Lions and Tigers and Bears, God No

This week I’m going to try something a little bit different. I’ve been convinced by Lillian to accompany her to the zoo today. I haven’t been to a zoo in years. Since the day Michael Jackson died, as an odd little side note. SInce this idea seems like it’s just full of uncomfortable situations and wackiness, I think that I’d like to try liveblogging something for the first time, posting updates when appropriate! Let’s give this a shot, shall we?

8:48 am

I’ve already hit something of a snag. I find myself incapable of wearing shorts with anything but sandals. Sandals are, of course, a terrible kind of shoe to wear all day and walk miles in. My choices are either to wear sandals anyway and inevitably come home with blisters, or to wear jeans and risk overheating. I suppose I could always force myself to wear regular shoes with shorts, but I feel like I’d be put on edge right from the start of the day. Hm. I’m likely to go with the sandals. More later!

10:02 am

McDonalds for breakfast at my insistence, because I am five.

10:35

Traffic heading into the zoo is horrific. This place is going to be crowded as hell! Yaaaay!

10:??

So crowded. Thank god Lillian has a membership, I nearly had a panic attack in the crowd but we are through already due to her forethought. Now, butterflies! I like them for some reason.

11:29

“Don’t move, mister, there’s something on your back!” Internal screams of terror, small squeak of despair as Lillian gets it to leave. I was almost kicked into panic by a butterfly. And children keep touching me and talking to me. Truly this is a place of terror. The bird house was nice.

12:08

This is just the loudest place ever. Kids are unstoppable sticky messes. Every bench is wet, so I’m standing by one to type this update – OH SHIT PEACOCKS.

20140530-121206-43926120.jpg

20140530-121207-43927228.jpg

They’ve escaped! They’re breeding! Life finds a way… Chaos… Theory…

12:26

We got these little bottles of water that are refillable, but they’re made of one of the kinds of plastic I have trouble touching and putting my mouth on. I will be opening it completely and pouring water at my face and hoping for the rest of the day.

20140530-125644-46604372.jpg

12:55

A huge bug almost flew into my mouth. I shut it just in time. I realized after that my panic reaction of slamming my mouth shut would have caused me to bite the bug. God that was a close one.

Shortly thereafter I saw a really tall goat.

20140530-130018-46818479.jpg

Then I had to endure the worst part of the day so far when I got crammed into a room the size of a toilet cubicle with 456 loud people. It’s okay though because when I got out of there, this guy was waiting for me.

photo

Look at him, refusing to adhere to stereotypes by turning his back on that punching bag. Good for you, kangaroo. Good for you.

Oh also a bear.

20140530-130437-47077555.jpg

1:49

We walked through this cool underwater tunnel with seals swimming all around us. I remember it from previous trips, but it was odd. This time I found it strangely disorienting and kept almost falling over. It might be because it was very crowded. I think I’m reaching the end I my ability to maintain my composure through crowds. That’s fine, because we’re almost done here. Only one obstacle remains, and it’s probably going to be the most crowded building in the place…

2:09

20140530-141018-51018510.jpg

DUN DUN DUNNNNNNNNNN.
Penguin house! This is not a drill! EVERYONE loves penguins, this place is going to be PACKED. Oh god this will be a nightmare.

2:14

20140530-141445-51285828.jpg

Oh. Huh. It’s uh… Pretty much empty. How odd. Who doesn’t want to look at these guys?

20140530-141609-51369981.jpg

20140530-141607-51367545.jpg

20140530-141608-51368758.jpg

So that was actually quite pleasant.

Also Lillian wiped a bug off me and I flipped out for a second. I had no idea what she was doing and thought she was wiping something gross on me. Thankfully not. Time to head for the exit, I’ve had about all the immense public crowd I can take for one day.

2:32

We left through the single lamest, most anticlimactic exit in the history of exits.

20140530-143148-52308702.jpg

Now we’re stuck in traffic on top of the structure, and we’re low on gas. Lillian assures me that we will not become trapped up here, but I’m not so sure. I’ll let you guys know if this car becomes my hot, unpleasant tomb.

2:55

We survived, and are getting gas! Hurray! This marks the end of my big zoo adventure, though I’ll probably update a little more, because there’s still the drive home to contend with. Once I do get home I’ll write a little wrap-up post, too.

3:09

Lillian insisted that we swing off to get some kind of custard, a word I can barely stand to type.

“Do you want to try it?”

“No. Please don’t kill us for custard.”

3:46

Had an amazing lunch at Fuddrucker’s (I know, it sounds dirty to me too) that ended with me spraying water on my crotch sitcom style.

6:13

We spun by some garage sales on the way home, and then saw a carnival, so now we’re eating elephant ears. This is just the best day.

