How Stephen King Pulled Me Out of the Deepest Depression of My Life

Well, it’s been a while. Oops. The fact of the matter is that no matter how well I think I have things going – and in general, I think I have things going pretty damned well – the slightest thing can bring me down. In this case it wasn’t particularly slight, if I’m being perfectly honest, but for the first time ever, I don’t want to talk about it in detail on this blog. At least not now.

To sum up the situation, as a much wiser person than myself said, the country seems to be at a cultural breaking point. In the weeks following the suicide of Robin Williams, awful thing after awful thing has struck this country, politically, philosophically, socially. It’s been a very dark time for the country – and the world – and of course, this affects us all. I’m not equipped to handle such stress, so I retreat into my own hobbies and interests in an attempt to avoid the politics and dramas of the real world. This time, they followed me in. I can’t stress enough that I care very very deeply about the issues at hand, or the things that are going on in my own culture and chosen circles, but the fact of the matter is that my only escape from politics is now swarming in them. Add to this the immensely negative event that I spoke of a moment ago, and I feel it’s fairly easy to see how I got knocked out of orbit just when I thought I had reached the perfect trajectory.

It’s slowly dawning on both my psychologist and I that Obsessive Compulsive Disorder – with the key word being obsessive – is at the core of many of my major issues. I simply can’t let things go that I feel affect me, attack me, or make me feel strong emotions. Since I care very deeply about political and social things, being involved with them can do immense harm to my head. I just can’t stop obsessing. During the events of this summer and fall, I found myself unable to calm down or exert any level of control. I was in a state of constant near panic. My heart was pounding, and every single little stress signifier erupted all at once. I broke out in hives and acne, I had canker sores and mouth ulcers, I was barely able to sleep and my eyes were bloodshot. All of this exacerbated my big issues. I destabilized in a major way. I became paranoid and angry, lashing out at anyone and everyone, latching on to things more obsessively than ever.

This all culminated in me falling into an incredibly deep depression. It didn’t feel quite like the usual ones. I wasn’t down all the time, or bored by everything. I was, however, deeply, incredibly certain of doom. Utter and complete doom. When I’m feeling myself, I’m a very optimistic man. I believe the world will get better, and humanity will endure, and maybe even reach the stars. However, when things go off the rails, I can – and did – become utterly obsessed with death and doom.

I become obsessed with the facts and science of the situation, and to be frank, the current science says things aren’t looking good. Humanity has pretty well doomed itself through our actions and inactions, and we are not long for this world. I become obsessed with death, and the fact that the worst thing about life is that I will never know how things turn out. I’ll never know if we make it as a species, if we survive this time, the closest we have ever come, perhaps, to extinction.

It’s difficult to believe that that’s the case, when you look around. Humanity is prospering in so many ways. We’ve spread far beyond the numbers we should have been able to, technology is erupting into the realm of science fiction at breakneck pace. Despite the way the world is reported by the news, if you look at the numbers, we’re doing better than we ever have. The only official wars currently active anywhere are civil ones, or ones against groups, as opposed to other countries. Violent crime is dropping in many places, worldwide. Things are getting BETTER.

Yet the world IS in danger. The planet is drowning in our runoff and we’ve pushed the ecosystem just about as far as we can before it tips over and takes us with it. The fact is that the universe is not designed to support life. We are in a magic zone that shouldn’t exist, and it’s far more delicate than we expected. If the people who make the decisions can’t wrap their heads around that, we will be gone within centuries. Perhaps sooner.

Once these thoughts get into my head, if there is even the slightest crack, they seep in like so much oil, slipping deeply into my thoughts and feelings, and gum up the works, slowing the gears that turn my mind. Every thought I have, negative, positive, every feeling, every action, has to fight its way through this tarry sludge first, and nothing comes out the other side clean. At this time, there were not so much cracks as there were fissures, and the constant pressure and feel of attack only added to the damage. To put it simply, I was mired in the deepest pit of foul black sludge I have ever been, and I could find no way out. I felt doomed, and because I felt doomed, I was.

At this point, paragraphs in to this meandering, stream-of-consciousness post, you may be asking yourself, “What does all of this have to do with Stephen King? He’s in the title, he’d better do something.” I’ve spoken before about how fiction and horror are deeply important to my life, and I gave brief mention to King, promising to return to him at a later date for a more thorough discussion, and I suppose that there’s no time like the present.

Stephen King is, in my opinion, the greatest living American writer. Perhaps the greatest American writer, period. Perhaps even the greatest that the world has ever seen. As bizarre as it may sound, when I look at this man and the work he does, I see a man who simply doesn’t get enough credit. “But Kyle,” I hear you protest. “He’s one of the richest authors who has ever lived, and everything he publishes is met with a resounding cry of joy!” I know this, of course, and I’m not arguing that the man isn’t famous enough, or paid enough, or beloved enough. To do so would be absurd. No, I say this because I feel like he is more often than not relegated to the role of “pop fiction writer” or “horror author”, when he is so much more.

