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Childish Fantasies

When I was quite young—about seven or eight, say—my mother would take me to church, or as I knew it, The Most Boring Two Hours That Anyone Has Ever Experienced Ever In The History Of The Universe With Extra Boring Sauce.

Needless to say, I was not a fan.

It’d be church for an hour and then Sunday school. Mostly what I gleaned from all this was that A) one should begin faking illness Saturday afternoon at the latest if one had a hope of evading church Sunday morning, B) curling irons suck and C) Sunday school teachers who think they like children had not met eight-year-old me. And also D) attempts to write relevant Christian fiction for children was uniformly awful.

Anyway. That’s all more or less to one side. What I remember is sitting in the sanctuary of the church, usually on the upper level, and staring out across the balcony at the light fixtures and the stained glass. I was allowed to read the Bible to keep from sighing and fidgeting, which meant that I had a better than average grasp of Old Testament prophets for an eight-year-old. (I did not actually like the New Testament. It was dull. Except for Revelations, which was fantastic. Still, the Old Testament was where the action was.)

When I had exhausted the entertainment value of Hezekiah, I would stare at the light fixtures and I would daydream about wild animals overrunning the church.

I remember this very vividly. This was a favorite fantasy of eight-year-old me, as I recall. The doors would burst open—there were two on either side of the altar, where the priest and choir and sundry functionaries would file in*—and I would picture in great detail the doors slamming open and a wave of wild animals pouring in and stampeding through the pews. There’d be cattle and badgers and wild boars and foxes and pretty much every species depicted in the book The Living Forest by Rien Poortvliet, which I loved with a deep and undying passion. Chipmunks with scurry up and down the backs of pews, hares would scramble under people’s feet, and the boars would go stomping and snorting and overturning the various tables and small bits of furniture that had accumulated around the altar.

Because I had a large imagination coupled with very little understanding of human nature, I rarely pictured people screaming or running away. I suppose I thought everyone would sit there, white-faced and silent, while animals tore up the nave and crashed into the ushers—or more likely, the humans were the least important part of this daydream and so were just mentally whisked out of the way. (I suspect I occasionally thought that some of them were being trampled. Meh. Collateral damage. Not important to eight-year-old me..)

At the pinnacle of this particular daydream, a black panther would jump into the light fixtures and leap from one to another until it reached the railing at the edge of the balcony. And then it would speak to me. (Yes, of course it could talk. I was an eight-year-old girl. It was a freakin’ black panther. C’mon, what other option was there?)

I can remember this fantasy quite clearly—it was lovingly drawn on and embellished as the Sundays piled up—and yet I can’t remember what the panther said. I can extrapolate that probably I was supposed to ride off on it to a distant land compiled of equal parts Narnia, Earthsea, Pern, Krynn and the United Federation of Planets*** but I don’t remember any of those bits. Possibly I never got that far. Maybe there would be singing. It was hard to daydream during hymns. Hymns tended to whomp that sort of thing, and you had to at least pretend to look at the book that your mother was holding open, even if the kindest thing you could do for any god is NOT sing.

There was no meaning to any of it—I never worried about where the animals came from, or where they went to, or why they decided to stampede through this particular church. Backstory was nonexistant. The parts I polished in my head were the visceral bits, the way the chandelier would sway when the panther’s paws hit it and the way its fur would change color in the light through the stained glass. Why it existed or where it came from was immaterial. It did not exist until it appeared, it would cease to exist when it left.

This is the problem with writing for children, I think. The things that children actually think about—or at least that I thought about as a kid!—is largely devoid of cause and effect. Things happen because they happen. The world is the way it is because that is the way the world is, unless it’s something else. Everything is taken on faith because there is no way to prove any of it true or false until much later. The narrator has total authority as long as they stay out of the way (and then, like a Sunday school teacher, they may be subjected to the gimlet eye of a small child who suspects that you have no idea what you’re talking about.)

Childhood fantasies are about scenes. They’re like kung fu movies. The point is not what gets you from A to B, it’s that at A is a knife fight on stilts and B is a fight in the marketplace with maximum smashing of vegetables. I remember lovingly polishing scenes in my daydreams, but what happened before or after wasn’t really important, except that it led to the next scene.

