A Puzzle, Piece By Piece

When I was a young child – before kindergarten, even – someone would read to me every night. It was rarely either of my parents, but that didn’t matter; I just wanted a story told. It was part of the bedtime routine, like brushing my teeth. There was something special about reading, that all those strange little symbols and pictures meant something beyond my comprehension. I thought that if I looked at the book just right, then maybe I could understand it, too. I knew what some of it meant (Wheel of Fortune taught me the alphabet) but I had to make sure. I asked whoever was watching me to read the same stories to me over and over. I had the tales of Peter Rabbit, Goodnight Moon, and Ping engrained in my memory through sheer repetition, so much so that I knew when the storyteller was skipping pages.

That’s right, I memorized Peter Rabbit before I even knew how to read.

Needless to say, the adults in my life were quite happy when I learned to read on my own. Oh sure, I had my share of toys and cartoons, but everyone knew I spent most of my time with books. Visiting a bookstore was like going to Disneyland, and hand-me-downs from a grownup’s library were treasures. My parents weren’t particular about the things I read; if I came across something I couldn’t understand, I’d just ask or pull out a dictionary. Most of my early childhood books were standard for the time. The Boxcar Children was one of the first series I ever encountered, and I loved how the kids had distinct personalities, could solve mysteries, and go on adventures without supervision. There was something striking about its first book, which focused on the group running away from home, dealing with illness and hunger, and attempting to survive in the eponymous abandoned boxcar. Though the writing was easy to understand and led to a happy ending, the ideas it introduced were pretty scary in retrospect. The same could not be said for Goosebumps, which introduced me to zombies, ghosts, vampires, and all those other stock terrors. Those books are laughable now (as anyone who reads Blogger Beware can attest), but most 80s-90s kids followed them religiously.

The mysteries and horrors must’ve affected me more than I realized, because I practically devoured Stephen King’s work. I started with The Shining, and it rocked my little world so hard. You think it’s scary now? Try reading it when the only character anywhere near your age is Danny Torrance. Room 217, man! Long, deserted hallways still creep me out sometimes. I moved on Salem’s Lot, The Stand, It, and beyond, broadening my interests in the supernatural with each passing book. You’d think that such grisly content might traumatize young readers – I wasn’t even in middle school yet – but I just kept turning the pages. My mother kept track of how much I read, earning me in-class awards for extra work and setting records. I’d go to the school library and borrow books by the stack, including relatively age-appropriate works like The Giver, Babar, Tintin, and Aesop’s Fables.

For my 10th birthday, my parents decided that I was ready for classic literature. My gift was a used copy of The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe. No, seriously. I’m not kidding in the slightest. I’m pretty sure I was the only sixth grader hauling around a 1,026-page anthology on the playground. You want to get a kid hooked on reading? Try making him or her read a short story every day, and ask them about it. The Tell-Tale Heart is one of my all-time favorites. So is Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, whose brilliance and eccentricities made him stand out amongst all the protagonists that crossed my path. Even to this day, I still gravitate towards characters like Naoto Shirogane and Batman because of my love for the detective archetype. The rest of the novels collected and read during those years is like a Barnes & Noble classics section: The Odyssey, Les Miserables, Huck Finn, A Tale of Two Cities, The Scarlet Letter, Dracula, Frankenstein, Wuthering Heights, Pride and Prejudice…the list goes on and on and on. I’m not sure if I could accomplish that level of retention now that I’m older. By the time I reached AP English in high school, I’d already finished most of the required reading.

Looking back, I probably let books take over too much of my life. You should’ve seen me. A short, shy, quiet, overachieving, ambiguously effeminate boy with big glasses, no friends, and spends all his time reading large books? That’s prime bullying material right there. All I needed was a bow tie, inhaler, and a pocket protector to complete the stereotype. There’s always that cliche of people having huge personal libraries to look smarter. But for me, I read all those books because I wanted to. I was fascinated by all the references and information, and wanted to learn everything about them. I didn’t know anything about Greek mythology until I read Homer. The more I read, the more connections and themes I saw. Religion, psychology, politics, history, sexuality…things kept reappearing, but in different ways. Books became more than stories to me; they were complex puzzles with pieces that twisted and flowed together. If I could see those individual parts, I could better understand the whole. I didn’t say much, but I let my schoolwork do the talking for me. All of my teachers noted exceptional writing ability, especially when it came to critical thinking and analysis. Despite being so quiet and reclusive, I was often near or at the top of my class.

I didn’t really understand what the big deal was. I just wrote about what puzzle pieces I noticed, and everyone seemed to like it. I was surprised when I was chosen to do a speech at the graduation ceremony; why’d they want a shy, little guy like me up on the stage in front of everyone? Nor did I expect that my General Education courses would be so easy. Even my video game reviews – something I did on the side for fun – garnered a massive readership. I improved my writing with each passing week, but never appreciated the change. It wasn’t until I took a university course in Critical Theory that everything finally clicked together. Someone else understood how I approached reading? There were names for all those pieces? Deconstruction was a thing? The revelation was stunning, and I realized I’d tapped into something awesome without even knowing. I took that knowledge and ran with it all the way through the rest of my degree and beyond.

I still read and write, of course. It’s a not so much of a hobby as it as a necessity. When you’re a quiet loner, you need an outlet for communication and creativity. You’ll drive yourself crazy otherwise. Most people can’t hear me when I speak aloud, but they can read my writing all too well. I love doing critical analyses of works, be they novels, movies, video games, etc. I wish I could write and publish fiction – I dream of an endless library à la Borges – but completing NaNoWriMo twice has left me wary. I’m much better at taking things apart than I am at building them. There are few individuals in my personal life, and even fewer who’ve seen my work offline. Everyone had their own interests, and they consider writing beyond academics to be strange. There’s an unspoken sense of shame and contempt involved; these days, it’s as if writing isn’t worth the time and effort. But I know better. I take pride in what I write. It’s fulfilling and enriching. It allows me to better understand the world, and hopefully pass on that knowledge to others. Like the detectives I idolized, I keep looking for answers.

