100 Things #35: Sherlock(s).

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is a staple of classic reading. However, I will admit that until a year and a half ago, I hadn’t read a single Sherlock Holmes story. And this at the time where the BBC reboot was getting big, and I had a friend prodding me to watch.

Luckily, I had two things: A brand-new Nook Simple Reader, and the URL of Project Gutenberg. Basically all the classics are available, and so I pounced on it, reading as much of the canon as I could (though admittedly out of sequence).

I went in without expectations, but the ‘classics’ were well known (by my folks, who colored my expectations) as stuffy old things.

So when the first thing that happened was the science of antemortem bruise formation, I cracked up laughing. The series as a whole has a strange, sardonic wit to it. I dove headfirst into the thrillers then, enjoying the thing without the preconceived expectations of before.

If someone’s trying to sell you on any of the reboots, I’d totally read the originals first. …then again, I’m a purist.

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100 Things #29: Reading.

Appropriate that after my hiatus from writing and reading, I get right back into the spirit of things by doing a post on reading.

When I was a kid, I read before I could read. My mom and dad instilled a love of words into me (perhaps why I was always told I talk too much when I was growing up—I LOVED words). I’d pester them as they read their books and the newspaper (remember those?), constantly asking “What’s this word?” as they read to me. This is probably why, before I was old enough to be sent to school, they taught me how to write. I remember sitting at my little yellow table in the middle of the hallway, in front of Mom’s closet that we never really opened that much—I would later sneak in, find her old glamorous clothing from her model career—and I learned how to write my letters. That came AGONIZINGLY SLOWLY—the problem was, I was a born leftie and my mom was training me right-handed. (The relic persists in sports.)

But reading came fast.

Before I knew it I’d blown through all the stuff in my room and was looking for something more challenging to read, something bigger across than a piece of an inch.

This was why my dad spent a day plucking me off of progressively higher bookshelves in the house: Stephen King is not appropriate reading material for a five-year-old.

Weirder still, my favorite part of books was when you opened that new book for the first time—the faint creak in the spine, and that delicious, delicious new-book smell: like the faintest vanilla and some unknown, long gone spice. Before I began reading a book, I’d crack it open to the middle, where that smell was strongest, inhale deeply, then flip to the actual beginning of the book, that aroma still tickling my nostrils.

When we were allowed to order from the Scholastic Book Club in school, I remember wishing I was coordinated enough to do cartwheels around the house. While I LOVED my video games to death, my first love was reading, and so I picked out what I wanted to read and asked my parents “Can I can I can I please please PLEASE???” until they let me send in the form.

(I honestly don’t think they thought about it all that hard: I grew up in an area where it was a rare sight to find someone reading at their grade level, let alone above it as I did.)

Two weeks passed. I started to think that the books would never show up. Then, one day, I come home and there’s this…MOUNTAIN of books sitting on my bed. I squeal, run in to give my parents rib-crushing hugs—and then shut myself in my room to read.

Really, it’s a habit I haven’t broken. If I’ve bought a bunch of books—whether old-fashioned paper or new-fangled e-books—I basically hang a ‘do not disturb’ sign on all of my social outlets and dive into the book. If I’ve mentioned getting a new book, it’s almost useless trying to get my attention, because it’s going to be basically impossible to get my attention until I’m done reading. I’m a bookworm at heart, after all.

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On Finding the Meaning of Thanksgiving.

For some of you out there, you are getting ready to celebrate a holiday known as Thanksgiving. A uniquely American holiday, it commemorates the teamwork and camaraderie that allowed the pilgrims (does anyone else think it’s more appropriate to call them ‘expatriates?’ Because ‘pilgrim’ is too religious for my blood…) to survive the harsh conditions they found in the New World. Working together with native Americans, these people learned how to use what they found here and not only survive, but thrive.

(That whole ‘oops we totally brought a bunch of foreign germs and you’re all going to get really sick, so sorry’ thing shall remain un-expounded upon.)

