk the walk, but I couldn’t talk the talk they wanted with it. Not the way ‘they’ wanted me to. These days far too much emphasis is put on communication without necessarily listening to or understanding what’s being said. Maybe it was me who didn’t listen properly. Certainly what I wanted to do as a manager wasn’t what ‘they’ wanted and I only knew how to do it my way. And I did try to do ‘it’ their way, I really, truly, did but it was no good. I wasn’t any good at that at all.
I said I wasn’t going to give reasons didn’t I? But you see that wasn’t a reason to me – it was a condition. A part of me and who I was. I hadn’t had to think too much about how to be ‘good at my job’ I just was. Naturally. There’s no room for natural in modern business. Not in the public sector which was where I was. Oh, they’ll say it is – they’ll say how they’ll ‘invest in people’ or believe in ‘lifelong learning’, but when it comes down to it they want a workforce that’ll do the job adequately for the least cost and bother in terms of productivity. To put it bluntly they’ll say they’re committed to good pay and conditions and provide staff welfare if you need support through life’s little inconvenient hiccups, like a divorce or bereavement, but the minute you start costing them too much money in terms of what they can potentially get out of you, you’re out. It didn’t take that long a time for me to become obsolete. Just two years after that first heady one when I got promoted and seemed to be on a charmed rollercoaster, I was on what turned out to be permanent sick leave.
I was going to go back. I wanted to, or thought I did. But there was just no end to the depression and the people I depended on most had their own troubles and dramas. I was still trying to be the machine that coped and gave what people needed from me when they needed it. I thought I’d cracked it when I managed to blag my way into working from home because I could do that quite easily since my job was online and it was when the firm was on a major ‘work/life balance’ kick. I found a lovely house in the country far away from the city and the horrendous three hour a day commute, where I wouldn’t have people in my face asking me stuff half the time and the rest in meetings about meetings and rotten forward planning. More reasons to be a machine me, see. The efficient, corporate me could do it OK. Trouble was she started being in charge the whole time, even when I was asleep…
… I used to have dreams, years after I left (well nightmares, except they were so bloody dull!), where I was getting up for work, putting on my clothes – sometimes not putting on my clothes too – and walking down to the bus, catching the train, then another bus and then arriving at work and wondering why I wasn’t wearing a skirt or had forgotten my purse, or my mobile, and then wham! Suddenly I’d wake up in a panic just before the alarm went off. I actually thought that was useful! So I can’t say I’d had no warning when ‘the big one’ struck.
I could go on but I won’t, because all this postponement and avoidance, ducking and diving around the burning issue, keeping busy and trying to make myself useful amounted to something very simple – I didn’t fit anymore. I was the square peg in the round hole. Silly expression, but everyone knows how it works, or rather how it doesn’t. The square peg will go into the round hole and it can fit too after a fashion, so long as nobody looks too hard or asks awkward questions. But the hole and the peg, they know it’s not working out, although it’s highly likely they’ll put a good face on it for a while at least.
“Oh yes, look! I can touch the sides in four places very well and really it doesn’t matter that I’m stuck see, because there’s plenty of room for everyone to get past me, so I’m not too much of a bother am I? Am I?”
“No it’s all good, you’re not crowding anyone out, in fact we can… oof! Yeah, look if you wiggle, just a little bit to the right and then twist just a tad… Wheeeee! Hey you moved three hundred and sixty degrees like hot shit off a shovel there just then! Good job!”
I rattled and rolled around untidily, or got wedged fast. Nothing was comfortable. Worse. Nowhere was comfortable. At home or at work; in the car, the train, the bus; walking down the steps to the street, in the lift, waiting for the bus; queuing at the checkout; silent or talking, eating or cooking, awake or asleep. Talking or not talking. Not talking was OK actually, provided that included people not talking to me. I could handle me not talking perfectly well, thank you very much. People started to notice. A colleague laughed and told me I was the quietest roomie they ever had. It wasn’t really a compliment as I didn’t have much I wanted to say to him anyway, but it meant a quiet life for us both, so it was workable. No waves made, no lines of resistance to worry about, I simple coasted along as quietly as I knew how to and hoped no one would notice the cracks.
