I’ve always had a hyperactive imagination. Ever since I was little I loved to read science-fiction and fantasy, easily losing myself in the stories, the worlds they offered. My brother and I got hooked on Dungeons & Dragons in the late ’70’s, and didn’t stop playing until a few years ago. Though role-playing games were a terrific form of exercise for the >imagination, it didn’t do much for my social skills. I had few friends outside the D&D gang, and we hardly ever hung out outside the games.

In fact, it would be fair to say I didn’t have much of a life outside my imagination. Not that I really wanted to. I built incredibly elaborate worlds in my head, where I escaped as much as possible. They were certainly easier to deal with than this weird, confusing, unwelcoming real world in which I’d never asked to be born. My creations were enough to satisfy me—at least for the moment.

The first breakthrough came in February of 1989—I was 17—when I got a creative writing assignment in English class. I’d been waiting for a chance like this for a long time, greedily taking in however many stories, and it was time to tell one of my own. I started writing immediately, and a month later proudly handed in a twenty-page short story. The fact that it was shamefully cliché sword-and-sorcery wasn’t too important. It was like a door had been opened inside me, and I wanted to see what else would come through.

I began a sequel to my original story, but for various reason left it unfinished in September. By then my plans had gotten seriously ambitious, and I was planning nothing less than a whole series of novels. I decided to take time off from actual writing to plan out my way.

My outer life was still pretty much the same. Though by this time I’d entered university, the old patterns still remained: I kept pretty much to myself, spending a lot of my free time at video arcades, keeping my distance socially and emotionally. But the dam was cracking; my inner worlds were slowly changing and, though I didn’t realize it yet, I was starting to change as well.

A couple of years passed, during which I began and finished my first novel. It was still pretty unoriginal fantasy; but I wrote of adventure, travel, discovery and change, all the things I wanted deep down and didn’t (yet) have the strength to reach for. Also, the old inner worlds I lived in were gradually bleeding into the world I created and presented. At first it was only names and other small details. But then it got more serious. At one point I decided to include two gay minor characters, inspired from people in my private worlds. I still hadn’t come out of the closet, even to myself, but it seemed like the right thing to do.

Meanwhile, my second novel took form and grew. Then, in May of 1992, a week and a half before my graduation ceremony and seven weeks before my 21st birthday, I came out to myself.

It seems simple when I write it down like this, but the truth is there’s no easy way to describe the process. I have a hard time remembering clearly what was happening in my inner worlds at the time. I wasn’t keeping a diary then, and only jotted down a few important events and dreams among the notes for my novels. So what exactly prompted me to finally say I’m gay. This is who I am, who I’ve always been? I don’t know, but I don’t think it really matters; it was bound to happen sooner or later. Looking back, I’m just surprised it didn’t happen sooner rather than later. But then, denial is a powerful thing.

Acceptance was relatively easy, but internalized homophobia had been the least of my problems. Though I’d survived the closet, I was far from healthy. Just like a drug taken to escape reality, I’d spent far too much time with my creations. It was time to turn my sights to the outside world. Which I did, though it was slow and painful work. Old habits die hard, and my inner worlds had at least given me comfort and safety—or the illusion of safety, anyways.

I finished my second novel in January of ’94, and I was glad to see it was much better than my first. My voice and imagination shone through more purely, not having to work through layers of repression and denial. But as I began the third, things began to slow down, then stop. Part of it was cold feet at the idea of tacking yet another novel, which I knew would be bigger and more complex than the others. And beyond that, a fourth, and a fifth… this gigantic project I’d set in motion five years before was sucking all my creative juices. Sometimes I dreamed of writing other stories, but that never got past the dreaming stage. I always had to come back to those damned novels.

The main problem was that this huge, ambitious story just didn’t reflect who I was anymore. I’d changed a lot in those five years, in so many ways, but I was still stuck on a road that had been mapped out by someone who didn’t know me at all, and on which I felt more and more that I didn’t belong.

After weeks of writing nothing at all, and not knowing what to do, I decided to put my novel on hold. At first I told myself it would just be temporary, to give myself the chance to check out some of those unexplored roads. Soon, though, I realized I could never go back; that path was closed off for good. My fans—all four or five of them—were sure to be disappointed, but I wasn’t writing for them, only for myself.

I spent a few more weeks experimenting and searching for new directions and new themes. Then I started not one but two short stories, in parallel. That was one of the things that had bothered me during my novel-writing days, and I vowed never to work on just one project at any given time.

The stories were like a breath of fresh air: exciting and relaxing at the same timel best of all, they really were truer to my heart, to myself. It eventually took me two years to finish them, and by that time I was glad to be done. Two years was still too long. It gave me time to change, for stories to become not mine—which is exactly what I’d been trying to avoid. I had to set my sights even lower, stay more down to earth.

That fall I branched out into poetry, something I’d never seriously attempted before. A few of the poems were relatively complex, with a political or personal theme. Most were simpler, stream-of-consciousness pieces, begun and ended in a few minutes. They were another way to explore my creativity, little shiny spontaneous nuggets pulled out of my subconscious.

That was the pattern that stayed until the summer of ’96: working on one short story, then a few poems, then the other short story, and so on. Always switching every few months, never letting myself get in a rut. Then after a year or so of poetry and a couple of articles for the student newspaper, I got into the field of personal essays. It’s more involved than poetry, and in a way a hell of a lot harder because I have to be brutally honest.

Which brings me to the present. Ever since I broke away from my novels, I’ve been delving deeper and deeper inside myself with stories, poems, essays. Years ago my inner worlds let me escape, gave me a safe space to forget loneliness and thus survive. Now they let me find myself. I listen to to my fantasies, my dreams, the characters and the scenes and the lines, and I learn: about who I was, who I am, what I want, and what I can do. Sometimes my dreams (and I use the word in its loosest possible sense) can be hard to interpret; sometimes it takes a while for the message to sink it; it almost always takes a while for me to act on it.

Maybe that’s the way I am, I don’t know. But the way I am isn’t necessarily the way I could be. I’m still trying to find a balance between inner and outer lives, between realism and imagination, between action and contemplation. I believe such a balance must exist, and that both “sides” can complement and enrich each other. It’s certainly been true for me. Through listening to my desires, dreams, and explicit metaphors for my self—what I call my spirituality—I’m learning to move and grow and change. Conversely, it was only after I started looking at myself, the world, and my place in it, that my writing gained depth and substance.

So here I am. With new dreams and lingering old dreams, new vistas, new and old patterns of action. And doing my best to make some of these new and old dreams come true.