6:53

Well, I’m finally home, and I have to say, that went pretty well. I had a really hard time dealing with all the people and the noise and the smells, but Lillian said that with a few notable exceptions, she couldn’t tell that I was having problems at all, which is great, because I’m constantly worried that I’m externalizing my inner terror and frightening children or whatever.

I also found the live blogging to be very pleasant, and a nice distraction when things got to be too much for me. I think I’ll be doing more blogs of this type in the future. Thank you all for reading and participating in this! I hope you enjoyed it.

Advertisements

Blastoff

When I was 14, I got to live the dream that so many other young kids don’t, and I went to Space Camp. For those who may not know, the concept behind Space Camp was a simple one. You go to Alabama, away from your family for a week or so, like any other camp. However, instead of camping in the woods, playing capture the flag, learning rope tying and swimming, you went to a barracks, and the counselors did everything in their power to replicate the feeling of astronaut training and space exploration. It was the holy grail of camps.

This was shortly after my anxiety had begun to show, but long before it took hold of my life, and I was just an energetic young man who absolutely loved science and space more than anything else in the world. One of my fondest desires had always been to somehow go to space, and though I knew it would never happen, this was the next best thing. My memory is and has always been a messy business, so I honestly don’t recall much of what led up to the trip. My recollection of this wonderful time in my life begins on the ride there.

My mother and grandmother drove me down to Alabama, the location of the camp, over the course of a couple days. It was boiling hot outside, and I had never been a fan of the heat. So I did everything in my power to stay in the car at all times. I was so excited that I’m genuinely surprised that my panic attack issues didn’t kick in then and there. As if it wasn’t enough that I was on my way to Space Camp, the trip started the day that Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was released. We picked it up in a rundown K-Mart on the road, and I had read more than half of it before we arrived, driven by the kind of energy only a 14 year old seems capable of.

Looking back on the camp, it was probably a lot more threadbare than I recall, but in my eyes it was a gleaming paradise. Everything looked how I’d hoped, from the gigantic space shuttle in the center of the campus, to the hangar-like buildings that housed the majority of the camp. We were ushered inside, shown around, and taken to our bunks.

We got to build water pressure rockets; we were spun in a training gyro, the type astronauts use to learn to deal with disorientation; we went into the nearby woods for a puzzle solving obstacle course, and though it was very hot outside, it was absolutely a blast. I remember using a phone card to call home from a payphone, because it was 2000, and affordable cell phones hadn’t yet completely wiped out the need. I remember spending an entire day in the museum that was attached, and being disappointed when we had to go back to more hands on activities. I’ve always been a museum lover. They’re quiet and dignified in a way that no place else in the world can match.

My entire memory of the place is a single mess of excitement, as if it all happened on a single, vibrant day. Only one day stands out firmly in my memory from the rest, and it is that day that is the point of my rambling little walk down memory lane. The day of the shuttle simulation.

I woke up with a start, a little more tired than usual that morning because my bunkmates and I had been up late the night before. There had been a conversation about girls, and who had a girlfriend back home. To avoid embarrassment, I had told a tall tale about a semi-fictional chinese girl named Wei – based on a real girl who I’d had a crush on in middle school – claiming that she and I were an item. Sorry about that, Wei, though in my defense, I told them that I had never kissed you, because I already felt bad enough about lying about our relationship status. I had a very odd idea about what lies were okay and what lies weren’t, I wasn’t about to pile on another untruth. In any case, I was fairly sleep deprived that day, which may go a long way toward explaining what wound up happening.

The camp crew was split into two halves for these simulations. One would go into a large control room, where each was assigned a job based rather heavily on the real jobs undertaken during a shuttle mission. The other half would be on the “shuttle”, where they would perform simple experiments and puzzles, culminating in a simulated EVA, or extra-vehicular activity: a space walk. Not everyone got to take on all roles, of course, and the space walk was heavily desired. Of course, I wanted it, but my turn on the shuttle would have to wait. First up was the control room.

Here, I excelled. We rotated between a few jobs during the course of the simulation, but I had fun with all of them. There was tracking weather patterns, there was plotting a course, helping the folks aboard the shuttle keep things running smoothly. I had a blast every step of the way during this half. If I’m being honest, this was helped by the fact that I was working with a cute girl from England by the name of Elizabeth, and I was, after all, a 14 year old boy. Unfortunately, I had already lied a bunch about having a girlfriend, so it was too late for me to do anything about it. Such are the dangers of trying to make yourself look good at camp.

In any case, I greatly enjoyed my time in that room. Finally, however, the time came. We strapped ourselves in for the launch simulation, and “up” we went. By this point, the heat and excitement of the day had begun to take its toll. Combined with my late night chat sessions, I was already exhausted. We performed the first couple of simple experiments without incident, and then it was time for the EVA.