And then there was the screen full of work one morning near the end of January. I looked at it. I knew what I was looking at, what I had to do with it and, most of all how long it would take me to make it move so the next thing would come up on the screen. I kept looking. The screensaver kicked in and I kept looking. Then it timed out and the screen went black and I was still looking and not seeing anything at all. And all the time I was looking, I was crying but not making a sound. This was when I was working from home and my husband, who wasn’t working due to ill health yelled at me from the living room, did I want a coffee? Then he came into the office and asked me was I deaf? Then he put his hand on the back of the swivel chair and asked me why was I crying?
I didn’t say it. Couldn’t say it. But I knew it.
I drank the coffee. We went outside to drink it. It was a nice day I think. Not too cold or raining anyway. Our garden is lovely. So quiet and the birds sing because there’s trees all around us. The dog huffed about and made me smile and it was going to be all right, because I’d finished. Had enough. I wasn’t going to do the work anymore because it was killing me with pointlessness. Then we had lunch and then I went to bed and slept until midmorning the next day, then off to our GP to ‘get fixed’.
I thought that would be the nadir, but it wasn’t. I still had a way to go before I made it to rock bottom. Did I say I was taking anti-depressants? Well I had, for four years. They’d been working pretty well for most of that time in that I was functioning just about, but now they weren’t and… You don’t want to know because it bores me, so it must bore you. So let’s assume that I’d reached some kind of low plateau where I wasn’t having to work and I was getting medical attention of various kinds, that are best described as sticking plaster on a broken limb, or aspirin for a brain tumour and I went along with it because I didn’t know what I needed either and was prepared to try anything that was on offer. At one stage I was jumping through hoops again. For work again of course, but it was so ‘they’ could assess how ill I was and how long it would be until I could reasonably be expected to get back to work, so of course I co-operated because I didn’t have anything better to suggest and though I knew I wasn’t going back I felt it was inevitable that I would, because there weren’t any other options unless the illness was going to be permanent. People got depressed, but they got better again didn’t they?
But it was already permanent. It had been permanent before I landed my dream job; before I started the degree course; before this, that and the other. I didn’t realise it for a long, long time. I was ill because of all the compromises I’d made from way back. Probably before I left school even. Certainly before I got married. Compromise is probably putting it too tritely. It was just decisions really. Ordinary, everyday decisions that everyone makes, that shape their path through life. Is this a job I’d like to do? Do I kiss this man? Will I marry him? Are we going to have kids? How hard are we going to try to have kids? Would I rather go on holiday? It’s a very good holiday, but do I really want to go there? Some important, some easy, some life-changing, or just plain mundane and inconsequential. What colour shall I dye my hair? Do you want to eat out or in for your birthday? There was a pattern but I wasn’t recognising it back then, because I was looking at familiar things and was used to looking at them in a certain way. That was OK I suppose. I mean I was a grown, independent woman who knew her own mind and nobody had ever forced me to make any decisions, or make compromises I couldn’t live with. So I bumbled along, taking the tabs and some days I cried a lot and others not at all and still I was ‘coping’ with stuff like I always had.
Things were better in some respects of course. There was less stress to cope with of course, but I still had to keep my mind off stuff and that’s where things began to turn around I suppose, although it took a long time to happen. Because I worked in IT I’d stayed off the computer a good deal at first, but after a month or two I started to surf about idly, looking at anything really and for one reason or other I found my way back to an online Tolkien store I’d used way back while we were still in the Home Counties and saw that they had a forum. So I had a look and stayed for an hour or so, looking at library articles and featured artists and quizzes. Then the next day I went back and again the next and I was finding all kinds of weird, interesting things about Middle Earth that I never knew – and I thought I knew my Tolkien very intimately, but nooooo! This was nerd central for Arda, but it was fascinating! And entrancing. They had ‘kingdoms’. Sub-forums where people played at being dwarves, hobbits, or elves, or orcs, or Men of Gondor and of Rohan. And the kingdoms were all done up to a theme that looked beguiling and mystical. It was like all these people were having fun in a Middle Earth-like way, discussing the books, having ‘lore’ debates, roleplaying battles and love scenes and playing interactive games. It was interesting to read, but what grabbed me most were the ‘Poetry, Art and Fan-Fiction’ forums where people were sharing their scribblings of various descriptions and some of it was really beautiful, or funny, or both.
