Growing up Geek: The Origin Story
At the still young age of 26 I have been increasingly reflective of my childhood years and trying to figure out what has influenced me the most. How did I become so interested in fantasy, science fiction, and feminism? My earliest memories are of living on the Fort Hamilton military base in Brooklyn, New York. My father was an army bandsman (a basoonist actually) and my mother ran a small daycare out of our apartment. My memories fixate on big events, such as birthdays, moving, holidays, and even bad dreams. Each year my birthday cakes were lovingly decorated by my mom with Disney play sets, which cultivated a love of miniature figures that I still have today.
Those play sets sparked my imagination like nothing else I owned. I would sit and play with them for hours. As I got older and accumulated more of them the stories became more elaborate. The figures became a motley collection of Burger King toys, McDonald’s toys, Disney figurines, WonderBall prizes, My Little Pony, and other miscellaneous characters. When I was in 6th grade and allowed to walk home from school, I’d stop at the local Goodwill to check out the toy bin. For ten cents I could sometimes snag something really cool to add to my collection. I was also able to warm my hands during those cold, iron range Minnesota winters. The collection grew until I acquired a town’s worth of citizens, and setting up to play took as much time as playing itself.
My town was ruled by the monarch Princess Jasmine. In the beginning of my collection she had been too tall compared to the other figures, making her that much more fit for the throne. The stories I played out were fantastical sagas, involving dragons and magical swans, as well as mundane dramas of middle school. My Barbie figures sometimes fretted about their hair and meeting the prince at the ball. Mayhem was caused by the raucous household of the Megara triplets when they were mean to Belle. Or there was that one time when Gaston was exiled for being a rapist. Yeah, I’m serious. I don’t think I really knew yet what a rapist was, but I knew enough from half paying attention to CSI and Law & Order episodes to know Gaston seemed like one. I played with my collection until I was 12, and that’s when I started writing my own stories instead.
There is another story within this story though. For a brief period of time I had a friend who played with me. She loved it, and even went so far as to accompany me to Goodwill looking for figures. We started writing our own book, in which a girl is transported to another world when she puts on a dress at a thrift shop. Sadly we never finished it. My friend started having trouble in school and she started dressing different. In hindsight I understand now that she was caving into cultural pressures to be more adult than she was ready for. She hung out with people that I was quite frankly afraid of. Then one day her mom called my mom asking to verify that my friend had been at our house that afternoon. My friend had not been at my house, and I couldn’t lie about it. I told her mom I hadn’t seen her all day, and after that we never spoke again. Other than her, no one else ever set foot into my imaginative world, and I mourned her loss. I wonder if she ever thinks about the time we spent world building.
Before I stopped playing “make believe” I used to fantasize about growing up, getting a house, and dedicating an entire room to the collection. I envisioned floating shelves for winged dragons, pegasuses (pegasi?), and swans. I would paint the sky blue, and put landscapes on the walls. The floor would be green and blue for grass and water. Multicolored bins would help me sort the figures by type, movie, genre, and likelihood of being evil. Someday I may yet build such a room, but not for myself. I want my children to have the opportunity to create their own universes, or act out their problems, and find solutions to them that help them deal with reality. I look back at those precious hours spent as being immensely important to growing a healthy imagination. What inspired you when you were younger?