I argue that though King does write pop fiction and horror, he more than once delves far beyond such things into genuine literature. I feel that he is contributing to the world of art in ways that are not truly appreciated. He writes of philosophy, addiction, love, sacrifice, darkness and pain. He writes of madness, and the ugly things in the world, and the ugly things in people. Above all, however, he writes of the light.

Almost every one of his major works has some force for good, some force, pushing and prodding the heroes in the right direction. They don’t always realize it. The pushes are subtle and gentle, but there’s something pulling for them. He calls it by many names. The Turtle, the light, Gan. In all cases, it works through these people, compelling them to take the actions that will lead to their salvation. This isn’t anything special, of course. The important thing to note is that someone who is considered one of the darkest storytellers of all time writes so often of the good in people.

Stephen King, more than anyone else I have ever known of, takes his inner demons and fears and tragedies, and somehow externalizes them, using them to weave tales that speak to the very deepest parts of humanity, the good and the evil. Perhaps the most obvious examples of this are DreamcatcherThe Dark Half, and of course, The Shining. I could write for pages on the books individually, but I think I’ll save that for a later date. Suffice it to say that each one of these books has a deep connection to the man and his life, as well as his own experiences and personal fears. Dreamcatcher was written after he was struck by a van, largely while he was in the hospital, on painkillers. The Dark Half reflects events from his own life, spurred by the discovery of his pseudonym, Richard Bachman. The Shining plunges deep into his fears about himself – he was an alcoholic struggling with a writing career at the time of its publication, just like Jack Torrance, the main character.

Again, it’s not that the idea of taking one’s issues and imbuing them with power by writing them into tales is new. Far from it. It’s simply that King explores his own depths in a way that few ever have, and finds ways to shine light on even the darkest parts of himself and even then, to show you the light that will overcome that darkness. It’s not what he does, per se. It’s the way in which he does it. His abilities speak to me, in particular, and always have.

Which brings me around to this fall. I make an attempt to read one of my very favorite King novels, It, every October. There’s no specific reason, of course. The first time I read it was in that month, largely in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, my favorite place in the world. This time, I was in the deepest, most virulent depression of my life. I was unstable, I was damaged, and I was on the verge of totally falling apart. Then I finished It.

I ask you now, have you ever read or heard something that struck you to the core? Something that hit you in just the right way at just the right time, and then suddenly, as if from nowhere, you found yourself looking at the world differently, or seeing a new path? I was in the dark, I was lost, and then a quote from It plowed through the sludge that was drowning my mind from the inside out like industrial cleaner.

“Best not to look back. Best to believe that there will be happily ever afters all the way around – and so it may be; who is there to say there will not be such endings? Not all boats which sail away into darkness never find the sun again, or the hand of another child; if life teaches anything at all, it teaches that there are so many happy endings that the man who believes there is no God needs his rationality called into serious question.”

These words… these words struck me. I’ve read them a half dozen times, if not more, but I feel as though I never really read them before. They coursed through me, clearing the sludge from my veins, and suddenly, the wheels were turning again.

This isn’t to say that I suddenly believe in God. The jury is still out on that one, and probably will be right up until the very moment of my death. I don’t think, however, that one needs to be truly religious to see the significance and power of these words. They reminded me of something important: hope is real, hope is powerful, and hope can drive us from our pasts no matter what they may be. It’s time to look forward and to find again the things that I’ve been learning about myself and the world over the past few years, as I turned against my own demons, ready to take them on.

Somehow, some way, though all of his horror, and blood, and inexplicable coincidence, and strange use of parenthesis, and repetition and light, of all the people in the world, it was a horror writer from Maine who reminded me that hope is the light that lets us put the darkness behind us, once and for all. “Best not to look back.” Words to live by.

P.S. Forgive the messiness of this one. I simply woke up with the need to write, and the entire thing sort of stream-of-consciousnessed right out of my head in exactly this way. I feel like I’ve missed a LOT about what King is, and what he means to me, as well as missing out on an opportunity to do his books real justice. I think that you can probably expect me to write more on Stephen King in the future, because I simply feel like I haven’t successfully conveyed my thoughts here. In any case, I hope you enjoyed this, and if you’ve never read any Stephen King, I obviously can’t recommend him enough. Do yourself a favor and go pick up It or The Shining. You won’t regret it.

P.P.S It occurred to me that this sort of glosses over the contributions that my friends and family had to helping me through this garbage. Rest assured, I never would have been functional enough or open enough to see the quote in the way I did had it not been for their support. Thank you all.

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Goodbye, Robin

I’d give anything to have nothing to write about this week.