My tired nature and the fact that I secretly wanted to stay in the shuttle to keep working with Elizabeth made me cringe when I was picked to perform it, but I nodded firmly with what I hoped was an impressive, eager smile on my face, and stepped to the door, gearing up. My partner and I put on the small, replica spacesuits, locked our “tools” into place, and they swung open the airlock door, and we stepped out into… a gym. It was pretty much just a big gym.

There was a large scaffolding alongside the wooden construct that was the shuttle simulator. There, my partner and I were strapped into large harnesses that resembled EVA rigs, that attached to complex pulley systems. The idea was that once strapped in, you’d be able to manipulate yourself up and down along the scaffolding as if weightless. We had twenty minutes to climb the scaffolding and complete some puzzles, “repairing” the space station. My partner took off like a shot.

Despite my earlier reluctance, I found I was no longer tired. I gripped the scaffolding tightly, gritted my teeth, reached up and pulled with all my strength, catapulting myself… about ten inches. I essentially went nowhere. I have no idea if I severely misunderstood the operation of the device, or if it was somehow broken, but as my partner scaled up and down the tower effortlessly, I just sort of hung there. I spent the entire twenty minutes struggling with my harness, and got literally nothing done, much to my embarrassment.

After that debacle, we re-entered the spacecraft. As we entered, the counselor called us all into the main chamber of the shuttle, to congratulate us on a job well done, and to explain how the next part of the simulation would work. As he spoke, my partner took off his space suit. Red with embarrassment and completely wiped out by the effort of the struggle, the lack of sleep, and the sweltering heat, I decided instead to lean back against the hull of the ship. The moment the counselor finished talking, the simulation resumed, and that’s when it happened.

I began to doze off, and awoke again with a snap. As I jerked forward, my elbow caught the door release control. Alarms blared, the lights turned red, and the door flew open. I had just accidentally voided the airlock. As far as the simulation was concerned, I had flushed the entire crew, who were all in the room at that moment, into space. As I had been too sleepy to remove my spacesuit, I was the only survivor.

Mouth agape, I stared at the counselor, who stared back. He was trying as hard as he could not to laugh. It’s probably considered bad form for a counselor to laugh at an awkward, embarrassed child. He passed that test with flying colors. I would have failed. Looking back on it now, I can’t help but laugh at the doofy, stumbling kid I had been. I was mortified, but the counselors took pity, and allowed us to continue anyway, even though the computer recorded the mission as a failure. Save that one incident, we passed. I’m still of the opinion that we never should have had the possibility of failing, as I’m reasonably sure that the airlock of the real shuttle isn’t held together with velcro.

The week came to a close. Elizabeth and I exchanged e-mails, but we only sent one or two before new schools and new teenage lives brought the exchange to a close. My mother and family picked me up, and I had finished reading the Harry Potter book before we got home. It’s strange, looking back, how my memories before and after the week are so much clearer and more powerful than those of the week itself. I’ll never forget the real Wei, but I had to strain to remember Elizabeth’s name, and if I’m being completely honest, I’m not sure I got it right. All the fun I had, all the wonderful moments and days, have blended together into one, a pleasant feeling more than a true memory. Meanwhile, my incredibly embarrassing day is burned into my mind permanently. Memory really is fickle at best. It’s okay with me, though, that that odd, largely unpleasant day is the one I remember the best, and I look back on it fondly. It’s made a great story to tell.

Hibachi Grills Are Kind of Like Hell If Hell Had Delicious Steak

A few weeks ago, in my introductory post, I talked about food, and how dealing with foods that aren’t on my list can be a difficult experience for me, to say the least. They take me well beyond nervous. It depends on how well I’m doing on any given day, of course. Like many people, I have my good days and my bad. On my very best day, I accidentally took a bite of a burger that had something in it that the mere thought of makes me feel like retching here and now, and managed to keep myself in check. On my very worst days, I can’t even look at other people eating at all. Most days are somewhere in the middle. I can manage to touch silverware, or eat in a restaurant, or force myself to touch a container that holds something I can’t stand, but at the same time, a single pickle being vaguely near my food can completely derail my day. All of these things are variable, and I almost never know until I’m in the moment what will and won’t drag me down on any given day. This is why places like Hibachi grills are usually a no go for me.

A few weeks ago, however, I found myself in one. It wasn’t exactly against my will. A friend of mine, let’s call her Jess, was in a play called Nunsense down by Ohio. My other friends, let’s call them Drew and Bobby, decided to head down and see the play, and to afterwards take her out to a Hibachi grill to celebrate. I had already been planning to see the play, but I didn’t find out about the choice of restaurant until the night before we left. Drew, who is well aware of my issues with food, told me that it was on him if I wanted to try it out, and that if it was an utter disaster, we could pop off for some Wendy’s after the fact. I’ve been trying very hard to push myself lately, and to get outside of my comfort zone, so I agreed.