I don’t know that there’s any moral to this story. It’s just something I remembered at random the other night while I was trying to fall asleep.

Except perhaps that the good child sitting quietly and politely with an expression of vague interest on their face is quite possibly imagining a herd of animals breaking into the building and trampling innocent bystanders to death. Which is probably an important thing to keep in mind.

ETA:

KEVIN: Long blog post, I see. I’ll have to read it later.

ME: Oh, don’t worry. It’s just about how I used to fantasize about wild animals overrunning the church when I was bored.

KEVIN: ….

ME: Like you never did that!

KEVIN: …ah…um….*pained expression* I…no comment.

ME: No comment like “Yes, of course I did!” or No comment like “No, you freak, nobody else did that”?

KEVIN: No comment like “If I say yes, it’s a lie and it might lead to yet another revelation about your bizarre childhood, and if I say no, you might feel bad.” So no comment.

ME: …fair.

 

*and which I myself would use as part of the eventual Christmas pageant, which was always called “Angels Aware”** and was basically a narrative about angels watching Christmas. I was a singer, because if you were in Sunday school, you didn’t really get other options. We had to stand in the bottom rows of the giant green “Living Christmas Tree” that they built to hold the choir at Christmas. Basically a pair of round green bleachers with lights strung on it.

**I have yet to meet anyone who has GOOD memories of Christmas pageants, although the Mormon tabernacle near us had an elephant at theirs. And camels. We unbent our theological restraint long enough to go see the elephant. It was only on stage for a few seconds and dressed as a member of the Nutcracker Suite ensemble. Yes, that is just as messed up as it sounds.

***I had eclectic tastes in reading material.

Originally published at Tea with the Squash God. You can comment here or there.

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As an adult, I have the issue that I will daydream a scene, and then I will get bogged down in the backstory and the scene itself ends up sort of dissolving under the weight of justification and motivation. This is a horrible thing to do to daydreams.

Yes, this. Many is the daydream as an adult that I've accidentally squashed with "but why am I here doing this?"

I suspect that the moral of your story is you were one creative, awesome 8 year old and you never made that inner 8 year old grow up even if the rest of you has to be slightly older than 8 years old *grin*. Lesson a lot of adults I know should have taken to heart.

I still daydream stories like that. Its problematic when I'm actually trying to write a story, and my brain refuses to care about the inbetween-plot-bits and is completely satisfied going "things happen and now we're on to the next really good scene. This one has ninjas."

I was going to reply saying:

My fantasies are STILL about scenes. My biggest problem in writing is the need to have a plot of some sort of justify the existence of all the beautiful, intricately envisioned, emotionally intense scenes and the snippets of dialogue that I've been cheerfully dreaming up while in the shower or driving down the freeway. And plots are hard.

Maybe I should write for children:p

My parents let me draw during church. I'd be given a little notebook and a pen and told that I could go to town except during the homily. Child logic ran something like this: church is a special place, where we have to be respectful and think of Jesus. Therefore, drawings in church should be Jesus-themed. Hey, look, there's a model of Jesus right there in front of us! But... isn't Jesus supposed to have suffered for us? Like, a lot? Isn't it more respectful to show just how much He suffered, instead of looking vaguely bored, seeing as how that could really drive the message home?

Thus, my parents were, by the end of mass, proudly shown the crucified Messiah writhing in agony and pouring blood and gore everywhere. I remember Mom threatening to send me to a Spanish convent, because that's the only place they'd be into that kind of thing.

I've tried relating this story a few times as an adult, with a sort of chuckle about damn aren't kids weird, and I keep getting back absolute horror and "Why would you do that??" Umm. Because that's what makes sense when you're eight?

Then there was also the time that I almost got kicked out of Sunday school because I tried to write something from the point of view of the mob that condemned Jesus. But I think that's less "damn aren't kids weird" and more "damn but adults don't actually listen."

I had one of the kids I used to teach in Sunday School draw me a Darth Vader Jesus. I never did quite get an explanation out of her for why. But I have it stuck to my fridge anyway, because Darth Vader Jesus!

It's probably for the best that I never came up with such a thing, as I'm a pastor's kid and would undoubtedly have made it happen up to the limits of my eight-year-old abilities.

(Or perhaps more likely when I was eleven and our church was also my elementary school, so any rhinoceros damage would do double duty.)