However, at the same time, I can’t help feeling a little bit conflicted about the whole damn thing.

It’s always felt a little weird for me to celebrate Thanksgiving. Tracing my ancestors as far back as we were able to in the year 1999, I learned of the first (black) member of the family. A slave woman from coastal Africa, she escaped with some slick tricks—step one, make herself useful on trips. Step two, make herself useful on a trip heading to the free North. And step three, BOUNCE. Bingbangboomfreedom!

Tracing my mother’s side of the lineage was more difficult. I learned her mother’s name, but never had the chance to meet Ms. Maria Argupitha Garcia Martinez (Unchanged for unfindability!) For the record, if anyone knows this generously nomenclatured woman, please dish. I’ve googled, bing’d, dogpile’d and even Alibaba’d her name and found nothing.) And as difficult as Grandmother was to find, Grandfather was even more so. See, he went by one name, and kept to himself near the border (no fence, no problem).

I never had the chance to meet either of them. But I’ll never forget what my mother and my uncle Saul* told me: Grandfather was a medicine man. A real live (oh, shush. You know how I mean) shaman. My uncle, on telling me this, then gave me a box of unset rough turquoise. I would later ask my father if my uncle was being facetious—and as it would turn out, he was not. But he was loath to talk about that side of the family, and it would be all I could find out: the records stop fairly quickly in the whole legibility department.

*Name changed at request!

.Here’s where I start feeling a little weird about it: neither ancestral side of my family came over in that quest for freedom from the Anglican Church. One side had been here long before, and the other side came long after, against her will. One side had no real reason to celebrate, and the other—well, being dragged from her homeland and then bought and sold like a horse really has no merits to celebrate.

It wasn’t for a while that I began to think of it a little bit differently. After finding out that I was a little blue preemie that very nearly kicked her mother off this mortal coil, I started feeling kind of lucky. Blessed, even.

This year, a whole lot of bad happened. I got out of a destructive relationship. (Not entirely willingly. Stockholm Syndrome, what what) I got deep into a barrel. Climbed out of said barrel when the taste of alcohol became more unpleasant than the flashbacks and voices I was trying to shut up. Had a huge mental break when the flashbacks got stronger, and was sent to the loony bin when I admitted I wasn’t sure if I was going to be waking up the next morning. Formally diagnosed with PTSD that had been allowed to slowly fester over the last three years. Went on more meds than anyone I’ve met.

It wasn’t easy.

So very often, I caught myself saying, “Fuck this. I’m gone,” but the little part of my mind that was sane still went, “Really? You haven’t done anything you thought you would. You’d be ditching friends—and all because you hurt? Suck it up, you selfish little bitch” and I didn’t go through with it. Whenever I was about to do something profoundly stupid, they’d stop me. I stuck it out because they stuck their necks out to help me.

And I’ve yet to thank them all properly.

So here it is.

I am thankful for all of you for not letting me quit this life.
I am thankful for the motivation you all give me.
I am thankful for the people who would forcibly stop me when I started to do something stupid.
I am thankful that I am still alive to have people to thank for keeping me that way.

And now that I know it’s going to be just fine, I sign off and say:
Itadakimasu. (Thank you for the food.)

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100 Things #25: Video Games

…No one who knows me at all is surprised by this. Prepare for a ramble.

I’ve been a gamer since almost before I can remember. One of my earliest memories is sitting in front of my grandparents’ 27-inch TV (because that’s what we called a big TV back then) while we all passed around the Nintendo Light Gun and played Duck Hunt. Big Dad—Gramps to most people—was performing quite well, knocking down ducks left and right, but then he got a run of bad luck when the ducks just wouldn’t pick one direction for long enough for him to be able to get’em. As rules established, the gun went to the right—Bigmama (Grandma) was next.

