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i.e., with wry

October 24, 2013

Lately I’ve been realizing all over again that I was really quite a solitary child. There were neighborhood children in both of the places I lived whose play I occasionally joined, but that was usually for a large endeavor like 10 kids playing Capture the Flag, or Kick the Can.

One-on-one, I didn’t really understand other kids. I didn’t really feel like I was a kid.

I remember peering at my face in the gold-patterned mirrored tiles in the bathroom of our old house, looking for visible signs of the great weariness and despair I felt on a daily basis. I thought I should resemble someone who was 90 or 100, given all the outsized cares I had to deal with. Instead, I just looked like what I was — a sad and careworn 10 year old.

The only ‘natural’ area close by our old house was an empty lot everyone called The Triangle because of its shape. There was a gravel path across the base, and a few shrubs between that path and my parents’ lot line, but the rest of the lot was overgrown only with crabgrass, dandelions, chicory, Queen Anne’s lace, and other wildflowers that flourish in disturbed areas. I spent more time there when I was outside than anywhere else. I’d crouch in the thicket of the bushes, and pretend it was my den, that I was a small mammal. I’d watch bugs, and birds. See if I could get still enough that they would forget I was there. Walking around, I’d play with rocks. I’d pick flowers. I would talk to anyone, all non-humans; unlike humans, they didn’t walk away. They didn’t call me mean names. They didn’t make fun of me.

During my fifth grade year, our family moved to a different town. The neighborhood behind my parents’ neighborhood was mostly empty lots — that were still forested. They became my new escape. If I went far enough into this forest, eventually I reached the DuPage River.

I was truly myself in the forest, in the river, on the island.

I never felt that way in my parents’ homes . . . unless I was immersed in a book. I loved reading because it was a way to escape, even when I was surrounded by people. And unlike playing by myself for hours in the forest or in the river, reading seemed like a perfectly safe activity. So, up to a point, my mother encouraged me to read. Not only was reading good for your mind, but it helped you with school (in theory anyway).

Reading as much as I did — not just the sheer number of books, but their wide ranging topics (my parents never paid any attention to what I read, so nothing was censored) — showed me that the world was wide, and filled with an astonishing variety of people, places, and ways to do things that in no way resembled what I saw around me. So when the teachers at my parochial school insisted that we children had to do what they said because it was the way of the world, and it had always been thus, . . . I knew that wasn’t true. I wasn’t sure they knew it. They didn’t appreciate my efforts to educate them.

I rarely had anything in common with children my own age. I often tried to make friends with the friends of my younger siblings; mostly that didn’t work.

I never would’ve thought of trying to ‘make friends’ with teachers, but it sure would’ve been nice if there had ever been a teacher who noticed what a hard time I was having, and tried to help. But there wasn’t. Most of the teachers were either bullies as bad as the kids, or just indifferent. I was bullied right in front of my teachers and they deliberately looked the other way, and did nothing.

It was worse at home of course. At least at school, it wasn’t personal. I was just another freak who was an easy target because I had no idea how to defend myself. But where would I have learned?

It was easier, infinitely easier, to just sleep as much as I could. Daydream. And read books.

I estimate that by the time I was 25, I had read 10,000 books. Many of them were YA or books for kids, but many of them weren’t.

I have to be careful about how candid I am with other adults, even those who read a lot. Generally other adults have full-time jobs, so the time available for reading is limited. They have families, hobbies; they watch TV.

I think it was at AROHO over the summer when I had a conversation with someone who said they love to read, read a lot, and were keeping a list of which books they read. I kept quiet, waiting to hear how many books they were talking about. Rightfully so, as it turned out to be around 100 books a year. Which is slightly <2 books per week. It would never occur to me that reading 100 books per year could be remotely interesting to anyone else. However, when I told Spouse about this conversation, he reminded me that he usually reads around 10 books a year.

I’ve been tracking the books I read with LibraryThing. Since sometime in 2010, I’ve read all the way through >1,100 books. 2012 was my highest year, at 387; this year I’m not even close to 300.

+++

I should perhaps mention that when I was in junior high (now middle school), our school offered a course in speed reading. Since I already read faster than anyone I knew, I tried to opt out, but they said it was mandatory. Once I had completed the course, I read even faster, but with greater comprehension. In high school, I was again required to take a speed reading course, despite my protests that it was unnecessary. I again improved, increasing my reading speed further and somewhat raising my comprehension so that it approached 100%.

