So many holidays spent camping up in the Rockies. Western Canada feels like home to me. The mountains feel like an al fresco cathedral that offers salvation. Because I had visited so often in my youth, there was a time I stopped looking. I stopped appreciating their natural wonder. I was moody and pensive, instead turning inward to explore the world of the woman I would become. Books helped form that person. I recall the literature of the time; it wasn't of Austen or Yeats. Oh no. I still haven't delved into that, to be honest. The books of my youth were pure fantasy. Tolkien played a part, but so did some role-playing gamebook authors that heavily influenced the "choose your own adventure" of my life.
I would bring these books on the trips out west and read them at night, in my top bunk of the trailer under the stars, and imagine myself being the hero ... and occasionally the villain. Life is never black and white, after all. Those shades of grey run through us all. The words were engrossing but the illustrations really engaged my active imagination. Heavily detailed pen and ink, as realistic as could be for drawings of worlds that only exist in the id.
When I was a kid, I loved to draw. It started rudimentary, of course, but later evolved to mimicking what I saw in these exact books. My teachers didn't even scold me for sketching rather than paying attention in class; in fact, they actively encouraged me to pursue a career in the arts after seeing the creations I would share in the margins of my homework. I recall one particular illustration I made of a scene from Romeo and Juliet that a teacher from an adjacent French-immersien school requested to keep and frame for her office. I was so proud. They even counselled me to get into advertising, rather than fine arts, as it would bring money. But now that I have money, I want that name. I want that credibility. I want that impact of influencing a young girl – just like I once was – to picture herself as the hero of her life.
I reflect on this because of my recent excursion to the Rockies, where I didn't read under the stars but I did take time to stop, look and appreciate not only what was before me in all its natural wonder, but also what lay behind me. It is interesting to me how random connections in life can lead us to where we are today. That some "nerdy" gamebooks like this could have ignited a spark that would light my future.
I'm an adult now and while my originals of all these books have been long lost, eBay (and much of my paycheques) has reunited me with a lot of them. They bring me back to my youth. They bring me back to the mountains. To being that warrior in my mind. To becoming that warrior in real life that I always imagined I'd become.