There are going to be four million blog posts and articles and tributes in the coming weeks, and months, and maybe even years about Robin Williams, and how funny he was, and inspiring, and wonderful. There will be expressions of shock and horror at the fact that such an apparently happy man, a man who by most definitions had everything, took his own life. People will misunderstand. People will call him a coward. He was anything but. My post is sure to get lost in the shuffle, but I just have to post it anyway.

I wish I could say I was shocked, or that I didn’t understand why he did what he did. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Robin Williams was always a man who had problems. His substance abuse problems were talked about openly and often. His choices in dramatic roles were almost always in films centered around mental illness or suicide. He struggled with it all his life. No, I’m not shocked. In fact, that’s why this has hurt me so dearly.

I have contemplated suicide. I have done it many times in my life, in varying degrees of seriousness. In those moments, more than once, I have thought about films he made. What Dreams May Come. Patch Adams. Dead Poets Society. Hell, even Jack, which I never liked very much. It wasn’t the laughs or smiles he brought to my face that helped me. It was seeing that he Knew. This man I had never met not only understood what I lived through. He not only turned that experience around to try and teach others about it and explore it from all angles. More than that, he was making it work. He took those bursts of energy and turned them to his advantage. He took those lows and made them work for him. Everything he did was in open defiance of his mental illness. He seemed so powerful to me. He was a man I could look up to in every way imaginable.

I do not know how I am going to reconcile this fact in my head. How can it be that the man I so often turned to for inspiration and motivation to keep on going has succumbed to the very illness he helped me fight?

This question brings me to the point of my post.

The fact that he took his own life, as far as we know, is an incredibly difficult thing to understand, but it can teach us one more valuable lesson: No one is untouchable. Depression, bipolar, anxiety disorders, all other forms of mental illness, can hit anyone. He was a man with all the support and love in the world. I can think of not one other person so universally loved. Not worshipped from afar. Not adored, or idolized. LOVED. Truly and deeply, like he was a member of the family. Despite all of this, despite his honesty about his problems, despite his supportive friends and family, despite his BILLIONS of loving fans… he felt he had to leave this world. That needs to be understood and accepted, as hard as it may be. Depression is that powerful. It strips you of everything.

If you deal with depression or other mental illness, feel free to skip the next paragraph. If you haven’t please, please read it. It’s going to get rough, but you need to understand.

Those of you who have never suffered from depression, I want you to think for a moment. We all put up a wall to separate the real person we feel we are from those around us. Now imagine that that wall is stripped away. Next, imagine that you have all sense of self-worth torn from you as well, leaving you with nothing but your insecurities. Imagine the world feeling cold, and dark. Imagine being alone in a small, lightless room, with nothing there but the very worst parts of yourself, the very worst things. This is as close as I can come to describing what depression feels like. All joy, all purpose, all sense of meaning and love and support that you have ever known is gone, and there is nothing that can truly make you certain that it will ever return. Now understand that in our society, we have spent our entire lives having it drilled into us that only weaklings feel this. That it’s sick and wrong to feel like you need a way out. That asking for help is laughable, and awful, and people will think less of you if you do it. It’s Hell on Earth. Plain and simple.

Depression is an illness like any other. It’s treatable, like most mental illnesses. It can be lived with, and dealt with. You can live a long, happy life. It’s always there, though. You need to be armed against it, in order to help yourself or any loved ones you know who suffer from it. The most important thing you can do, for a loved one, or for yourself, is to find a way of remembering that it IS only temporary. Depressions end. Staying alive is the most important thing.

It is not weakness to contemplate suicide, any more than it is weakness to be mentally ill to begin with. It’s natural to want a way out. However, it does show incredible strength to ask for help. Of all people on this planet, I know how hard it can be to do so. It took me years to open up enough to admit that I needed help to myself, longer to admit it to friends, and longer still to admit it to my family and doctor. You need to do it, though. You CAN do it. You can be strong.

Those with mentally ill or depressed loved ones, or even just loved ones who always seem to be putting up a front? Just make sure you’re there with them through the tough times. Make sure you’re there to help them see that there is an end to their pain that isn’t an end to their joy as well. They may be hostile. They may be difficult to understand. You may find yourself unable to communicate with them the way they want. You must understand, there are no easy fixes, and patience and understanding and empathy are paramount.

Above all else, if you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, please, please tell someone. If you want to keep it anonymous, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. It’s free, it’s anonymous, and it can save your life.

Robin Williams was a wonderful, wonderful man. He brought me joy, and tears, and moved me in ways that so few have. Without even knowing it, this man has been a part of my support system for years, and losing him has left a hole in me that may never heal. I just want to conclude this by saying thank you, Robin. Thank you for all of it.

I know it’s already a cliche, and millions have said it, but what else is left to say? These words, though written by a great poet about another great man, nevertheless sum up my feelings perfectly.

O Captain, my Captain.

I’m afraid we haven’t won the prize, yet. May this tragedy bring us a step closer.