We drove down, talking and listening to music for a while. It’s not a short drive from where we live, just outside of Detroit, to the border, which Jess lives on. Literally, if you cross the street, you’re in Ohio now. I was nervous the entire time, on edge, thinking of what would come after the fact. Finally, we arrived, and for a brief while, I was distracted.

The play was, being about nuns and all, in a church. It was a community theater production that decided to take advantage of the location available. The play was… interesting. It had its moments in terms of comedy, and Jess, who is an excellent singer, really knocked it out of the park, but there was a problem. The sound system was shoddy at best, and every time one of about three certain notes were sung, my right eye vibrated and teared up, and by the end of the show, I had a headache, and my nerves were ringing. I played it off, forcing myself into a positive mindset. If I had known what was coming, I’m not sure how I’d have felt.

We were to meet up at the grill at 7 that evening, after Jess had had time to strike the set and meet up with her castmates for a little after-party. Drew, Bobby and I milled around a mall, wasting time until the hour drew closer, and then we headed past Jess’s place to pick her up. My heart pounded in my throat. My head throbbed with a headache. My stomach was full of acid and an admittedly ill-advised pepperoni pretzel I had eaten at the mall. We approached the door, I took a deep breath, and we went inside.

Now, it occurs to me that you, dear reader, might not know much about hibachi grills. According to my research, which was admittedly very brief, hibachi grill is the American term for Japanese teppanyaki style restaurants. Essentially the food is cooked right in front of you on an enormous hot sheet of metal, with a large amount of theatricality. A well trained chef makes a show of it, whipping and flipping ingredients, utensils, and sauces through the air expertly to create a tasty dish, all before your very eyes. So, to put it mildly, I knew before I entered the place that I was in for an interesting night.

I THINK this is actually an image of the tables we were seated at. If not, my apologies:

Image

We weren’t waiting long before the waitress came to take our orders. Even more than usual, I was helpless, and I just kind of stared at Drew, eyes wide. He took the hint easily, and told her that I was interested in getting the steak, cooked on the grill with the rest of the people. I also ordered an apple martini, because I felt that alcohol would help when the shrimp started flying. Sipping at it idly, I waited, my nerves barely contained by the fruity drink.

Then he arrived. The chef was full of laughter and mirth, energetic and excited to be there. I’m not entirely certain he wasn’t drunk. This concern was helped along by the fact that his very first action was to set the entire grill on fire. Was… was that supposed to happen? Is there supposed to be fire? No one is panicking. There’s probably supposed to be fire. I looked at Jess, eyes wide, and as if she was reading my mind, she gave me a small nod. Knuckles white, I clutched the martini glass, genuinely afraid that I might break the stem.

He swiftly set about his business, spreading vegetables, separating onions into their component rings and stacking them into cone shapes. He began flipping vegetables into people’s mouths, aiming for a split second at me before I declined politely but firmly. Still absolutely bursting with energy, he asked us if we were there to celebrate anything. Drew told him the truth, that we were there to celebrate Jess’s play. He grinned like a lunatic and did something to the onion cones that caused them to become jets of flame. My eyes were wide as he flung a flaming onion at his own face in an attempt to catch it in his hat. He failed, and that’s when he caught on fire.

It was a small flame, and one that burned only briefly, but the man had lit himself on fire and didn’t even notice. Suddenly, it clicked. The laughing madman. The whirling blades. The airborne vegetables, the flames, the literal vats of sauce and all the things I couldn’t name. I had had a stroke and died because of that awful squealing sound system, and this was hell.

The idea was quickly quelled by what came next. First he flipped a second onion, successfully landing it in his hat, where the flame went out, as it was supposed to. Second, he proceeded to sing Happy Birthday to Jess, with the word “birthday” replaced with the word “acting”. It was absolutely hilarious, and I knew that hell would probably not have comedy. That laughter proved a turning point for me.

I watched as he threw eggs into the air and cracked them as they fell with the spatula. I watched as he scrambled them and mixed them with rice, and when he finally began doling out food, I politely declined each and every offer. After a few moments, he seemed to catch on that I was there for one thing and one thing only, the meat, and he stopped offering. I was suspended between horror and fascination. The way he moved, the swift and assured nature of everything he did, the swirling motions and the blinding speed were all mesmerizing to me. I couldn’t take my eyes off of the display.

After a few moments of this came the most awkward moment of the night. The waitress, a very pleasant and pretty young woman, came over to ask why I hadn’t anything on my plate when everyone else was already digging into their fried rice and vegetables. She was concerned that I was somehow and unhappy customer. I wasn’t, of course. I awkwardly stammered, trying hard to explain that the issue was absolutely NOT with the restaurant, and that it was all due to my own issues. Simplifying, I mumbled something about having Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, which isn’t perfectly accurate, but it did the trick. Drew helped me explain as well, filling gaps in my embarrassed, stumbling speech.

