My Imaginary Friends are Speaking to Me Again

Autumn is the season of change.

I saw a similar saying on Instagram the other day and had to laugh–with the above modifications, that’s exactly what happened here: a 40 degree drop in temperature that had everyone scrambling to pull their jackets out of the closet.

For me, it’s a welcome change, a sigh of relief. I’m not heat-tolerant, and this summer’s brain-melting temps seemed like they would never end.

I adore autumn. I love mornings with the air so crisp it’s like biting into a juicy apple. Waking to frost on the grass. The sound of dead leaves skittering across the sidewalk. The joyful way the dogs bound through the woods… I love how the spectrum of light shifts from white to gold as the sun slants through red, orange, and yellow leaves on the trees. The smell of wood smoke in the air. The way the night sky blazes with stars as if someone scattered a fistful of diamonds. Hot chocolate and hearty stews. Homemade bread. Sweaters and boots. And OMG, pumpkin pie! I start eating pie in October and don’t stop until after Thanksgiving.

I love everything about autumn. Just. Love.

We’ve been in a drought this summer, with scarcely a drop of rain since June. The leaves are going straight to brown with hardly any color change and I’ve got one tree I don’t think is going to make it through the winter. The lawn is burnt to a crisp and starting to blow away. We’ve had day after day of temperatures in the 90s, and I feared it would continue well into my beloved October, but finally, finally, the temperatures have broken.

Because October is my favorite time of year, I usually take off a week sometime that month. I’m about to begin my vacation soon, and let me tell you, I need it. I view my upcoming time off like a miser with a pile of money–I want it ALL. I want to ride my horse across fields where the grass is stiff with frost and take the dogs for long, rambling walks in the woods where rain drips off leaves and mushrooms peep out of the undergrowth. I want to sit on the couch with a book and a blanket and animals piled around me while soup simmers on the stove. I want to finish putting everything away from the remodeling–put up shelves and pictures, organize the books, pull out that rock painting kit I’ve had for over a year and dab some paint on stones. I want to make a daily habit of exercise now that the heat isn’t trying to kill me, and do some meal-planning.

But most of all, I want to write.

For the first time in a long while, the stories are whispering to me again. For most of my life, my stories have been my companions, my company, my entertainment. Ever since  I was a small child with asthma, who spent a lot of time alone with books, I’ve been a storyteller. I wrote my own stories when I didn’t like the endings of the books I read. I wrote more stories when I wanted to continue the adventures with the characters I loved. I daydreamed during long car rides, and could be counted on to occupy myself quietly no matter what. I loved being sent to my room because I could indulge in my flights of fancy at will.

As an adult, I never minded being alone because I wasn’t. I could call up whatever long-running story I’d been playing in my mind whenever I wanted. There was no such thing as boredom. I never had trouble falling asleep. I could conjure my friends and bam! Off on an adventure we’d go–the more ridiculous and outrageous, the better.

As a writer, I drew on these wild escapades, eventually taming them down and taking out the more outrageous (and Mary Sue-like) elements. The stories had already been honed from years of constant replay. While I had to learn the mechanics of writing, the ideas were always there, ready to be implemented.

But somewhere along the way in the last few years, my imaginary friends stopped speaking to me. I didn’t notice at first. I was dealing with Major Bad Stuff. I had a series of life-altering events occur and that sent me into a tailspin of depression. I struggled to go to work, to interact with my family, to take pleasure in all the things that brought me joy. Stress skyrocketed, and with it, anxiety. When I would try reaching out to my imaginary friends, I was met with silence.

I’d lost the key to my Secret Garden.

That’s not to say I didn’t keep writing. I did. In fact, I think I did some of my best work. But the words came in dribbles and drips from a rusty faucet. They had to be filtered again and again, and it took a year to get enough water to drink. I’d lost the ability to daydream, to plan my scenes in advance, to play with my characters so that I knew them inside and out before I put a single word on the page.

At the time, I thought perhaps it was part of the writing process, a maturing of my skills, so to speak. I thought becoming a better writer might mean the elimination of the childish play I’d indulged in my entire life.

In retrospect, I can see that the depression and anxiety had such a hold on me that any attempt to play in my imaginary worlds brushed my characters with the taint of unhappiness. When actually sitting at the keyboard, I could grind out the words because I was “writing”, not mucking about telling silly stories I would never use about my characters. But telling silly stories to myself is part of my writing process, and I didn’t realize how important it was until it came back.

It came back.

Slowly at first. A scene here or there as I was falling asleep or walking the dogs. If I let myself roll with it, if I didn’t shrug it off and pick up the phone to occupy my time instead, the scenes began occurring more often in greater detail. Scene after scene connected into a chapter. Scenes skipped ahead, leaving breadcrumbs along the path, showing me the way toward the rest of the story. Scenes that made me stuff a fist into my mouth to stop me from bursting into laughter. Sentences that gave me that eureka! feeling and had me rushing to write them down before I forgot them.

Until this morning, when I lay smiling in bed as the rough outline for the WIP rolled out like a red carpet leading the way back to my Secret Garden. I opened the door and saw my characters sitting together on a park bench eating sandwiches. I laughed at the vacuum cleaner joke and narrowed my eyes in satisfaction at the unfolding of the plot. I could see it all there before me, the vague outlines of the flower beds, the plants lying dormant but ready to bloom in the spring. I was back in the Garden.

I don’t know what changed in the last few weeks to bring me to this point again. Was it the successful release of another story? A coming to terms with depression and chronic pain? Starting a meditation program? Reading more? Or autumn itself, with the sweeping out of the old and the advent of all the things I love?

I don’t know. Maybe it was all of those things, including the pair of fabulous boots that jumped off the shelf into my shopping cart yesterday when I had no intention of buying another pair of boots.

All I know is I’m not questioning it. I’m embracing it. Because my imaginary friends are speaking to me again.

Tell me what you think!

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