Tuesday, February 17, 2009

How to Be Smart

When I was little, around 3 or 4 or so, I was read to. Quite a bit. Lots of cool picture books and the like. I’m not sure if that’s what did it, but I certainly developed a fondness for reading only matched by my fondness for electronic games. At some point I figured out that the entire world was out there, in books, magazines, newspapers and the like. My first major literary love was the Animorphs series. In second grade, I read as many of those as I could get. I was also quite fond of the Goosebumps series of stories, though they started to wear thin, as every single book included a “surprise” twist ending. After that, in third grade, I was turned on to the harry potter series. I received the 3rd book from the mother of a girl I had been friends with since swim lessons when we were five. I read the third book and absolutely loved it, leading to my rapid consumption of the other two. After that, I can’t say there were any particular trends in the realm of fiction. At some point in 7th or 8th grade, I discovered the brilliant wit and magic of Diana Wynn Jones. I read a great deal of her books in another short span. Ah, I read Enders shadow when I was in 6th grade and absolutely loved it. So I read Enders Game, but not the later novels, at least not until I was fourteen or so. In 8th grade I read all of Dan Brown’s terrible, terrible novels after reading The Da Vinci Code. Also in 8th, I finally read the His Dark Materials trilogy, though having heard about it several times before. It ranks up there as my most re-read novel, with only the Harry Potter series approaching. And that’s only because I would re-read the entire series of Harry Potter just before a new book came out, so I could remember what happened. My heaviest literary period was in my teens, as I went through a vast number of Crichton, King, and Card novels. I also fell in love with the wheel of time series, and finished that over the course of about half a year. Pepper and salt as you please with all sorts of smaller, unrelated books that aren’t particularly memorable. I did read the first few Series of Unfortunate Events but I wasn’t a big fan of those. I have a tendency of only reading books that are particularly critically acclaimed. I read several books in grade school based on that criterion alone. The most recent trilogy of novels I read solely for pleasure was the Soldier’s Son trilogy, by Robin Hobb last year. I thought it was pretty dang good.

That’s just the novels. Magazines I’ve subscribed to over the years (or have been subscribed for me, in the first two examples) were: 3-2-1 Contact, the children’s version of Discover. My favorite part of that magazine was a monthly story featuring some time traveling kids. Cool stuff. Zillions, the consumer reports magazine for kids. Neat reviews of toys and various doodads, with some cool parody comics aimed at corporations. Skip some time, and Electronic Gaming Monthly was the only magazine I read for awhile. Later I read a lot of the regular Discover magazine. Most recently, I read nothing but Newsweek.

Other literary things I’ve read or otherwise done mostly fall under the heading of comics (the strips, mostly). I’ve read the entirety of the following strips: Bloom County, Calvin and Hobbes, Dilbert, and Peanuts. Read massive portions of Doonesbury as a kid, and re read them getting older (something to be said for the joy of re-discovering exactly what makes the comic funny, or relevant, or biting, or whatever.) I would literally go to the library (up till around sixteen or so) and check out like twelve of their collections of comic strips. And maybe one novel. As I got older, this would translate into manga or graphic novels. The entirety of my comic book based knowledge is formed from these graphic novels. I was never dumb enough to pay two bucks for a booklet full of thirty trite dialogue pages and one page of action. The entirety of my trivial knowledge (which is far vaster than I’d like to admit) is based on the discovery of the magic of Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader, though it was later built upon through hours and hours of Wikipedia benders.