+++

Yesterday I attended an environmental talk in Frederick. Some of the slides had humorous captions, and I laughed way before everyone else.

I also enjoy thinking more than anyone I know. I really enjoy deep thinking, which doesn’t seem to be an activity that anyone I know does, at all. I know other people do it, because I’ve read their books. Hopefully someday I will also write books.

Not sure anyone will want to read them.

As I’ve mentioned before, Spouse used to, at least occasionally, read my blog, but he stopped because, he said, he often didn’t know what I was talking about. Back when I was part of the communities of (old) Slacktivist and then (new) Slacktiverse (2009–2012), I regularly had spikes of readers here of 50, 60, sometimes even 200 a day. When I left those forums, though, all those readers disappeared. Now I’m lucky if I have 3 readers a day.

So I guess it’s kind of ironic that I started blogging as a way to converse with . . . someone who was interested in what I had to say. I imagine that ‘person’ as the Universe, as if the Universe could be considered an entity who is just really interested in everything going on within itself, from teeny tiny scale of quarks, or cells, to immense scale of solar systems and galaxies. If their gaze encompasses all, wonders about all, surely they might be an engaging conversational partner? Occasionally I even get signs (synchronicities) that they seem to be trying to help.

Before I blogged, my memories and feelings and thoughts about everything under the sun were all clumped together, like a hairball clogging a drain. I didn’t really know what I remembered, what I felt, or what I thought. Blogging has been a way to sort out the fibers from the detritus. To realize that sometimes ‘detritus’ tells me much more that’s useful than ‘fibers’.

One of the things I prize most in a conversation is flashes of insight. The other person telling me something truly compelling that I had never noticed or did not realize. When I first met Spouse, we had conversations like that with some frequency. We still do, every once in a while. I’ve had other smart and/or thoughtful friends who cared enough about me to tell me things like that. Because you have to know the other person pretty well before it’s likely to be a useful insight. (I hope I’ve been able to provide occasional insights for them too.)

Overall, though, conversations with friends tend to consist of everyday kinds of concerns, with insights being rare occurrences. I also think other people don’t value insights nearly as much as I do.

But when I blog, and I’m conversing not just with the Universe, but with my own selves (known and unknown), if we want to pursue insights single-mindedly, we can. If we want to painstakingly revisit Trauma Incident Q for the 8,019th time, we can. If one day we’re in a fey mood, and as a lark we revisit a particular day that was terrifying in some ways . . . but for the first time we realize we also felt exhilarated and sort of hopeful . . . we can feel that, all these years later. We can write about it. And afterward, some things shift inside us, granting us a fuller understanding of who we really are. Not just the patient martyr, not just the terrified child, . . . but someone —even amidst the end of the world — reckless, exuberant, willing to grab the brass ring of that moment with both hands (and teeth, if necessary) rather than not find out what we’re capable of.

People who know me, who know my stories, who at least know of the other people involved in my traumas, tend to prefer certain identities for me. Like the patient martyr, the terrified child, etc. My complexity makes them nervous. It made me nervous for years; that’s why those feelings and memories were suppressed. They were dangerous — they might topple the world as I understood it. And they sort of did, but not the way I feared.

Walt Whitman wrote, “I am large — I contain multitudes.” (Or something like that.) It’s true. I’m stronger and more interesting and more complicated than I ever could’ve guessed before I started blogging. I’m always surprising myself. Even when I’m unsettled by revelations, I would still say I’m surprised In A Good Way, because I learned. No one else (but, perhaps, the Universe) finds me endlessly fascinating to the same degree that I do. If I spoke with a human friend about myself as often as I blog about myself, our friendship would wither away. They would call me selfish, self-absorbed, thoughtless, and they’d be right. It’s not sustainable with other human beings. But I still need to do it. Blogging makes it possible to meet that need.

And then if those human friends are (occasionally) interested, they can read about it, or not. They don’t ever have to mention to me that they read it, unless they want to engage for some reason: clarify something; suggest something.

Blogging helps me put myself first. For as long as I need to. Whenever I need to.

Blogging just may be the best friend I’ve ever had.

And that’s why I write.

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