Finally, the time came for the chef to cook the entrees. He quickly cut and perfectly cooked everyone’s meals, saving Bobby’s shrimp for last, due to the possibility of shellfish allergies. I saw him cook several people’s steak, diced into thick, tasty looking chunks, and my mouth was watering, save a single detail: he was spraying something onto the steak in the midst of cooking them. It was an unknown quantity. Was it some kind of sauce? Was it some kind of oil? Was it simply steak juice, something I admittedly enjoy when on thick cut fries? I didn’t know, and I still don’t. All I knew was that it was going to be very, very hard to eat my steak when it came to me. I didn’t dare stop him, not knowing if it was something that was somehow vital to the cooking process.

He kindly placed the steak before me, well done, as per my tastes, and looked expectantly at me. I took my fork, selected a particularly crispy looking piece, and took that first bite. I was gripping the edge of the table so hard that my hand hurt. I was fully expected to suddenly find myself running for the restroom, or jerking to the side, to avoid spitting it directly at the chef, but I managed to swallow. Then I tried another piece. Then another. It was delicious.

I couldn’t manage to eat it all. That liquid, whatever it had been, kept sliding unbidden into my mind, and about two thirds of the way through the plate, I had to stop. Still, I pushed myself farther than I had ever expected to be able to. It’s days like that that show me that I’m not a lost cause. The entire experience left me with a smile on my face. The therapy and the medication ARE helping. Only two years ago, I never would have been able to stand walking into the place, and now? I ate something cooked on the same surface as other people’s food, right in front of me, much of which was stuff I can’t even talk about, much less eat. It’s encouraging to me to see how far I can push it on a good day.

The Importance of Fiction

My life is ruled by fear. I sat here for twenty minutes trying to come up with a less dramatic phrase than that, but I couldn’t. From the minute I wake up to the minute I manage to fall asleep – usually far later than I intend to – I’m terrified. I have no doubt that this remains the driving force behind my absolute adoration of fiction. My entire life has been wrapped in stories, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

It began early on, I can tell you that much. When I was a kid, I devoured storybooks like there was no tomorrow, and it wasn’t long before I was reading adult novels. I think that even then, I knew that someday I would love horror, though if you can believe it, I never really saw horror films or read horror novels until I was 16. When I was a little boy, however, a combination of two things put a lock on that door for quite a while. Firstly, I saw part of Child’s Play 2 on TV at a Halloween party a friend was having. Secondly, I couldn’t stop reading scary story collections for kids. Bruce Coville’s wonderfully creative little collections come to mind, and to this day I can retell some of the stories point for point, though I read them nearly twenty years ago. The one about the little kids who wish it would never stop snowing and get their wish, as the world was slowly buried in ice. The story about the boy who literally fell to pieces when his parents got divorced. One stuck with me more than anything else, though. I don’t remember the title, and I think to look for it now would be to ruin the magic, but it was a tale of a young boy, who, while asleep, had an out of body experience, floating above his bed. As he floated, amazed, a plane collided with his house, sweeping his body away, leaving him a disembodied spirit. He roamed the world, seeking a body of his own. The tale was haunting and beautiful, and I had never read anything else like it. To this day, as I think of that story, I hear the beautiful tones of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, which played in my head during the entirety of the tale.

There were many, many others as well. A story about a grave digger with room for one more. An irish folktale about a creature who wanted his tail back. Murderers and thieves and monsters and things that defied description, I couldn’t stop reading about them if I tried. I had my mother take the books away and put them on top of the fridge, to keep them out of my hands until I was old enough, but it didn’t work. I would climb on a chair to get them back. Finally, I found the willpower to put these things away, by sliding from “More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” to science fiction.

When the film of Jurassic Park came out, I was seven years old, and I couldn’t go see it. My solution was to read the book instead, which was, of course, far more violent. I loved it, and it marked a transition point for me. I devoured Crichton’s entire works, and rapidly moved on to Asimov and Wells. From science fiction, the transition to fantasy was natural enough. Tolkien, Pratchett, Pullman, Lewis, I read them all. The incomparable Chrestomanci novels by the late, great Diana Wynne Jones have been a guiding force in my imagination since the day I picked up the Lives of Christopher Chant on a whim. These, of course, lead me to Harry Potter, sparking an obsession that lasts until today. I would pick a genre, author, or story series, almost at random, and I would read voraciously, and with great speed. I read the entire Borrowers series in a single 24 hour period, not daring to shut my eyes for fear of losing the magic. I can honestly say that these were the best moments of my life.