Though, as my ideological opponents will gladly (and vociferously) tell you, This only leads to book smarts. Valid intelligence, certainly, and a healthy love of books is good for anyone, but it lacks a necessary component to make one truly intelligent: social intelligence. This I may not have in spades, as my life has somewhat interrupted social development. I was a bit violent as a kid, but fairly gregarious. I found that a good deal of kids didn’t like me based on my intelligence or odd habits or whatever else. So I forced kids to like me, either through force or through coercion. Whether or nt this worked is something to leave to philosophers, as frankly I wasn’t all that interested in hanging out with other kids for much of my youth. I typically had one or two really decent friends that I’d actually talk to or hang out with and tons of acquaintances that I don’t really recall. In grade school it didn’t matter much, since you basically just played with whoever or whatever at recess. I was never the last kid called on or the only one shunned, nor was I the first. My life took a turn for the strange around sixth grade, shortly after my parents divorced. I had already been sent off to my aunt about a year previously as a solution to my “out of control behavior” wherein I’d refuse to do homework or much of anything besides play video games. Since my mother suddenly (well, the divorce was her idea, so, premeditatedly?) found herself a single mom, it put a bit of strain on her to have a relatively non functioning kid. Anyway, I returned and started sixth grade where things were a bit different. Previously, I went to the elementary school which was literally up the street from my house. For Middle school, I was expected to get up much earlier to catch a bus . Naturally, I didn’t take to well to this change, causing my mother to become rather more upset by my behavior. Middle school didn’t treat me well. I didn’t get along with anyone at the school, and I had been properly brow beaten out of fighting as a method to cope (or whatever it was) . it was then I become the losery kid who slept through morning math and was failing every class except English (I had an exceptionally stern teacher, Mrs. Beadle, who managed to frighten me into doing my work). Details here are a bit fuzzy, but at some point in this period of time I did something that seemed especially heinous to my mother, and she submitted me to a psychologist to figure out what was presumably wrong with me. The test came back more or less negative, and my mom was very annoyed at this. We left the psychologists office, and returned to the parking lot to make a phone call to her boyfriend (and later husband) Jim. At some point during this, she remarked to me “You’re not coming home with me,” which drove me into a fit of depression, fiercely enough that I hit myself several times on the head on a pillar thing that was nearby several times, until my forehead became bloody and scratched.

My mother, upon seeing this, took me back upstairs to the office and to emphasize her point, she thrust me forward in the office and shouted something along the lines of “there is something wrong with this child!” at the presumably bewildered patients and doctors. Later that day, she admitted me for the first time to (Vernon?, Divinity?, Dominion? I can’t recall. It was next to a freeway and right at the beginning of Virginia, I think) Mental Hospital. It was an interesting place, and incidentally where I read Enders Shadow. I was more or less myself, as I got over the ordeal rather quickly. During the group meetings, when we introduced ourselves, I would jokingly point at my somewhat scabbed forehead and say “I’m here because of this.” My best friend in that place was a pyromaniac. I remember once sneaking really late at night (I was a chronic insomniac back then) into another kids room to try that “put a hand in a cup of water at night to make them pee” thing. I can’t recall if it worked. Anyway, not to dwell on that too much, I was released with a diagnosis of minor depression. Details are again fuzzy here, but that certainly wasn’t the end of it. I was admitted one more time to Dominion (I’m pretty sure this is it) later, and released again with the same diagnosis (I later learned that it’s the most minimal diagnosis that can be justified having my stay there). At some point after that I was placed in a group home. The group home had been intended for teenagers, but they put me in because I was 12 and the justification was that I was close enough. The group home was another interesting experience. Naturally, I didn’t along well with the teenagers, who thought (probably rightly) that I was a pest and would gladly torment me, just for kicks. Anyway, they had a computer at the group home, though no video game consoles. I was very adamant about acquiring an internet connection for said computer (so I could play more games, natch) to the point that when I found a key ring in an old desk, I tried them all out until I found the key to the little psychologists office there and I unplugged the phone cord so as to use for an internet connection. I was never particularly good at concealing my misdeeds (I once stole a Troll branded package of gummies from a super market when I was 4. Instead of properly eating my stolen item, I went and showed it off to my mom like a week later) and I was quickly caught when the line of questioning turned towards “where did you get that?”

Of course I got in huge trouble, my mom was called, and so on. This lead my mom to taking me out of the home. Before I left, one of the counselor guys insisted on playing chess with me. He went on about how I divided and conquered people, and that was how I worked (I doubt it had anything to do with the chess game, I was terrible at chess). So this lead my mom to once again drive to a different hospital and demand (at some 10 at night) that they evaluate me. By the time someone came out, it was around two, and he said that there was nothing wrong with me. When we got home that night, my mom made me sleep on the kitchen floor and insisted on staying until I was asleep, to make sure I wouldn’t touch the gas burners (something that I had never done). Shortly afterward, I was shipped off to go live with my grandmother. There is a bit more stuff in this period, such as a house fire that led to me and mom living with Jim for awhile, and me having to take the metro and walk to school each morning (it wasn’t that bad, like four blocks away).