O Captain, my Captain.

The Figurative Voice in My Head Didn’t Want This Blog to Exist

This is a pretty consistent problem with me. I get all geared up, I start actually working on something regularly, be it this blog, or working on writing fiction, or poetry, or exercising. Things chug along for a while there, and I’m pretty happy with what I’m turning out. Slowly though, ever so slowly, stuff starts to creep in at the edges. My obsessive, worrying nature latches on to my enthusiasm and productivity like a cat on curtains and rides them all the way down, shredding them as it goes.

It’s a pretty consistent, discouraging blast of self-discouragement. The thoughts range from legitimate self-criticism like Why did you yak on about Space Camp for like ten paragraphs, what is this, middle school English class? to complete absurdities like What would Hugh Jackman think if he read this? I bet he would be embarrassed, Kyle. He would be ashamed. You would disappoint Wolverine, how does THAT sit with you? Not very well, figurative voice in my head. Not very well at all.

This causes me to quickly lose interest out of self-defense. It’s far easier to happily live my life if I’m not too busy worrying about whether or not famous actors approve of my choices. However, in doing so, I give up a pretty good opportunity to seek more and push farther than I usually do. This time around, I’m not going to let it happen. There’s absolutely no way.

Tonight, I suddenly remembered that it had been Wednesday, and that I hadn’t yet written a blog. Ah well. You can just write one tomorrow. It’s not like anyone is waiting with baited breath to read your inane rantings on, like, vampires or whatever. No one’ll care. It started out sort of friendly. Like the figurative voice in my head was trying to be supportive by saying I was allowed to take a break. That’s how figurative voices in your head get you, though! They’re tricky.

It soon moved on to another tactic. Okay, fine. You really want to feel bad about not writing today, huh? Fine, why not read some of your more recent ones! Oh, yeah, remember that Zelda one? Boy, I bet you feel dumb about that now. All cryin’ and shit. My figurative head-voice is kind of a bully. I pushed past the attitude, trying to find a reason to write, a focus, something to spark some vague interest in writing tonight’s blog.

I told my friend Jess, she of acting and japanese steakhouse fame, that I had forgotten. She encouraged me to write like the wind. I opened the site, and sat there staring. What to write? What could I possibly write with no planning? I turned again to Jess. “Minecraft!” It’s not a bad suggestion, actually. I went so far as to type the word Minecraft in the title line before FHV popped up again. Minecraft? Seriously? MINECRAFT? You’re going to slap out a blog about a literally plotless video game where you move blocks around? I considered this. Though I believe that there’s a blog in that game, I didn’t think I could possibly write it in one sitting with no thought. Though the game is simple, the feelings it inspires are complex.

So what to write? I was deeply discouraged. FHV had almost won. We both knew that I hadn’t forgotten so much as I had pushed it under some stuff in the corner of my mind to give myself an excuse to fail. Suddenly, I noticed something. The stat bar on my page had moved. Someone actually read my blog today. I took a look, and lo and behold, several people have read it this week. Suddenly, I felt invigorated. I felt energized.

I dove deep into the recesses of my mind, and I found FHV in the old moors. We stared at each other across a dark, foggy field. He was tall and broad of build, with dark hair and eyes. His face was fairly handsome beneath the beard, and somehow… familiar. I smiled. Why are you smiling? he asked, his eyes full of malice. His voice was powerful and melodic, with an Australian accent. My eyes widened in shock. Of course! How had I not seen it before!? My lips moved to form the name I dared not speak aloud. Hugh Jackman.

Seriously, he destroys sinks in a weridly high number of his movies, keep an eye out for it.

The sink-hating bastard in the flesh.

He gave a subtle nod, indicating that he knew I’d recognized him. I was confident in my own power this time, though. I stood my ground. “I have what I need to defeat you,” I said, softly, with a smirk. You can’t beat me! You’ve never beaten me, and you don’t even have a topic! I didn’t look away for a moment. The fog swirled around us as I spoke. “Don’t be so sure, you bastard of a literary device/triple threat! I have you right where I want you!” FHV/Hugh Jackman looked at me, his dark eyes wide with fear for the first time. What? No! “Oh yes,” came my reply. Suddenly, I raised my voice, calling into the mists, “I’M GOING TO WRITE A BLOG ABOUT NOT BEING ABLE TO WRITE A BLOG!” It can’t be done! NO ONE can escape that level of pretentious meta! You’ll never survive! The fear in FHV’s voice was as thick as maple syrup and even sweeter. My face split wide into a laugh as I showed him the computer monitor. “I already have.” FHV/Hugh Jackman screamed in agony. A brilliant white light poured forth, tearing him to shreds. He melted away like a candle, leaving only a greasy black residue in the moors of my mind.

