“Where do you go, to think?” my friend from India, Priyanka, asked me, years ago. At the time, I replied that I liked to go into the backyard, or on trips, I’d take off into the woods and get some reading done. And back then, just like now, I liked to read fantasy novels, and to be transported to other worlds, filled with wonders. That’s what India was to me – so culturally different, and yet so alive and vibrant in ways I’d never seen before. I admired the beautiful cloth of the saris, worn by the Indian women, in all shades of color, and adorned with the most intricate patterns of gold thread, beads, and jewels. The temples with their statues surrounded by carnival lights, the spiced foods that came alive with flavor, and the warm atmosphere, and the dancing – these things entranced me as surely as any fantasy novel could.
I thought that my own thinking places were pretty good, back then. Hidden away in the woods, I liked to imagine that I’d been transported to Middle-Earth, or think about, as a writer, what my own fantasy world would be like. I knew that whatever world I created mentally, the forest was sure to be a part of it. And eventually, I did create my own fantasy world from my novels – Fallenwood – that encompassed all of the hope, and despair, and loss of my 20s. I started thinking about Fallenwood at about the time I went to India – in the year 2005, which now seems so long ago in my memory. By that point, my stepfather had passed away. He and I had been very close, and he’d always wanted to go to India, but never lived to have the chance.
I was working a minimum wage job and attending community college, and I had no direction in life, never suspecting that the other people around me might be dealing with these same troubles, as well. I felt aimless and adrift. If I’d created the best possible future for myself that I could think of, it would have been to have my M.A., to be a professor and to have written a novel. I wanted a house and a husband – stability and happiness – nothing fancy. It was only later in life, at the end of my 20s, that I actually achieved my educational goal of getting an M.A., the creative goal of having written a few novels, and that I got to see just how much work was involved in those tasks alone. I’d managed to secure a decent job, working for the state – a job I thought I’d see through for thirty years like my mother, and retire comfortably.
And I had a house, for a while. But the world is a storm-tossed sea, and we all must ride the waves or be taken under. Later, as the year 2017 drew to a close, at the age of thirty-four, I desperately needed a place to think. Multiple turmoils had hit my life, and I needed India all over again, some place in my heart that felt like home.
I found myself longing for the days I’d been there, drinking chai and thinking about the great beauty of the world itself, instead of feeling these shards of glass pierce my heart, and knowing all the various forms and shades of sorrow. In India, there were a lot of good places to put the world on pause and just sit and think, and to realize that life held an infinite amount of time, an infinite number of answers.
All those years ago, I’d asked Priyanka what her favorite place was, to go and think. “Here,” she replied, and that meant the Old Kingdom ruins. For nostalgia’s sake, I pulled out the old photo album with its white iris cover – the only real photo album I owned, now that everything had gone digital. And the only photo I had, that really showed the ruins, was from far off. It was still a good photo, and I’d considered using it for my Christmas card. I also had a photo of Priyanka, sitting on some rocks, pretty as ever. I wondered what she was doing now – it had been so long since I’d seen her.
Looking back, I admired the beauty of the Old Kingdom ruins, in that far-off country of India. Yet, I could so vividly see the forests of Northern California, and appreciate the quiet solitude that they offered. So when it comes down to a question of which thinking place I long for most, in moments when the howling winds of fate shriek too loudly in my ears, it changes on a whim. I love them both, and cannot choose just one. They each have their charms, their own food for the imagination, and there’s no reason to choose, when you can just close your eyes and transport yourself to either place. Ultimately, the world is full of places to think, and to call Home.
BIO: Leslie Soule is a fantasy/sci-fi author from Sacramento, CA. She has an M.A. in English and is currently working on the final book of my fantasy series, The Fallenwood Chronicles.