I thought it was about time I shared the poem that inspired the name for my blog. I wish it was someone else's poem, like John Green's "sparks fly up" or Melissa Anelli's "penbitten." But in my case, it was a poem I wrote my freshman year of college (spring of 2004) inspired by a conversation I had just had and the trip home to my dorm afterward, walking past Lake Mary Nell underneath the lamps that dot Elon's campus walkways after dark. The conversation was about stories, with a classmate and friend of mine asserting that it's important to not give them too much sway in your life. "They aren't real, after all," my friend said.
I was walking home with those words ringing in my ears, and I was looking at the night, and it was if the world around me was arguing back: "But the stories are real."
I know there aren't really dragons or hobbits. There aren't wizards and house elves and hippogriffs. Fairies and magic, other worlds, or things we can't explain in this world. I can separate fact and fiction. But just because something isn't real, doesn't mean it isn't true.
So this poem, to me, is my statement of purpose. It's capturing one moment, one night long ago that really shouldn't have been all that extraordinary. But it was. Because it gave me this idea that refuses to leave me: that stories are true, and the things in stories we love are a real part of us and our world, and they're worth fighting for. Not just the characters and situations on the page or screen, but the themes and struggles as they exist in real life as well. I can fight dark lords and stand up for people who can't help themselves. I can do the right thing even when it's the hard thing. I can face down my dragons, and maybe even come away victorious.
So here it is. The poem probably won't live up to the picture I painted in the intro, but that's okay. At least you know what it means to me. It's not that amazing. It's not even really that good. But it will always stick with me, this idea of lamplight and shadows, the notion that the stories I love are important if you only know how to see it.
Sometimes when lamplight settles still and heavy over the dark night
I think to myself that the world is alive again the way it used to be,
alive with shadow-monsters and deep magic
and heroes from Old Tales, swords in hands.
I become not just a person strolling swiftly through a summer night,
but a wayfarer and wanderer a million miles from home,
a sojourner upon a quest, with my pack in hand and staff at my side,
facing a perilous world beneath skies lit with stars like fairy lights,
beautiful yet sinister, fleeting and surreal.
In this moment it doesn’t matter that the lights are electric or the buildings made of brick and metal,
the kind that never would grace the illustrations of an Old Book.
It doesn’t matter that the path is pavement and that far to my left there is a road
where the streaming lights of automobiles bob up and down,
painting the night with threads of light like spiders’ webs.
Right now all I see is the dim shadows racing up the path the moon paints on the lake,
racing toward a dream I’ve always longed for. I want to follow,
I want to let this fiery magic consume me completely, to fade into shadow,
to pass into legend, to leave. Right now I could fly, I could push
and gravity would have no rights over me. Right now I could
press down with my feet, my toes curling under with the force,
and I would move up and up
up among the fairy-stars, winking, laughing, filled with gypsy bliss—
freedom and dissatisfaction all rolled into one.
Lamplight and shadows,
and stories everyone says aren’t real. But I am only as real as the shadows,
half here, belonging to another place. I think everyone is wrong.
The stories are real. The stories are true under lamplight.