He’ll be back. He always comes back. He doesn’t always look like Hugh Jackman, though. That got weird fast. For now, I can kick back and take pleasure in the fact that I just wrote an entire blog about defeating a figurative voice in my head that looked like Hugh Jackman so that I could write an entire blog about defeating a figurative voice in my head that looked like Hugh Jackman. I sat down with the goal of finishing something to post tonight, to keep my momentum and make sure that I didn’t lose this blog too, and I have done that. I may only be able to get away with something this absurd once, so at least I can say I did it in style.

Suck on that, Hugh Jackman.

Homesick for Hyrule

“The Legend of Zelda is the closest thing I have to a religion.” This is a sentence that I’ve repeated often in recent days and months, with a note of pleasure and wonder in my voice. With the announcement of a new, massive, open-world Zelda game at this year’s E3, my excitement for the franchise has never been higher or more powerful. I’ve written before, years ago, about how I came to love the franchise, and the sequence of events that drew me into the land of Hyrule. Forgive me if I paraphrase myself here, because I feel like that history is important. I’ll keep it short, however, because what I’m really attempting to do here is finally find words to describe just how deep and powerful my adoration of the games go, and why. To that end, I’ll talk about the first real experience I had with a Zelda game. I’ll leave deeper examinations of the specific games and their content for another time and place, but more on that later.

It occurs to me now that some of you reading this might not know anything about Zelda, so I’ll fill you in. In a nutshell, the games are about a young man, Link, and a young girl, Zelda, who are the living personifications of courage and wisdom. They are reborn again and again throughout many thousands of years to protect the mythical land of Hyrule together from all sorts of threats, usually but not always driven by the living personification of power, the demon king Ganon. Each of the three represents and holds a piece of the Triforce, and ancient relic that, when united, will grant the wish of the holder. Link is the player character, and uses a wide variety of magic items and skills to defeat myriad monsters. There are gods and goddesses and alternate timelines and dragons and… just… just all kinds of stuff. It’s pretty great. Anyway.

I was introduced to Zelda first in seeing my Uncle playing the original, and then a few years later a friend of mine who lived down the street playing A Link to the Past on the SNES. The games got my attention, and I loved trying to play them, though at the time I hardly understood what I was doing and never really got anywhere. I didn’t really understand then just how much they would come to mean to me some day.

When you’re growing up, it’s incredible just how much difference a year or two can make. When I was ten, I never really grasped the concept of games that were more complex than the simple goals of Super Mario and Sonic The Hedgehog’s “walk to the right and jump” objectives. I played more complex games anyway, but the open, explorable locales in the Zelda games were daunting and intimidating, and I was never able to get the hang of them due to my limited time with them. By the time I was twelve, however, I was able to grasp the more complex concepts, helped along, I’m sure, by my increased love of written fiction. That’s when things changed, and I began to see the true face of the franchise.

I first saw The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time at a school friend’s house, VERY shortly after it came out. I had already been reading about it a bit in the relevant issue of Nintendo Power Magazine, and I was deeply intrigued. I watched him play it at his home, and was entranced. I didn’t play, that I remember. I know I adored it. I don’t really remember how or when I got my own copy of the game. Memory is odd like that, of course. What I do remember is the feeling that it brought me the first time I played my own copy.

My anxieties hadn’t really surfaced yet, but my mind was already buzzing with thoughts and misfiring feelings that I couldn’t express or explain or connect. I couldn’t relax or find peace. Video games of the time didn’t really help with it, either. They were always a flurry of activity. Even the previous Zelda titles had monsters on nearly every screen, constant pressure to fight or flee. Though I loved them, the constant stream of colors and sounds and images would overstimulate me, messing with my moods, and putting stress on me in ways I didn’t understand. I would become irritable quickly. It was like taking a busy intersection and introducing a second set of traffic lights that contradicted the first set. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, marked a change in the style of video games that changed that, and made them into a respite for me.

This game was different. The music on the opening screen was soft and soothing, the moon rising in the night sky of a field in a beautiful canyon. A young man in green rode by on a horse, kicking up dust. As he galloped past, night turned to day, and the camera panned over to a walled castle, the drawbridge lowering over the moat. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.Image

 

Looking back now, the graphics are certainly archaic, but for me they still have that haunting beauty. 

The reason that this game was such a turning point is incredibly simple. It is, first and foremost, a world. This game brought me into the land of Hyrule in a way that I had never been brought into a world before. I explored Hyrule’s fields, I dove to the bottom of Lake Hylia, I climbed to the top of Death Mountain and slew a dragon. I journeyed through time. I fought hard and long, and saw many dangers, and persevered, and saved the world from darkness. All of that was amazing, and made a weak little kid who was just learning about how big and scary the world really was feel powerful and courageous. None of that was what drew me into the series and drove it deep into my soul, however.