Movies fascinated me as well. As my teenage years approached, I would ride my bike to libraries and rental places, pockets jingling with quarters, collecting cans and looking on the ground everywhere I went for lost money and change, and every single solitary dime was spent renting movies, games, and paying library fines. Ah yes, video games too! As technology advanced, it became possible for a medium that had once been reserved for Pong and Super Mario Brothers to tell stories of genuine depth and interest. The Legend of Zelda, with its bare bones technique, spoke to me of  a larger story I could only dream of. The Final Fantasy franchise gave me rich, fascinating characters and deep, sympathetic villains the likes of which had never been in any films. I soon learned that video game stories had far more in common with books than movies, especially since at the time, they had to tell most of the tales in text. It was around this age that I discovered comic books, as well, the so-called modern myths.

This sparked a fascination not only with Spider-Man and Batman that have pursued me far into adulthood, but with the true myths of ages long passed. I began rapidly reading books detailing different versions of every myth imaginable, from the tales of trickster gods, to the monster slaying, half-divine heroes of the Greek and Roman tales. The location of these books in the library lead me inexorably to books on cryptozoology, psychics, and other strange and spiritual tales of the modern world. All of this coming together got me through to the day when I saw the movie Aliens, the first horror film I had seen since I was a child. At the time, I was adamant that I would never read or see horror again. I knew that my fascination with the subject bordered on addiction, and that once I began, I couldn’t stop, even when I terrified myself into being unable to sleep for days. My best friend at the time talked me into it, and I watched it in his basement, white-knuckled. Even then, at 16, I was beginning to exhibit signs of the anxiety that would eventually dominate me, but it was far milder, and I was able to overcome it more regularly. I took a deep breath, steadied my shaking hands, and proceeded to watch the most awesome two hours of film I had ever seen. It turned out that I had been right to be concerned. From that moment, I was addicted. Within a week, I had seen every Alien and Predator movie, and I rapidly branched out, renting every horror movie I could lay my hands on.

That entire summer was spent in the basement, huddled around VHS tapes of the Friday the 13th series, Freddy Krueger, Michael Meyers, Candyman, the list is endless. That was also when I picked up the single book that would affect my life the most deeply. Stephen King’s The Shining. The moment I read it, I was a different person. I attacked the King catalogue with an attitude akin to defeating an enemy. I HAD to read everything he had ever touched, and I tore into them, going for the kill. He lead me to Dean Koontz, who is another, admittedly smaller obsession of mine.

I’ll probably do blog entries on what individual series of all these things mean to me at some point in the future, but this is going to be more about the overall feelings I have toward fiction than any specific obsession. The purpose of that long, meandering, semi-stream of consciousness rant about how I found all of these things was simply to demonstrate one important fact. Fiction is and always has been the foundation of my life. The interesting question, and what I’m trying to answer even to myself by writing this, is WHY?

It’s easy enough at the start. As a kid, I was fairly awkward and strange. I didn’t make friends easily, so I resorted to fiction for entertainment and pleasure, as well as companionship. Stories couldn’t hurt me or betray me, and they were always right there waiting when I was ready to return to them. It remained that simple throughout all of high school. In the years that followed, however, I sank deeper into anxiety, delusions, and a lack of control, all brought on by the advancement of schizoaffective disorder and bipolar.

I reached a point, one I’m still basically at, though medication and therapy have provided some improvement, where all of my energy was spent in forcing my mind not to constantly worry about the future and the inevitability of endings in the real world. I’ve sought more and more fiction over the years, using it to recede from reality when it becomes too much to handle. The older I’ve gotten, and the worse my anxiety has become, the more I’ve become connected to two specific areas of fiction. Video games and horror.

Video games give me control that I feel I can never have of this life. They give me strength, and power, and allow me to relax a little bit, something I’ve never been able to do. People tell gamers to get a life fairly often. To this, the best response I’ve ever heard is “I have many lives.” Video games allow me to experience the impossible, and I can think of nothing more beautiful than every form of art we have coming together to allow someone to live a story, to BE the hero, to BE the villain. It’s a miracle in my eyes.

Horror, too, is all about control. I live in a constant state of fear. When suddenly seeing an unexpected bottle of sauce can send you into an irrational sense of dread, that fear can easily spread into the fear of BEING scared. I’m not just afraid. I’m afraid to do anything because I just know that there will be moments of fear within every action. It’s crippling. Horror lets me choose the exact time, nature, and location of my fear. It gives me control where otherwise I’d have none. I think I’ve instinctively understood this since I was a child, and that’s why it’s so addictive to me.