Life is a puzzle, and I see the pieces. Can you?

I Warped Reality To Believe In Magic

Hey, folks. Happy New Year! Today’s Daily Prompt is all about magic. As in, what kind magical powers you’d like to have. I’ve enjoyed more than enough literature and anime to know what direction I’d go in. If I had the power to do any kind of magic, I’d be a full-blown Reality Warper. It’s just like it sounds: I’d have the ability to create, destroy, or alter reality with just a thought. I’d be like Q on Next Generation, just hopefully less of a pain to those around me. Or maybe like Aladdin’s Genie. I’d try to be a force for good, like redesigning ecosystems to support life and food crops. Or maybe I’d develop a subatomic particle that allows water to become a viable fuel. I could use my insights into the fabric of space-time to figure out complex equations and give humanity a huge technological boost. I’d make it so I didn’t need oxygen or radiation protection for interstellar travel, then go about exploring the cosmos. I could figure out exactly what happens when you get sucked into a black hole, or if aliens really exist. The possibilities would be endless!

…And that’s the problem, too. If you can change reality by just thinking, imagine the kind of toll that would take on a human mind. It’s horrifying when deconstructed. What if you accidentally kill someone by erasing them from reality? If they’re completely gone, doesn’t that mean that your memories would be affected too? What happens if you change the subatomic makeup of hydrogen to solve a temporary problem? Wouldn’t that alter and potentially destroy everything else? Consider Haruhi Suzumiya; since she’s unaware of her powers, the other characters have to keep her entertained lest she accidentally destroy the universe! Then there’s the whole problem with things like identity and loyalty. In the Watchmen series, Dr. Manhattan could manipulate matter and was used by the government as the ultimate weapon in the Vietnam War. But since he could comprehend things on an entirely different level, he slowly lost his humanity. At least he knew he wasn’t a god; plenty of other characters with his kind of power went insane and declared themselves deities…

Ugh, this is getting messy.

Okay, first order of business when I get these magical powers: Give myself a mind capable of understanding all of the potential my powers can create, foresight of the consequences therein, and the discipline to keep my mind from accidentally tearing the fabric of reality. That shouldn’t be too hard…right?

Daily Prompt: Now You See Me, Or: Teleportation Consternation

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt is about super powers again. This one’s a little more specific, though: what would you do with the power to appear or disappear at will? Now, this one’s kind of tricky because the extent of the power and its consequences aren’t discussed. The logistics alone would make me hesitate to use the power at all. Oh sure, it looks cool…on paper, anyway. You probably think I’m just an unimaginative naysayer, but let’s think about this. There are several aspects of the power that need to be considered:

-How long does the power stay in effect? Will you have to hold your breath like Shadowcat?

-Do you stay in the same place when you disappear? Do you just turn invisible? That’s not very helpful against, you know, an oncoming car. Or swords. Or anything deadly that you couldn’t possibly avoid anyway.

-If you’re capable of traveling distances while using your power, is there a range? How far is it? Can you do Bleach-style Flash Steps? Can you do some globe-hopping?

-If you do travel, how do you get through objects? Do you become intangible? Is there a portal system? Do you have to travel through a demonic alternate dimension a la Nightcrawler?

Also, if you’re traveling distances, shouldn’t you know exactly where you’re going? How are the destinations determined? Doesn’t the Earth’s rotation factor into that? What happens if you let your mind wander and reappear in a chunk of concrete? How exactly is the human mind supposed to develop the superhuman levels of spatial cognizance to do that? Do you practice in an open field or something?

-What about the conservation of momentum? If you decide to vanish out of a moving vehicle, then won’t you crash-land when you reappear? You really think teleporting out of a falling airplane and back into your safe little apartment is going to save you?

-If you’re not intangible, then that power isn’t going to help you get out of most situations. Especially in crowded, populated, camera-filled areas. If someone sees you disappear in front of them, they’re going to freak out. Have fun getting your mystical mug plastered all over YouTube, and then being chased by the government for “science.” Or amateur ghost hunters. Maybe both.

-Do your powers extend to your clothes? What happens if you decide to disappear, but only your physical body vanishes? You’ll leave a pile of laundry/traceable evidence behind! Didn’t that happen on Alex Mack? Oh, and I hope you have a good explanation for when you randomly reappear naked somewhere. Or do you have to wear a skin-tight undersuit, like the heroes in Animorphs?

-How much concentration and/or energy is required to use the power? Does it effect your metabolism, like The Flash? Will it kill you if it’s used too much? If you don’t focus enough, will you leave body parts behind? Didn’t that happen on the Star Trek transporters a couple dozen times?!

…Oh, dear. This is getting messy.

Look, teleportation would only be useful if it didn’t place enormous strain on your body, let you develop some kind of supplementary super-spatial cognizance, and allowed you to transport foreign objects as well. Those criteria in play, I would use it to explore the world. Reach far-flung cultures and get lost within them. See the world from all its peaks. Circumnavigate the globe in the blink of an eye…But that’s not all. There are practical uses too; I could use it to do scouting and mapping on scientific expeditions. If the range is far enough, I could revolutionize space exploration! When disaster strikes, I could bring medical aid and resources on an unprecedented scale. Or set up my own product shipment service. You think Amazon’s delivery drones are cool? I could teleport that Kindle with the snap of a finger. It’d be like magic.