As I wandered the land of Hyrule, speaking with people and visiting the towns, I found something. There were areas of the game with no enemies, no quests, no goals. There were options to break away from the pace of the game, and just explore the beautiful world it presented. There I found ways to make my own stories. I discovered secrets. Most important of all, I found peace. For the first time, I found a place where the incessant motoring of my mind couldn’t touch me. I could close my eyes, and listen to the soothing music, and imagine the wind sweeping through the fields, the smell of the wild grass, and I was there, in Hyrule, this beautiful world that I wanted to protect.

That feeling has carried with me for nearly twenty years now. I eventually rediscovered the games that came before Ocarina, and grew to love them just as deeply. There have been some missteps along the way, and a few games that I don’t much care for, but as a whole, the series has been amazing. More importantly than that, though, it has become a part of me. When I hear the music swell, or see the worlds play across the screen, I feel shivers up and down my spine. I feel it coursing through me, that call to adventure, the certainty that I’ll be needed again to protect the place I love.

One of the suggestions often received during therapy is to try and find a sort of “happy place”, and hold it in your mind, putting yourself there to calm the senses. Hyrule is the closest thing I have to such a place. My entire life has been informed by the feelings I have for this wonderful legend. The cool, quiet places in the world that I adore most all make me feel like some piece of me has traveled somehow to that mythical place. Even as I write this, I have to blink back tears, because I’m homesick for a place that I can never go.

I have no doubt that this sounds strange to a lot of you, and that you may never understand, or even ever want to. That’s fine with me. You can chalk this up to my mental illness, and call it an unwarranted obsession. I don’t care. I’ve been struggling for my entire life to explain to people just why these games so deeply affect me, and I don’t even feel like I’ve succeeded here today. The closest that I can come is to say that in fiction I found my god, and in Zelda I found my religion.

The new title in the series which was announced yesterday seems to genuinely be everything I could dream of in a Zelda title already. We know nothing of the story, or the gameplay, or the details of the world. Hell, there are even rumors flying around that the main character may not be Link at all. None of this matters to me as much as the fact that if the description Nintendo gave is accurate, it’s a truly open world.

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According to Nintendo, this is what Hyrule will look like, in game. You can explore the entire world you see. Traveling all the way back to the distant mountains and exploring them was specifically mentioned. When I saw this, my heart stopped. I stood up from my chair, and clamped a hand over my mouth. This… this is what heaven will be like if I get there. This is the closest I’ve ever been or likely ever will be to actually being in Hyrule. I can’t wait.

These games have been a constant uplifting force in my life. They make up the very core of the light side of my personality, tied together with countless other works of fiction. In light of my deep affection for the franchise, I’ve been playing through the games in sequence, in the order of the official timeline put out by Nintendo. I’ve set aside a blog, where I’ll talk in great detail about each game, what it means to me, what it means to the world of the games, and more. They’re bound to be in-depth examinations with a huge amount of emotion and care, and as such will take a long time to complete. When I finish the introductory post, and finally get cracking on it, I’ll post the link here. Until then, if you’ve never played one of these games, I can’t recommend them enough.

 

Communications Technology Changed My Life, or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love Social Media

I’m sure you’ve heard something like this before. The Baby Boomer generation and the Gen X’ers don’t seem to agree on much, but by and large, they dislike one thing together: cell phones, social media, the internet, and the way us no good kids have forgotten how to communicate and make friends in the real world. There’ve been hundreds if not thousands of posts going over why they think we’re lazy good-for-nothings who need a kick in the pants, and why we think they’re frightened old cavemen who are afraid of the new world. I’m not going to bore you with that. Instead, what I’m going to do is spell out my own experiences with this new world, good and bad, to show how, for at least one person, this new world has been a life saver.

My parents will tell you that I was a happy kid. That a smile was never far from my face, that I laughed and ran around a lot, without a care in the world. Hell, they’ll tell you that my nick-name was “Smiley” for years. In a way they’re right, because when I was a kid, I didn’t know what else to do BUT smile. The truth is that I never felt particularly happy. I just knew that they liked it when I smiled, so I did. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I have an extreme difficulty with my emotions. I only ever really feel the most extreme ones, and then I have difficulty controlling them, unless I find a way to connect to them through fiction. This was never more true than my years in middle school and high school. I was off the wall, I had difficulty connecting, so I just did extreme things, not really understanding that I was different from other people, or how. I’ll talk about that more in-depth in another post, I think, so for now, just understand that I was beyond socially awkward and into the “who is that weird kid, shit, he’s probably a serial killer” area.

Enter the internet. I remember the exact date we got it, because it affected my life so deeply, right from the start. I remember the first time I heard those horrible dial-up modem sounds. I remember my first username and e-mail (k86dragon. Come on, guys, I was twelve).  I remember the first website I went to (the official Star Wars website. I finally learned to spell Kashyyyk!). It was an incredible day for me.

