Monday, November 4, 2013

The Blue Castle

When I was little (and by little I mean from the age of 7 until 17), I felt like an outcast. Looking back on it, I probably wasn't nearly as uncool or rejected as I felt, but all the same, that was how I experienced school on a daily basis. I was shy shy shy...we moved a few times, and I always expected that people would come up to me and offer to be my friend, as if somehow they would be able to notice the new kid in the school of 500, but of course they didn't. So I sat alone fairly often, though I did eventually make friends at every school I went to, and some close ones even. In fact, I'm still in touch with several elementary school buddies thanks to Facebook, which I unashamedly admit that I love. But, the special kind of anguish that is being a kid who feels that she doesn't fit in still colors who I am, and not just because I have a huge soft spot for the outcasts and misfits.
Me, 5th grade, rockin' that side ponytail

I found solace during those years in books. I was a voracious reader. Weekly trips to the library resulted in me carrying home stacks of books, which I would devour. I'd try to space them out so they'd last until the next time mom could take me to the library, but inevitable I'd find myself still awake at 1 AM on "library day," telling myself I'd only read to the end of the chapter this time. Eyes stinging, head bobbing, I'd keep going, because in books I could lose myself, and be someone else.

My very favorite book (ever ever ever) is called The Blue Castle. L.M. Montgomery published it in 1926, and while she intended it for more adult audiences than those who read her Anne of Green Gables series (which I also love), my 9 year old self found it somewhere and proceeded to read it and find myself in Valancy Stirling, the plain, sad, unloved woman who dreamed of life with her Prince Charming in a Blue Castle. The story is nothing particularly innovative: Valancy finds out that she has a fatal heart condition and decides "fuck it, I'll just do the things I've always wanted, and who cares what other people think," but in much more proper language. Montgomery's, and by proxy Valancy's, voice is so lyrical - I could always picture her world so vividly, even when I couldn't understand all the words. Valancy's sad bedroom, for example, sounded to me like just the kind of place to be miserable: "the faded, dark-red paper; the ceiling discoloured by old leaks and crossed by cracks; the narrow, pinched little washstand; the brown-paper lambrequin with purple roses on it; the spotted old looking-glass with the crack across it, propped up on the inadequate dressing-table; the jar of ancient potpourri made by her mother in her mythical honeymoon..."

My tattered, loved copy of The Blue Castle

Valancy's decision to leave her dull life behind changes everything for her, and for the first time ever, she is truly happy. She wears the things she would like to wear ("a pretty green crepe dress with a girdle of crimson beads, at a bargain sale, a pair of silk stockings to match, and a little crinkled green hat with a crimson rose in it"), does the job she would like to do, and even proposes to the scoundrel of a man she's fallen in love with. His response is still one of the best lines I've ever read: "'Valancy,' he said, trying to speak lightly, 'of course I'm not in love with you - never thought of such a thing as being in love. But, do you know. I've always thought you were a bit of a dear." I was so hooked. I wanted to be Valancy, to have the guts to do what she did: leave everything behind and be her true self.

The classic laser background and attempt at big bangs. Oh 1990's, you were fun.

And of course, since this is a fairy tale, the rascal Barney Snaith turns out to be her real-life Prince Charming. He's smart, kind, cool, loves Valancy, and as a side bonus, he's rich - what more could a 9 year old (or dang, even a 30 year old) woman want? I love Valancy because she overcomes her shyness in order to go after everything she's ever wanted, and along the way she learns how to have her voice, how to enjoy life, and how to be happy with herself.

I didn't learn how to do that until well into my 20's, but I'm sure it would have taken even longer had I not escaped to Valancy Stirling's world nearly as often as she escaped to her Blue Castle. My copy of the book is tattered, held together by tape, with lots of girlish notes in the margins and dog-ears over my favorite parts. It's real now, much like the Velveteen Rabbit - loved so much that now, I have my own little "Blue Castle," called Ballena Cottage, and my own Barney, who lets me be just myself, and loves me for exactly who I am.

Ballena Cottage

Also, this is probably the best book report I ever wrote.

Finally, the 5 things I'm thankful for today: My home, my ability to read, warm socks, P!nk, and the tape that's holding my copy of The Blue Castle together.

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