Well, I went to live with grandma, another interesting experience. If you may have noticed, I really don’t mention a lot of people outside myself here. I didn’t have really very many friends in this period. There was Ben and his brother Matt in the after school care, as well as my mortal nemesis, Tony, (the kid was a total dick. He once stole an awesome K’nex motorcycle thing I had made and claimed he built it. Later, while we were playing football [tackle, touch is for pussys] he ran into the brick wall we were using as a goal and had to be carted off by some medical people.) but outside of that there were few people in my life beyond me and mom. At grandmas, I didn’t do much. I didn’t go to school for the rest of sixth grade, and only had a tutor in the summer to keep me grade level or whatever was the excuse. I spent a lot of time on my grandma’s computer, playing around on the internet, downloading games, filling the thing with viruses. I played a lot of video games. I would rent an N64 game almost weekly and more or less played through every game that EGM deemed worthy that was on the n64. I discovered the magic of card games, after having dabbled in Pokemon cards in grade school. I rode the initial yu-gi-oh wave, but stuck with magic: the gathering, since the cards were cheaper. I went to a special school in seventh grade. It was pretty weird. The teacher was some sort of self healed manic depressive (or something) who often went on about how she hoped the kids would learn to get past the problems before they turned forty like she did. You were allowed, and encouraged to take your shoes off in class and stuff like that. There was also a twice a week class in Su bok to, a south Korean martial art taught by another one of the teachers at that school. I made one friend, who I think was named Eric. Very similar to me. That all more or less ended when my mom came back up to Montana to more or less reclaim me. I didn’t want to go, I was perfectly happy with my life of decadence, but she insisted to the point of calling up CPS to remove me from my grandmother’s home. That was the end of my twelth year.

So, I came back to Maryland. My mom, on the first day, impressed on me that she was very serious about things, going so far as to tie my hands together to demonstrate what would happen to me if I dared lift a finger against her (something I had never done). Properly intimidated, I went about life as best I could. I was enrolled in the local middle school (mom had moved out with and married Jim while I was in Montana), where my previous woes more or less continued. Other kids thought I was weird because I’d take off my shoes in class and wouldn’t do much work. I was also kinda chubby at this point. Too much general lethargy in Montana. So, after I got into a scuffle during P.E. (it was wrestling, and some kid had punched me after I was down. No lie, he punched me in my open mouth. The ol’ Ow! he bit me, bit. More scuffling after) I was sent of to a special school for the emotionally disturbed. I want to say it was called “Discovery” or some such. There, I was treated to some of the easiest classes I’d ever attended, where participation counted more towards a grade than actual correct answers. Also had a weekly therapy session, where I did very little beyond play fetch with a dog and answer the occasional question. At home things weren’t all that great. A few weeks after I arrived, my mom quit her job (Because, you know, she now had a rich engineer hubby to take care of her), and devoted her life to watching me, not cleaning (seriously) and spending her time on craigslist or freecycle picking up various doodads to fill our garage with. On the Jake front, I was quickly banned from eating in the living room, one of the least enforced rules I’ve seen in my life, because I had spilled some soup on the carpet. Things are going a bit out of chronological order here, as they all happened in another place and time and mindset, so bear with me if I stop making sense. At this point in time I was denied my main source of fun, namely videogames, all my consoles and stuff were still in Montana. All I had, for some reason, was a computer in my room with internet access. This was enough for me, more or less, except that access was extremely curtailed, and was on a permission basis only. I would have to nag my mom or Jim to let me on, and there were other various strange stipulations. Jim is a somewhat temperamental man, and he would sometimes refuse me access if I was too pushy. I believe I had computer privileges taken away for some amount of time for turning on the computer prematurely.

Well, I’m not sure why I wrote this. It feels good and right and all to get it out, but I’m not sure If I’m just expressing myself, or digging for sympathy. Like a lot of things, it’s probably a little of both. I don’t really tell this to many people I know, with maybe three people having some of the general idea of it. It’s true, what they say, each time you tell it, the easier it gets. Anyway, if you feel (probably rightly) that I’m just inviting you to a pity party, I hope you can forgive my vanity of holding one.

Obviously, there's more to the story, but neither my mind nor my heart is into writing the rest of it. I still feel terrible posting this, so ingrained is my self hatred for "attention seeking" or whatever. I dunno. It's complicated. Actually, I'm on the verge of deleting it again.

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