It was only a matter of time before I discovered the infant forms of social media. I had a LiveJournal, I messed around a little in Yahoo! chatrooms, I got my very own AIM account. The big change for me came in the form of a little website called Gaia Online. I joined a long time ago, just before the transition from its original forum state to Gaia. It’s difficult to explain exactly what this site was/is to people who aren’t involved with it, but I’m going to try.

Basically, it’s a forum site that was originally designed to talk about anime, but became something very different. They implemented a system where you had an avatar that you could customize by spending gold, which you earned simply by surfing around on the site. It became a sort of a role-playing site in time, where not only did people discuss things, but they played a sort of a game. Not unlike, say, Dungeons and Dragons, people would create characters, using the customization of the avatar to represent them as they saw fit. Many people stayed in character the entire time they were on the site, which rapidly became one massive, deeply complex, living, interactive fantasy story, with millions of writers. People played vampires, knights, witches, warriors, detectives, aliens, cyborgs, literally whatever they wanted, and all interacted on this massive stage. It combined the best elements of acting, improv, and writing, and was deeply satisfying to me. It was here, you see, that I met my first friends.

In real life, I was a train-wreck of a person, able to fake that smile all I wanted, but utterly unable to deal with any other emotions. The depressive and manic cycles that ripped through me were generally the only emotions I felt, causing me to be wildly unpredictable at the best of times, and flat out cold, cruel, and distant at the worst. Online, though…

Online, I watched how other people acted. I saw how they phrased things, saw the intricate description of their feelings, and found that, like with fiction, I was able to feel them through the writing. Better than that, because I was able to interact with the people directly, I found myself learning to feel, or at least mimic them in the real world. I learned the rules of social interaction and comfortable communication through the internet, and the people it connected me to. I have no doubt in my mind that without this support system, I wouldn’t be half as functional as I am today.

Through this website, I met several people from all over the country who I’m very good friends with to this day. I still talk and text with these people, both online and off, nearly every day of my life. There’s a deep sense of connection there that I’ve always had trouble forming in the real world. The ones I HAVE formed, I’ve done so with these friendships as guides.

As time passed on, I outgrew Gaia Online, as did most of my friends. I still RP sometimes, but now it’s private and between friends, and feels like a writing exercise and a way to promote creativity as well as an escape. I’ll always be thankful to the site for showing me the way to people I never would have met without it, and for paving the way for the next big change in my life: cell phones.

I had a cell for the latter part of high school, but I didn’t use it for much. The occasional call to an online friend, a call home to my parents here and there, long chats with the girlfriend at the time (Side note: She’s my blog partner here now!). With college came a new group of friends, and the first time I really genuinely felt like I had found a place in the world. They taught me a lot, and helped me adjust even more to the world, and inspired me to try to be a better person. The important part for this entry, however, is that they showed me the joys of text messaging. I discovered that simply by having a phone, I was now in constant contact with literally every friend I had.

This was the time in my life when my issues stopped being a background feature, and something I just ignored, to being the driving force behind every action I made. I stopped being able to eat, touch, or even look at the things that I didn’t like. I began compulsively washing my hands and hair, something which has only gotten worse over the years. I began having minor hallucinations regularly instead of just occasionally. I became more paranoid than ever, and soon discovered that when I was alone was when these things struck hardest. Being with people always helps, and always has, but you can only spend so much time with friends. The phone became my lifeline.

You see, because I spent most of my formative years constantly online, being in text contact with someone feels as real to me as having them in the room. When I’m alone, and things start to twist around in my head, clogging the gears and filling my whole brain with lead and blood, all I have to do is reach out for my phone, send a text, and suddenly I’m not alone anymore. These texts can be a simple thing, hiding my fear and despair with a happy conversation, or they can be an outpouring of agony that waxes weirdly poetic, a stream of consciousness rant that feels like it pours my demons onto the screen, where my friends and I can fight them together.

I hear phrases like “internet addiction” and “Cell phone addiction” tossed around a lot, and I find them insulting. While there are no doubt people who are obsessed with these things to unhealthy levels, it’s not the net or the phone I crave. It’s my friends.

Think about this. Thirty, forty, fifty years ago, when you graduated high school or college, and you and your friends went your separate ways, what happened? You began to drift apart. You found friendship in other places, yes. Perhaps work. Perhaps your family. In either case, or any other, however, your communication and interaction were limited by proximity. Sure, you could make a phone call, or send a letter, but who had the time, when you were living your new lives? You could have a real, genuine conversation with your best friend at most, what, once, twice a week? In many cases, far less. Once or twice a month wasn’t unheard of. I was raised my entire life expecting this. I watched my parents and their friends drift apart, and it seemed only natural, but still, deeply sad. Now, look at me. I don’t see my best friend from high school very much any more. I see my best friends from college once a week, if I’m lucky. Do you know what, though? I talk to them every single day. For hours at a time. During downtime at work, when they’re at home with their own families, when they’re shopping, or reading, or playing video games, my friends and I are always connected. I’ve had enough conversations with them to last a lifetime, and I’m not even thirty yet. We have this constant connection, and that allows us to form a bond deeper than any I ever thought possible.