Love you're bizarre childhood. :)

How Jungian is that? What a great image.

Incidentally, if you have not read Gaiman and Pratchett's Good Omens, I really really really think you'd like it.

I never had to go to church regularly so I never had such fantasies. Though I did often get the giggles on the sporadic christmas mass because invariably there would be a typo somewhere on the program to the effect of "All angels sin on high" or something.

I probably would have imagined something similar to what you did though. Or using my magic/telekinetic powers to interrupt the dullness.

"And then, when Katie gritted her teeth and closed her eyes and used the final ounce of power left within her, she swooshed the wind across Mrs. G so that it blew her hair off."-The girl with the silver eyes by Willo Davis Roberts

Totally would have been me ;-)

Ooooooooooh yeah. All my childhood fantasies revolved around either getting a unicorn for a friend, or getting telekinesis (I read a book about a character who had it when I was pretty young, it and impressed me as hugely useful.) With occasional variations involving riding dinosaurs or being able to travel interdimensionally when I got older.

I'm not sure now to be relieved that my parents never subjected me to such horrors or envious of the epic day dream opportunity I clearly missed out on.

I don't tend to have recurring daydreams, even when I was a child. I do remember being incredibly annoyed at my family for something ( I forget what) and had a great time watching them get all exterminated by Daleks my imagination conjured up. I was younger than 6 at the time and they hadn't conquered climbing stairs, so I was safe and sound on the shed roof.

Ooh, you push so many buttons...

I got lucky with church and Sunday School. My mother was definitely Christian, but my father was, as I didn't realise till much, much later, a "Don't ask, don't tell" atheist, but the agreement between them, as I reconstruct it, was that she could take us to such things - until we asked to opt out. Then we were not to be pressured. So I went to Sunday School, I think, twice. Then I said it was boring, and never went again. Yay, Dad! Another reason to love him (which, like many, I regret never having told him).

But your thing about children's stories being scenes... It struck me the other day that this is what Caroll's Alice books are, and part of the reason they are so popular. They are exciting and wonderful scenes, with the minimal amount of glue (sometimes none) to hold them together. It seems to me that they originated the children's book genre, whatever people may mistakenly say about being too weird for children, because they have the structure children want - action and excitement, weird excitement preferred. There may have been other books written for children before, but they were toned down adult books: they had to have Plot. The Alice books were the first that dumped plot in favour of excitement, which is why they did so well - with both children and adults.

That position is still there, in another medium. If you analyse the plot of most action movies, it doesn't hold up at all. Why would that character abandon everything on a shred of evidence? How could the bad guys have got there so quickly? And so on - most action movie plots fall apart under the most cursory of inspection. But we are all really children - what we like is exciting scenes. As we for up, we want a little more glue - but not too much.

I had the Alice books read to me as a child.

When I read them myself, I was astonished at how much the logic of the plot was like a dream.

The only thing I really remember about the various attempts that my parents made on occasion to do the religion thing was when my mother was politely asked to not bring me to Bible study anymore, because I'd gotten in a fight with the group leader's daughter and bit her.

(She was mad because I was annoyed that there were no unicorns or anything, and compared to Zeus and Pan and the other Greek gods, Jesus was boring... I'd been reading Greek myths at the time.)

I read Esther and Ruth a LOT in church. I actually liked Sunday School, though--probably because I was a rule-follower and loved singing.

Of course, once I hit adolescence a lot of the sermon time was spent daydreaming about making out with the boy I had a crush on. There were lots of places in the church I figured would work. :-)

I am astonished to find that I am apparently the first person to be reminded of Ray Stevens.

One squirrel can suffice if strategically deployed.

My church daydreams tended to involve a good deal of physics conjecturing - plummeting light fixtures, the church filling up with water, how best to climb up the rood screen or run across the backs of the pews like stepping-stones, what the mathematical average of the hymn numbers was, what would happen if all the kneelers tried to shut themselves at once - but, yeah. Although I grew up to be a fairly religious teenager (and then apostatized entirely in my twenties), I was a very non-auditory child and thus the Mass (other than the hymns, which I loved, especially if they were loud and beltable) was simply garbled background noise in the large, echo-y church. So... daydreams. XD

I think I still had a similar fantasy as a college student in church. :D

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