It reminded me of 1969, when an aunt had given me The Lord of the Rings, that first gigantic paperback of the Trilogy and I’d fallen in love with a book for the first time in a ‘grown-up’ sense. During that first summer holiday after I’d read it back to back about three times over, I’d had a go at illustrating some of the scenes that had captured my imagination most and began to read it to my younger sisters as well. I’d been good at writing stories at school as well, before a scandalously uninspiring English teacher actually succeeded in putting me off Dickens for life (can you imagine? I fell asleep during Oliver Twist!) and taught me to loathe poetry – not a good thing for a Tolkien aficionado, but at least he wasn’t quite as mind-numbingly boring as I thought Tennyson and the rotten Lady of Shallot was… So I started looking at all these nerdy art and fan fiction pages and it was so damned attractive that I wanted to leave feedback and critique, but of course to do that I had to join. So I did!
It was just for the writing and the artwork at first. But it was so interesting and the people were really nice. Mostly teens, but there were older people on there too, much older than me in some cases, from all around the world, so the sense of community was pretty enthralling at that time anyway, when I was only skimming the surface. At first I was just going to post to other people, but then I started to want to do some drawing myself, then to write something myself and before I knew it I was opening my own art and writing threads, no poetry yet – that came later as I really wasn’t ‘into’ that yet, and then people were visiting me and saying, ‘Hey, that’s great!’ or ‘Wow – how original!’ or ‘Whoa – where the hell did that come from?’
I started spending more time on that one forum during my daily web sessions and I began to roam around the other forums again, intrigued by all these people I was meeting in the creative threads and what they were getting out of roleplay and urging me to have a go as well, because ‘you’d be great at it’. But I wasn’t convinced. In fact I was actually very apprehensive about the whole roleplay thing, so I went around the kingdoms again looking at what went on there more closely and trying to get a feel for what I wanted to do. And while I was looking around, I was attempting to find out what would be best for me – who I wanted to ‘be’. I quite fancied being something exotic, like an elf or maybe a dwarf – there were a lot of dwarves in the creative forums I’d got friendly with, but I didn’t think I’d make a great warrior type, although that looked like fun. But… but… but… I started to agonise over what would suit me. Elves were all very well but I was short and dumpy and feeling very unattractive and I certainly didn’t want to go around with a beard compounding the problem, so that knocked being a dwarf on the head too. I didn’t really want to be a hobbit. Too cutesy by far for me – I couldn’t face saccharine anymore and wanted something gutsy, but without too much pathos. Wizards? Nah – they didn’t let you play canon characters and there were really only two. Ents? Prevaricating tree-folk who thrived on not being hasty? Boring! Then there was the dark side of course – I looked good in black! But that was too dark for me of course. I would have blended in too well. So it had be a ‘good’ hero-style human I concluded, although I asked around in the newbie forums for advice from more experienced members and was given a very warm reception from a Nazgûl and a couple of elves – well an elf and a human who hung out big time with elves – and got talked into joining a Mannish kingdom. It kind of made sense as Lady Éowyn was a favourite character and I truly, madly, deeply had a secret yearning to play with horseys, so joining Rohan was looking pretty damned compelling… Except, somehow my finger slipped when I went for the kingdom selection button and suddenly I ended up in Minas Tirith for a very confused and miserable week!
It was because I didn’t know what to do, or rather how to ‘do it’? The roleplay that is. That’s part of the reason why being an elf or a dwarf was too scary, because I at least knew how to be human, but if I had to be a different ‘species’ as well it seemed it would be too much for me. I wasn’t thinking straight really, but then roleplay can be a minefield, even if you think you know the genre really well. This was about two years after the Peter Jackson trilogy was out there and so there were now two ‘canons’ for Middle Earth, which accounted for the amount of youngsters on the forum and why some of the roleplaying of Elves and Dunedain owed more than a little to more contemporary movie heroes of the type played by muscley Austrians or martial arts enthusiasts. It was the latter canon that was pretty firmly tied into the Minas Tirith forum I accidently chose for myself.