When I bury myself in fiction, I’m able to go on. Coupled with a powerful imagination, it gives me the ability to experience things that many people can’t even conceive of. It allows me to fight my way through the fog of anxiety and loneliness and feel truly alive in a way that nothing else ever has. When I read, I cease to see the page or the words. I’m there, in the head of every character, living what they lived, feeling what they feel. I catch myself acting moments of these tales out, exploring the words and motions, diagramming moments of action to see just how things worked. I’ve always had a huge difficulty accessing my own feelings, even though I know that they’re there and understand them quite well. Equally, I have difficulty connecting with the feelings of others. Even though I’ve always been able to sense and understand them, connecting to them, caring about them, has often eluded me. Books change that. I don’t know why, but for some reason I find that I’m able to access emotions that are otherwise lost to me when I read, and that gives me what I need to act and to feel. When someone I know is in crisis, I don’t necessarily feel for them. I feel for a similar character in a similar situation, even if I have to create that myself. Looking at the world through the lens of fiction is what allows me to interact with it.

Before my anxiety became too great, I used to couple this approach with my natural detachment and imagination to act. To me, it was the ultimate form of losing myself in fiction. I would be shaking, nervous, pale, deeply in terror, right up until the moment my foot hit the stage, and then I would be the other person. Kyle would become a gentle voice in the back of my head, and whoever I was playing would take over. I never for a moment felt like I was acting. It felt like tapping into some other world, and finding a new person waiting for me. I could be powerful, I could be popular. Using a fictional character as a bridge, I could feel. I still manage this often in my day to day life, but it’s simply not the same. The loss of acting is what I would consider one of, if not the greatest loss to my mental state.

Looking at it now, written down, my mind seems even more contradictory than it feels. I understand emotions, and can portray them better than most. I know this, because I fake almost all of my external emotions in day to day life, only able to connect to people through a lens of fiction. This is only possible, though, because of my lack of control over the ones I actually feel, and the detachment that results.

When I write, I exert that level of control on an entire world, which is intimidating to me. I reach blocks because I become concerned about the world I’m creating. I genuinely worry about the consequences for my characters. I find that this persists in other areas of my life as well. When playing an RPG, a type of game in which one traditionally controls a party of many characters, as opposed to a single one, I begin to feel bad that I’m underutilizing any given character. I want them to feel needed. It’s absurd, but it’s something I’ve never been able to shake. I feel like the worlds we create are every bit as real to the people within them as ours is to us. I feel like we may be background players in a story being told to someone else. From this, my friend Fernando and I have latched onto the concept of the Metashow.

The Metashow is the idea that we are characters in a sitcom or drama that some other universe somewhere is watching. Many people would argue that our lives aren’t particularly interesting or funny, but to them, I point out that all you need is 22 funny minutes a week. If enough interesting and funny things happen in your life and your friends’ lives to add up to 22 minutes a week (48 or so for an hour drama) then certainly you have enough for a show. After all, we never see the characters in Friends, or How I Met Your Mother, or Community on a commute, or doing their jobs without incident. It makes sense to me. After all, it’s mostly agreed now that there are multiple universes, and if they’re truly infinite, sure there must exist somewhere in the spectrum a world where I’m a character in a show. With this in mind, I often catch myself making decisions based on dramatic themes, or acting for laughs like I’m being watched when no one is around. It can be awkward and strange, and I often feel embarrassed for doing it, but mostly I just find myself thankful that we don’t live in one of the post-apocalyptic shows, or a musical comedy universe. Our world seems to be made up mostly of sitcoms and thrillers.

This concept is very similar to the one that drives me to believe in the supernatural and spiritual side of existence. Intellectually,  I know that ghosts, the afterlife, magic, fairies, leprechauns, and all things of the sort are likely total bunk. However, I find that choosing to believe in them, wanting to believe, to paraphrase a certain fictional hero of mine, makes life far more interesting and tolerable. If you go through life believing that at any given moment, a leprechaun may leap out from behind a bush, things just feel more interesting and magical. Of course, this can play into my paranoia and delusions, and make things far worse, as well. Which is why I keep a bottle of holy water in my room. It’s not because I believe in vampires. It’s in case I’m wrong about them.

This leads me to the most important thing about fiction, and why I’m so enamored with it that for all the negatives it can cause, all the downsides that have always come with it, I’d never change the fact that it’s so deeply ingrained in me even if I could. The world is beautiful BECAUSE we can so easily enter many more worlds. I don’t know if I believe in god or not, but I believe this: when it is said that he created us in his image, I am certain that it’s meant that we were granted the ability to create. To tell stories. We can take nothing and create whole worlds, and that makes each and every one of us divine. We can use incredible, absurd situations to tell human stories, and people like me can use them to connect to others when we may never have otherwise been able to. Fiction is both an escape from reality and a celebration of it, and that makes it the most sacred thing in this world.

 

Note: A truly, deeply heartfelt thanks to every author I mentioned here by name, and to all the ones I didn’t. I wouldn’t be who I am today without every single one of you.