She began to wipe the floor with the rest of us. Effortless, she just pops ducks off one by one—bam! bam! bam! My cousin and I just looked at each other, our faces a matching “whoa”-oh. Big Dad points out something then: Bigmama’s not using the sight. On this realization, she ALSO stops, looks at the gun, notices the sight…says “Huh,” and keeps wiping the floor with us.

My cousin and I just sort of slide over to one side.

Another thing that anyone who knows me is that I’m a sucker for RPGs. I got into them because I needed something to do when I was sick. A trip to Phar-Mor, an old pharmacy, resulted in a crapton of medicines for me and my parents promising to rent me a console while I recuperated. I picked Final Fantasy Mystic Quest for one of my choices, because the box was pretty and because the guy at the check-out counter said there was a lot of reading involved in that game.

Being a huge reader, of course, I called “CHALLENEG ACCEPTED…” or I would have if that meme existed when I was five.

Gaming became an outlet for frustration then, as I dove into shooters and harder RPGs—nothing like shooting someone’s head off to get that bad mood knocked down. Putting a controller in your hands—it’s got this sense of power that I’d never really felt before, being the family’s runt preemie and having never really caught up to average. Even if I was spending most of my days being beat up by my cousins, or later in adolescence, my aunts, uncles, and even father—at night I could beat the living daylights out of whoever I so chose. Mooks had my family’s faces superimposed on their heads, and I’d pump them full of lead and lasers until I felt better. And then there were the rocket launchers…

In the game Perfect Dark, there were two kinds of rocket launchers. The first one was this normal run-of-the-mill rocket launcher that had two modes: shooting rockets, and shooting heat-seeking rockets. It was efficient enough and got the job done. But that wasn’t my favorite one. That title went to a weapon named the Slayer. The Slayer had two modes as well—really, every weapon in this game, even your bare hands, had two modes. (Barehand’s second mode was stealing the other guy’s gun right off of him.)
Anyway, the first mode of the Slayer was a standard rocket. A little slower than the standard rocket launcher, but with a bigger boom. Its second mode? Remote controlled camera-augmented rocket. You had to ‘drive’ the rocket to its destination, using the camera view to steer properly. So you could shoot a rocket, run it to the player who’s been getting on your last nerve thus far, and then aim the rocket at their face. …Your decision as to whether you let the rocket explode on its own or kicking its detonation button immediately.

I think that the thing that stuck with me more than anything else about video games is the potential for beauty. (Funny, seeing this after I wax rhapsodic about the wonders of exploding face rockets.) Games could have wicked scenery that distracts you from your mission. Games could have a storyline that makes you forget that it’s a game.

Most of all, games can have chillingly beautiful music.

I suspect that I am into the ambient genre thanks to video games—specifically the RPGs. People say that games can’t be art, that the music is just throwaway jingles. That a gamer is biased in this argument because it’s built solidly on nostalgia.

I refute that argument because the composition that had me BS-ing an allergy attack to explain the sniffles was from one of the games I had never played.

I’ll leave it with that: one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard.

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100 Things #24: Mall Walks.

I’ll wait for you to finish laughing and calling me an old fogey before I continue.

Got it out of your systems, now? Good.

On my off days, when I’ve hit quota on writing and just need to NOT LOOK AT PRINTED WORDS for a while (after a few marathon days, my vision literally cannot focus on text of any kind), I tend to hit the bus stop and decide what I’ll do on the fly. More often than not this defaults to window shopping. And where has the most things to window shop at? (Window shop for? near? SYNTAX?!) is the mall.

It’s fairly easy to be inconspicuous doing this—for one, I don’t join the seniors during their mall walks. I just try to look sharp and coordinate my outfit to the iPods I own (two different shades of green, and I can’t clash with either one or I look like I’m trying too hard.)

The usual stops involve the vitamin store (where I usually buy something) and the newest clothing stores (where I usually don’t).

I try to avoid going into any candle stores, though—if I go into a candle store I WILL be coming home with their best vanilla candles and maybe a pound (?!) of incense. (What? I like things that smell nice.)

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