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Making myth from moondust

I want to build a world with you.

I find it tough, lying in bed at odd hours of the night, to stop my mind from trapezing from one thought to another.  Just imagine: what if the finely cut lawns on West Campus were replaced with lime jello beds, still soft but now with the right elasticity to propel our bodies toward the sky like trampoline sets from our childhoods? It’s ideas like jello grass that cut down on my sleep, but they’re more than just insomnia fuel. They’re pieces to a puzzle, sketches on a blueprint. The very ideas we build engaging worlds with.

We have good blueprints to follow. Earth, though an iron-dense orb spinning in space, is a home. A home with dry soil and deciduous trees and black sand, filled with smaller blueprints spanning millennia from different voices, different heads and hearts. Flip through the pages of your favorite book, whether bonded leather, paperback or digital screen, and the world unfurls by the word. Harry Potter, Hunger Games and Game of Thrones are renowned for how their characters live and breathe in a world dissimilar to ours but close enough for it to feel real.

Beyond fantasy novels, we have prototypical amoeba to study, Charlemagne history books to scour through and cuddly capybaras to watch on YouTube. There’s an abundance of inspiration, and when we climb off the daily cycle for just a moment to catch our breath, it’s easy for goosebumps to fly up our arms at the idea of our little world and the people who inhabit it. But making a world for ourselves, with all of history to draw from, is not easy to do. But I’m willing to try my luck.

Luck – why not the starting point for our new world? Good fortune favors the few, proven in the myths and legends of Grimms’ Fairy Tales and Edith Hamilton’s Mythology. I feel lucky when I’m the last one to find a spot on the C-1, lucky when I grab a new meal from The Loop I end up liking. I feel lucky when I hear a muted snap from between my ears and find an idea swirling around. A Midas touch for the brain.

I start with the senses. How should it look when I scan the horizon from a plane? How does it feel when I step out into the sun and run? The world I’m thinking of is like ours, but instead of  gothic towers and roaring car engines, it's covered in patches of bright, dense wheat fields – a blessing from the Greek goddess Demeter. A single aspect changed to start, but it’s enough to work with.

I want my world to move in the breeze, like Duke Garden trees on cloudy evenings. Wheat stalks sway back and forth throughout the day, and interspersed between the beige grass fields is a web of streams feeding into a longer river holding clear, baby-blue water.

I’m thinking of two characters – Character A and B – dressed modestly in silk robes and crowns of blue roses, gliding down the slow-moving river in a wooden boat. I picture how they move and walk in this imagined space, maybe how they laugh too – tossing jokes to each other like old friends.

I think this is a good painting of our world so far. It’s dynamic and imaginable, and it’s somewhere we can place ourselves easily. By now in the world-building process, I would take time to sit with what’s been created, subconsciously sketching out and defining as I go through the rest of my day. However, the Midas touch strikes again, and amidst the lazy boat ride, something new appears. Gray shades of dust sprinkle the boat’s insides and touch the water’s surface. Character A looks up and sees that it’s falling gently from the sky. They say that maybe there’s a volcano nearby, spouting smoke and ash carried by the careless wind. Character B looks up at the sky too and jokes that it could be dust making its way down from the moon.

Character A laughs and calls Character B ridiculous, and jokingly asks, which one? They laugh together as they continue their leisure stroll down the river, now slightly illuminated by the two moons sharing the darkening sky - close and bright.

I love building these worlds because there’s always something unexpected that your brain conjures up, sometimes in the middle of the night or during your heavily weighted midterm. I personally get most of my ideas as I listen to music, but everyone has their own source of inspiration.

As for the world we have now, I leave it for you now, yours to resculpt or refine. You can drop the boat and flush it down the drain or flick one of the moons out the picture like a marble. It’s only the beginning steps so change is welcomed and oftentimes necessary. I trust you’ll create something you’re proud to share, like storytellers often do. If you’d rather keep it for yourself, then by all means, hold it close. Treat it as a space to revel in when the class or job workload clears up and the sun sets for the night, and you lay your head on a dream-filled pillow to mind-wander. Whether you build a world out of Greek gods and goddesses, skate around the Milky Way’s traffic hazards or dream up something new, I hope you feel as lucky as I do every step of the way.

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