Castles, made of sand.


This thing I started writing a few weeks ago, which was supposed to be part of a short story collection, has completely taken on its own life, and instead of being a quick 3500 word thing about a single event, it’s become (as of today) a little over 21,000 words about the fragility of friendship, and what that means when we’re at that weird time in our lives between elementary and middle school.

I’m pretty sure that I’m in the middle of the second act, so maybe this will finish up in another 10,000 words or so. Once that happens, I’ll set it aside for a couple of days to let my brain get some perspective, and then I’ll go over the whole thing to see if it even holds together.

I started writing this because I loved Stranger Things so much, and it made me remember a bunch of stuff about the summer of 1983, when I was 11 years-old. It was the first time I had a real crush on anyone, the first time I learned that adults can be horrible even though they’re adults and they aren’t supposed to be horrible (especially to kids), and what it’s like to lose friends who are important to us.

Some of it is true, most of it isn’t, but all of it has been incredibly rewarding and fun to write. Today, I’m finishing up a thing is on one level about making a sandcastle, but is also about something else entirely. I thought I’d share some of it:

We picked up a couple of big, plastic cups and one of those buckets you buy at the supermarket, the ones that come with a little plastic shovel. Evelyn invited Brandon to join us, and the three of us got to work on our sand castle.
Some of the other kids were on either side of us, building their own castles. One group of girls was making something that reminded me of a big octopus. Dana and the CITs walked around us, offering encouragement and what was probably taught in their training as positive reinforcement.
“I think we should have a tall castle, on top of a hill,” Brandon said.
“Yeah, with a moat around it,” I said, “and some walls out here.” I dragged my finger through the sand a couple feet away from where the moat would go.
“Why do you need walls if there’s a moat?” He said.
Somewhere in my brain, the hours I’d spent playing D&D, and the days I’d spent reading books and modules filled with diagrams and illustrations of keeps and castles joined together and shoved a torrent of words out of my mouth before I could stop them.
“A moat only holds back a small number of foot soldiers, and is really only effective during a siege. It stops a coordinated attack from more than one side, if you only have a single drawbridge opening, which is good, but you want to have a large parade ground that surrounds your castle so your archers can protect it if an enemy breaches the walls beyond that. You can build parapets on the walls, too, and have an additional layer of protection from orcs. Also, walls prevent trebuchets and catapults and siege towers from easily getting close to the castle, itself. See, the inside of a castle can only ho –”
“Okay okay okay,” he said, impatiently, “I don’t need a whole stupid history lesson.”
I felt my face get hot, and I shot a glance at Evelyn. She either hadn’t heard us or wasn’t paying attention, as she built up a small mound of sand in front of her.
“Sorry,” I said, quietly.
Without looking at us, she said, “Walls look cool, Brandon. Let’s put walls around it.”

That’s from the first draft I cranked out today, so it’s still raw and will likely get rewritten, or maybe even cut entirely. But right now, shortly after I finished writing it, I like it and the memories it stirs up.

I don’t know what’s going to happen with this thing, and I won’t know until it’s finished. But no matter what I end up doing with it, I have learned so much about myself as a writer and artist in the last few weeks that I’ve been writing it. I’ve developed confidence that I didn’t have before, and I feel like I have found my way back to the art, which is something I realized I’d been missing more than I knew. I’m trying so hard to get an audition for the next season of Stranger Things, and I haven’t been able to do it, even though there’s a character that I could play. As recently as a few weeks ago, I would be struggling every single day with the depression and frustration that sort of thing brings into my life, but instead of spending all this time feeling hopeless and adrift, I’m happy and inspired, artistically fulfilled, and feeling productive (where I had been feeling totally useless for a long, long time).