A Lucky Click Away

The world has changed pretty drastically in the past few years, and no one can really deny that. However, the depth of that change hadn’t really been driven home to me until the events that transpired last week, after I posted my first blog entry here. I had a brief, strange interaction with an “internet famous” individual, and it put me in a public eye larger than one I’ve ever been in before, if only for a brief few seconds. The prospect is exciting and uniquely terrifying.
 
It all started when a Cracked writer who goes by the name Jacopo della Quercia – which I believe to be a pseudonym taken after the Italian sculptor, rather than evidence that the man himself has somehow survived the centuries and taken up writing comedic lists on a comedy website – followed me on Twitter. I didn’t think anything of it. A lot of famous or oft-followed folks follow an enormous amount of their fans, presumably to foster an air of camaraderie and encourage more followers in turn. I smiled to myself, and went about my day. A few weeks later, Jacopo retweeted this image: Image
I would have warned you, but I wanted to recreate the feeling of abject terror that I felt. That is a wasp’s nest found in an abandoned shed that seems to be in the shape of a human face, sheerly through coincidence. I retweeted the image with something like “OH MY GOD WHAT THE HELL AAAHHH,” I don’t remember exactly. That’s when things got interesting.
 
Remember my friend Fernando, from the Wendy’s incident? Well, he’s a spectacular artist, and he responded to me. First, he supposed that this thing was worth basing a horror monster on, and then, within seconds, he produced this:
Image
I’m sorry again. Now, keep in mind, he didn’t draw this then and there, he already had it. When it suddenly reared up at me out of the internet, I got a nasty shock. I genuinely gasped and jerked back when I turned my head and spotted it out of the corner of my eye. I may have yelped a little. I responded accordingly. “AAAAH AAAAAAAAAAHHHHH AAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH WHY!?” I tweeted.
 
Fernando responded quickly.  I DON’T KNOW, BUT I HAD THIS BEFORE THAT FUCKING PICTURE. THIS IS YOUR FAULT!” he spouted back.
 
YOU JUST KEEP THAT FACE ON DECK!? FOR WHAT IN CASE THEY FIND CREEPY HOLLOW MEN!?” I cried out in concern.
 
“I CAN’T SLEEP SOMETIMES AND I DRAW THINGS WITHOUT KNOWING WHAT THE FUCK IT IS!” Fernando capped the conversation off nicely. Equal parts terrified and amused, I decided to let it drop. I shrugged it off, and turned back to the net. That’s when I noticed something. Jacopo had retweeted and favorited nearly every part of this exchange, thus making his 25,000 followers aware of Fernando’s art, my terror, and our rapid back and forth. I grinned ear to ear, shocked and nervous. It wasn’t often that I was put in such a position. Within a few moments, another event! Jacopo used Fernando’s wonderful jacked up art piece to head up another tweet. Thrilled for my friend, I pointed this out to Fernando, and then went forward with my head held high, feeling pretty good. That’s when I saw the notification.
 
It seemed that Jacopo had added me to a list within his followers, labelled “funny people”. He had also tweeted a link to Fernando’s Tumblr, the front page of which had a link to my first blog post, added that very afternoon. 25,000 people were a couple bored clicks away from my tale of cheese and embarrassment. I went as white as a sheet. Within the past half hour or so, I had gone from never having spoken to this man before to being considered funny enough to being accidentally launched into a position where 25,000 people could casually look into the deepest part of my mental issues. The rational part of me knew that no one would look, and that nothing would change as a result, but the irrational, paranoid part screamed at me.
 
Elated and terrified, I let out a small whimper. What do I do here? Do I just leave it up? Do I just let 25,000 people I don’t know have potential access to my secret shame? Yes, of course you do! You want people to read this stuff, that’s why you posted it. Yeah, but I JUST posted it. I don’t have the mental capacity to deal with these kinds of numbers. Don’t worry, NO ONE is going to click that link. It’ll be a tiny signal boost at best. I assure you, it’s just fine if you leave it right there. I debated with myself only a little longer before deciding to leave it, and as my rational mind predicted, it didn’t affect anything.
 
That’s what I mean, you see, when I talk about how odd the world is at this point. A fairly known writer saw something I said, and thought I was kind of funny. He showed people that, and all of a sudden, my world was a flurry of activity. I was nervous and terrified and flattered and concerned and a thousand other things all at once, and all because of a weird shaped wasps nest. The mere IDEA of that many people having access to my words sent tingles through me of every kind imaginable, ranging all the way from pride to terror. In this strange new internet where famous people who otherwise would never have met have conversations I can listen in on, every single one of us is just a lucky click away from being famous or infamous, and either status can last for seconds or years. The very concept of what constitutes fame is changing rapidly. To a guy like me, that’s magical and horrifying.
 
If you’d like to see more about Jacopo Della Quercia, (the writer, not the sculptor… I think…), you can follow him at @Jacopo_della_q and read his works at Cracked.com.