It was the timeline that didn’t help I think. At this stage all the kingdom areas of the site were roughly set in the Fourth Age – after the Lord of the Rings finished in other words, so the great city of Gondor was ruled over by Aragorn and Arwen Evenstar – well that’s the roles the two moderators for the sub-forum had for their character identities for official purposes. That at least was understandable, but the entire atmosphere of the forum was still indefatigably military and the way it was run followed that theme through, so really wanting to be human there meant joining the army or allied trades, being a soldiers mum, wife, sister etc, or join the healers. Everywhere I ‘went’ – the activity threads and roleplay games, had wall to wall rules on how or what to post in them, or some kind of hierarchical path that you had to follow if it was the cavalry or a guild of some sort. Even if you were going in for the equivalent of social chatrooms, which were called pubs mostly, they had a set etiquette to be followed and although I ‘got’ that you were playing at being a human who belonged on the Streets of Minas Tirith, it all seemed very alien to me and those streets started looking more than a little mean.
I probably should have held back on joining a kingdom – stayed on as a ‘new soul’ – someone who didn’t have any allegiances and could go anywhere, but part of the attraction for me then was to ‘belong’ somewhere after so long feeling like an alien in the real world. It was all about the fantasy then you see. This was a place I had loved for most of my life, even though it wasn’t real. If I couldn’t belong in a fantasy world, where else could it happen for me? Most people would have either laughed and said go with the flow, or have not seen the point of it all in the first place I suppose. But for me it was almost too serious – it had to be right and it had to feel real for me as well. I needed to belong somewhere that badly that I couldn’t afford to get it too wrong, even at the beginning. The final straw for my Mannish forum career was when I looked at the Minas Tirith Bards and Story-tellers Guild. It had a definite collegiate leaning with masters and apprentices and exercises being given out, and that was the point that I gave up on Gondor and beat a very hasty retreat back to the Art and Fan-fiction forums with my tail firmly between my legs to have a big rethink about how to launch my roleplay character.
I’d already chosen my character name. Again, dear Éowyn figured and so I stuck Jan, my own name on the front of the ‘owyn’ and hey presto, Janowyn was born. Who was Janowyn then? She needed a backstory and, in classic forum tradition, demanded a suitably tortuous past and a sad tale to tell. So back to her roots in the name. One of her parents had to be from Rohan obviously. Well not obviously, but it was as good a starting point as any. Something I’d learned in those early days was that it was fun to weave your character story around the canon people and events in the books (or in the three films – there were people in there who only wanted to follow the movie canon to make things more difficult) and so, still wanting a connection somehow with Gondor even though I’d decided to leave there, I went off on a little journey of my own to places that I loved in Middle Earth. Two places immediately suggested themselves to me. Rivendell and Ithilien. The Rivendell in the film was a faithful interpretation of Tolkien’s own mental model and the imagery was very strong in my head from both film and book as Elrond was one of my long-standing favourite characters. Ithilien held more to the book and the Éowyn effect was there in her romance with Faramir as they eventually became the Lord and Lady of Ithilien.
Another place floated into the equation, somewhat obscure in that it was never really covered too much in the main novels, but Dol Amroth was of suitable pedigree because it held one of the bloodlines of an elf and human intermarriage. Not a top notch alliance and not so well documented that it couldn’t stand a little judicious tweaking, but it had noble credentials so I concocted a tragic little ‘child of destiny’ history for Janowyn, where her true parents were both closely linked to the princely house of Dol Amroth (not too close, from different times) and where her mother would meet the Lady of Ithilien and a man of Rohan in her service before the end of the War of the Ring in the Houses of Healing. And so it was that little Janowyn was born in the hour of the Dark Lord’s final fall to a noble widowed mother and the battle-burned berserker from Rohan who, after the Battle of the Pellennor, had pulled the still pregnant lady from rubble in Minas Tirith and taken her to the Healers post haste, where she had had to be treated for a terrible injury dealt to her by a dire splinter of rusty iron from the mace of a Ringwraith! From downtrodden former civil servant to high drama and doom and in one fell swoop the chains dropped off! Yeah, right. I was on the right track though…