Every person I have ever known is at my fingertips. If I want to know how my friend from the creative arts program in high school is doing? I ask him on Facebook. If an acquaintance from years ago sees something that makes them think of me? They tag me into the topic. My world is constantly and powerfully connected, and this has proven the single greatest tool in my arsenal against my mental illness and anxiety, because I can ALWAYS reach out with faith that someone will take my hand.

There is a dark side, however, and one that I’ve been bitten and wounded by many times, and used to bite and wound in turn. Social media is a powerful, powerful tool. We can use it to share ideas and beliefs and find friends, and stay in contact with loved ones that we otherwise may have lost… but that instantaneous sharing of knowledge is dangerous. We all have bad thoughts. We all want to hurt people sometimes, and to insult, or attack, or otherwise express momentary feelings of spite and rage and jealousy. The way that a single click can whip our innermost thoughts into the world, where they can never be deleted or taken back, should never be forgotten.

Being able to know people more completely than we ever have before is overwhelming as well as beautiful. People who, in times past, you may have had a long-term friendship with, never suspecting that their innermost thoughts were harmful, now wear those thoughts on their sleeves, simply because the speed with which they can say them doesn’t allow time to think it through. People appear more callous and cruel than ever, only because the sheathe is now off the blade of our thoughts and minds.

People I love dearly have hurt me deeply in this way, and I know I’ve hurt people just as deeply, both in defense and attack. I’ve previously written about how deeply fiction affects me. It’s a soft spot for me. Negatively speaking about something I love sets off a reaction in me that I can’t always control, causing an explosion of the rage and despair that seem to be the only emotions I can ever feel completely without effort, because in that moment it feels like I, myself, am being judged. I’ve had countless public arguments on social media, and I’ve been the swear-word slinging, cold-hearted monster more than once during these times. Not only can I use the internet to share my pain, but to spread it around all too easily. I’m by far not the only one.

Everyone I know has said something they wished they could take back. Everyone I know has become wrapped up in a fight they shouldn’t have online. Everyone I know has showed their most awful sides to the world. Smarter men than me have said that telepathy would cause society to crumble. Social media is a form of selective telepathy. We broadcast our thoughts to the world, striving to be seen as the best versions of ourselves, but every mask slips, every veneer cracks, and the truth shines through vibrantly.

The constant deluge of news and opinions shows the darkest side of the world. I find myself routinely driven into depression by the news, by science and the approach of a turning point in humanity that I may live to see, by people championing causes that I support but can’t handle emotionally, and I don’t know how to turn it off without receding from the tool that helped me learn how to be (or at least appear) human when I never felt like I was. I try to pull away from just those aspects of it that do the damage, but it can be cruel and crass to do so. It’s a really sticky situation.

So where does that leave us? What do I think of this whole big mess of a world within a world, and the constant, deep connectivity that comes with it? With all its pleasures and pains, and the rippling, shifting, rapid culture it has given to the world? Make no mistake, the internet and social media are a culture in and of themselves, with customs and art forms and leaders and subcultures, and that’s where the key to this question lies.

It’s wonderful, and beautiful, and awful, and messy, and filled with horrors and wonders, even putting aside the technical, magical marvel that it is (and I can and likely will write and entire blog on the nature of just the tech). Just like every culture that has ever existed, it’s evolving, and changing. The thing about cultures is that if allowed to thrive and grow naturally, they often get better. People get kinder. The world they connect to can become more pleasant. Stop for a moment and consider, really think about the way the internet is now compared to the way it has been. Sure, there’s always been a blend of good and bad in it, but just this week, actor Levar Burton used the power of this to fund the return of Reading Rainbow, a show that’s unquestionably good for mankind. Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, Penn Gilette, Wil Wheaton, and countless more celebrities use it every day to call out to good people everywhere, to participate in charities and causes, to speak out against injustice and cruelty the world over… and it’s working. The voices of the good are beginning to drown out the outcries of the bad. People are learning. it’s not a huge difference, it’s not a huge step, but it’s something.

This alien thing called social media has irrevocably altered the world. This is terrifying, there’s no doubt about that. At the end of it all, though, when I look back on my life, and myself as a person, I know that the influence it’s had in my life has been overwhelmingly good, in spite of all the pain that comes with it. Even last week, when I went out to the zoo, in a deeply public, crowded, dirty place for the first time in years, looking at the experience through the lens of the live blog I was doing drastically reduced my anxiety and paranoia. My connection to the world is greater with a smartphone in my pocket than without. This new world does something of indescribable value: it gives me hope.

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.