I wove a barely plausible little scenario involving wraith sorcery from the rusty splinter and, of course, the magic of athelas courtesy of the northern lord who had saved the City and claimed the long empty throne of Gondor, so that Jano turned out to be an elf and not a human baby as the elven elements in her bloodline triumphed over the evil magic that had killed off her human side. Preposterous nonsense I know, but I needed her to have some inner contention that rendered her an outcast from her human family and with no experience of her elven heritage – there were no elves living in Ithilien which is where Janowyn (Jano for short) was going to be brought up. The choice of having her as a bona fide half-elf wasn’t an option I wanted ultimately, although plenty of people played them on the forums and had fun with it. That was purely down to my own preference for the canon of the books. I wanted Jano to be immortal you see and half-elves weren’t, although they tended to live longer than humans and looked better for longer too. For some reason I needed Jano to be brought up totally by humans, but be wholly elven in the biological sense. It wasn’t really that fully fleshed out – I just needed her to have to fight to find her place. The place I wanted her to find for herself was definitely in Rivendell, because it was the grandest and most elf-like of all the kingdoms. The two lady greeters I’d met in the newbie sorting halls had made their mark on me and it was a relief to find, after a rather more thorough skim through the roleplaying threads in the Rivendell forum, that playing in Elrond’s gaffe was going to be a lot less structured and more fluid and forgiving for people who truly wanted to get under the skin of their inner elfie…
So there I was, newly signed-up for Imladris, looking fantastic – it’s gooood to be an elf lady! – so what was next on the agenda? It was obviously harder than it looked this roleplay malarkey. The acronyms were confusing too with strange notices asking you to ‘only post OOC in here please’ or dire ‘stay IC at all times’ warnings writ large and in red bold caps at the top of every thread that looked to be hosting something it looked like I might enjoy; but it was at least a little easier to ask questions rather than having to dive straight in and get dragged off to volunteer to help muck out the Augean Stables, or some such little ‘training’ task which seemed to be the normal route for a newbie roleplayer to earn their spurs. By then I wasn’t in such a hurry since I knew roughly what I wanted for Jano so I did something very forumish. I started stalking people. Well not exactly stalking, more following as it later became known on the even more sociable networks that were still in their pioneer days back then. The two nice lady Imladris-types I’d met in the newbie halls were very active in the Rivendell forum so I started to look at where they were posting and discovered there were different layers to every forum and some of them were like little club houses. In fact that’s what they were called – houses. And so it was more in those less open and scary places that Jano began her career in achieving elfhood by stealth almost.
By then I’d managed to find a handy FAQ on the jargon so I didn’t make such a show of myself. I at least knew what OOC and IC meant – out of character and in character of course! Oof! What a numbskull I was not to have sussed that out already… Once I’d got it into my head that it was really amateur dramatics online, that put things like thread protocols into perspective and getting to know whether I was ‘backstage’ or treading the boards at least. One of my kind greeters turned out to be a stupendously talented Bard, even though her IC was human – she was a genius at roleplay and a significant part of the inner circle belonging to the two moderators for the forum – the ‘ladylords’ Elrond and Glorfindel, who both happened to be female. They played the lords of Imladris for official purposes and, in the etiquette of the entire site, only they could play those two eminent canon characters. For those of you not familiar with Tolkien, Glorfindel was a big deal in the Silmarillion era and in fact was the hero who saved Elrond’s daddy and then went and scared the bejasus out of the Lord of the Nazgûls in another timeline. Not a warrior to mess with in other words!
So I’d chosen a good role model for myself and it was in her house that Jano took her first, literally tottering steps, since it was a tree-house and at that time Jano wasn’t that great at heights. In fact the first thing I did was to trip over somebody going into the house and therein hung the tale because he happened to be wearing Swan insignia, which sort of helped me blag my way into an admittedly gauche introduction, because the Swan was the heraldic emblem of the House of Dol Amroth. The one that Jano was supposedly related to and why she had come to Imladris – to try and find her kindred, the Nandor who had lived in the area before Men had built the City by the Sea. Turned out the ellon (that’s a male elf in Sindarin, one of Tolkien’s elven languages) I’d tripped over in the dark wasn’t from those particular woods at all, but it was enough to get me started as he was very kind to Jano. Patted her down and gallantly looked after her when the rest of the room went back to their singing and chatting. A small, rather awkward but endearing entree into the wonderful world of roleplay. Jano sat down on a floor cushion beside the kind and much older man (she was just a baby still at two hundred and fifty years of age) and listened to the stories people were telling and the music they were playing with wide eyes and a thumping, excited heartbeat as she gave me my first glimpse of the world we’d just walked into together.
We were enchanted. Jano was very shy and really overwhelmed at first. After that first little piece of whimsy she contented herself with hanging around in the Library and doing ‘easy’ threads like the feasts which were largely all about meeting people and pretending to eat and drink at a feast – Rivendell called their pubs feasts in other words and really it was a chatroom for your character. My friend from the tree-house was there and so were people I had seen and posted to in the art and writing forums so, having talked to them IRL – in real life as themselves – I got to know their characters as well. I met up with the other lady from the newbie halls and she became my unofficial guide to the marketplace where we had great fun running around causing mild havoc and I got to know some more people, whilst Jano got herself some new clothes – she was rather a tomboy and didn’t go in for dresses too much, since she’d led a solitary life down in Ithilien after losing her human family. In Imladris she really needed some posh frocks for all these feasts of course. You get the picture – it was all ‘let’s pretend’ games, but it was lovely to do this with other people, or even on my own, because the creators of the forum had built up an infrastructure where you could hop from thread to thread and have your character experience life as an elf in various situations or places, which were based on the book, or the films, or both. The ambience I so craved that had been lacking in Minas Tirith was there in shedloads in the Last Homely House of Elrond Peredhel. It felt marvellous to explore a place I already loved like this, writing down my reactions and thoughts as Jano took it all in with mounting excitement as she realised she might have found her true home at last.
Time for another poem I think. I said that I’d never written poetry ‘for pleasure’ before this didn’t I? The scare quotes say it all really. Writing poetry, for me needs some great effort or emotion to be upon me and the reason I’d rarely written poems, except when I had to in school, is that I’m not naturally a great one for high and lows of verbiage. Orally anyway and although I always could and did express myself well in writing, prose was always my weapon of choice. Weapon is not an odd word for me to choose either. Hold that thought and I’ll get back to it soon. Poem first – of the same ilk I began with… Lost and Found
Lost in fog. Unheard. Unseen.
No beginnings and no end.
All obscured in grey sorrow and soft tears.
It matters not if I am still
or walk aimlessly. To nowhere.
Towards nobody. Nothing will matter here.
Not action. Not speech. Not purpose.
There is nothing. Just the fog and me. It lifts a little. Now and then.
The fog. And the light will enter.
If I let it? If I want it?
Is there a way to let it in?
I can find a reason given time.
If I want to. If I let myself think. And then the wind changes, fresh and cruel.
It blows the fog away and I am exposed
to others view. Still lonely. Still silent.
Just not alone. I want to move but can’t.
Too hard. Too fast. Too soon.
I drift along to others speech.
Just listening. Just thinking. Just quiet.
I feel life around me, but not within.
And then I see you and hear your words,
as light does enter, and I let it,
and I want it more than I can say.
I find a reason to take your hand.
And another to follow where you lead.
Because I want to… now you have found me.
As Jano grew more confident in the bardic skills she was writing as much for real life me as herself and this particular avenue of internalising was something that couldn’t be kept at bay at times. I came to call them my ‘fantasy suicide notes’ (although this one isn’t really because as you can tell by the final verse, it contains the hope that I’d discovered that had been so obviously absent in Dreamless Roads) and their source was always ambiguous because even then Jano was still me but freed I suppose. The weapon thing? It comes down to courage I suppose? I had very little confidence left perhaps, but in a way I think I never had much for myself in the singular.
I’d never really been on my own, coming from a family of four girls and being the eldest from age two; then a Roman Catholic schooling where self was most definitely viewed as selfish and too much pride in yourself as positively sinful; marriage far too young (mea culpa – I wanted to, no one twisted my arm) and then a career in the civil service where I was destined to thrive in teams meant that I’d not really had any time to spend in my sole company in the solid physical sense. Yet there I was on the threads choosing to become a character who had almost gone insane with loneliness in self-imposed mourning for about one hundred and fifty years…
Like I said I was sick and although I could have done anything with Jano I really needed her that isolated and forlorn because that was how I felt in my head for real. I’d gone through the motions for so long and so thoroughly that nothing and nobody could touch me. Literally. In and out of fantasy I felt alienated and alone, but on the board at least Jano chose to leave that insular life and go out to find her kin. Finding her roots if you like. She actually went to the wrong place in a way. She should have gone to the woods, but the Lothlórien of the board didn’t have the gravitas I craved and, for me, Imladris was the place of learning and union rather than memory and power. Elrond was beckoning also and the fact that he was primarily a healer I think is what swung it for me because of course, like me, that is what Jano needed most.
Jano however, had more than an inkling of how she could heal the gaping voids in her life that had been created by growing up in the wrong place with the wrong family. I was still looking around with a mostly open mind, but the art and fan-fiction were beckoning like crazy by then and I’d begun to expand on my following habit to include the art thread runner in Imladris, a rather severe and ascetic male elf going by the name of Laifana. Now, if there was one thing lacking in Imladris it was that there was a dearth of actual male players, by which I mean that there were of course male characters, but a fair proportion of those were played by ladies. And there were a lot of young players around so when I checked out Laifana’s bio I discovered that he was indeed a male and around the same age as real life me. He was also a creative type (naturally as he curated the art thread) and although Scandinavian wrote poetry in English like a… well, like a bard. A Norse one.
I was posting in the Imladris art thread as well and really it all seemed like a natural progression for Jano to start hanging around the art guild more and start talking to Laifana there, about the art and then ‘noticing’ where he went when he wasn’t curating. One of the places he went to a lot was the Bards’ house – one of those more cloistered places out of the main forum, quieter and more scaled to specific pursuits and so Jano ended up one day literally cooling her heels in the River Loudwater and contemplating calling in at the Bards’ favourite hangout The Rainbow Inn, only to find that nobody was there except for Laifana who was sleeping off a rather vexed excursion to Mordor in pursuit of some fascinating death-dancer desert maid.
At that stage Jano was looking for friends and family rather than something more romantic so having posted peeking in at the scary curator and going back to the river she just waited around to see what would happen. That’s really where Jano took flight, fairly naturally, making friends with him away from the guild as well, talking and finding out more about each other on thread and off by email and then instant messaging and suddenly I had something I’d never really had before. Somebody I connected with creatively. Laif’s English was pretty much perfect and, for me it was his words rather than his images that spoke volumes to Jano and to me and the feeling was reciprocated to the point where we’d barely known each other for a couple of weeks before he’d recruited me as his co-curator and we were both hitting the crest of big beautiful artistic wave with accolades coming in from the ladylords and the Bards as we were both admitted into the Bards Guild as well.
Off forum we were hitting the heights too. We were a mutual appreciation club talking about art and writing and the roleplay… It was exquisite for the most part. At first it was a brother and sister thing – that’s really all Jano wanted in her hero-worshipping of Laif, but gradually as we got closer and closer with plans for the art guild and ideas for games and activities we were talking to each other on Messenger almost constantly throughout the day. It became plainer by the minute that Jano and Laif both wanted more than sibling warmth from each other and away from Rivendell we were pressing all kinds of buttons neither of us had had pressed for a long time or ever, certainly on my part. I didn’t really ever know about his side of things, even with the advantage of hindsight, but what we shared in those first heady days was marvellous and so fulfilling that we were both pulled along together into ever-deepening admiration for each other. We blurred the lines between fantasy and real friendship and it felt so wonderful that I couldn’t stop what had become a dam-burst of genuine and at first virtually pure passion after years of living in an emotional wasteland. I had no defences in other words and by then I wanted the ride too much.
The real life Laif was supposedly single as well. To this day I don’t know if he was spinning me a line or telling the truth. I wasn’t at liberty as they say, but by then I may as well have been. I was looking for company, even if it was sub-consciously and with the amount of bonding we were doing on the creative front, it was almost inevitable that we would take it to the next level. We were reasonably honest with each other. I was anyway. I tried to keep it to the fantasy, so we could be Jano and Laif, not Jan and Frank, but he wanted the reality more and by that time I was so far gone I couldn’t deny him a single thing, because he’d literally enthralled me and was at least as fascinated with me and what we were capable of together. The cyber-sex was cosmic, but that was almost the least of it, because on thread Jano and Laif were just about perfect for each other together and it all felt so damned ‘right’.
Right - that's good. The post window will take up to 60,000 characters and I'm about a thousand over the limit apparently
Hold back on the crit please while I post the remainder