In Which I Say Thanks to a Dead Man

For a while there, I hated reading.

It was right after my parents had their divorce, and I was all sorts of messed with. It was that delightful way where the mind (interesting thing, that) makes one thing everything’s hunkey-dorey one moment, and then a police officer is talking about how certain behavior will land a parent in jail. Yes, that happened once, and holy shit did it put the fear of God in me.

(Don’t get excited. It was because I didn’t want to go to school.)

I should explain. Before my parents divorced, I was really, really into reading. My Mom bought me a bunch of these illustrated classics books, and because of that, I can say that I read Moby Dick before I was ten. Then there were the staples of children’s/YA reading that I clung to, like Goosebumps and Animorphs.

I distinctly remember getting a mess of Goosebumps books for Hanukkah one year and spending dinner time on the couch trying to read three at once. It was hard, but I think I did well.

And then, when my parents divorced, I was hit with the realization that life was going to change. Subconsciously, of course. All I knew right then was that my mom, brother, and I moved into a smaller house next to a cemetery, which I thought was weird. I started despising school–though this was also partially because my third-grade teacher was a terrifying Filipino woman who was single-handedly responsible for my preemptive rejection of journalism–and refused to go. Instead of reading books, I watched a lot of TV and moped around a lot of the time.

Eventually, my brother went to college, and my Mom and I moved to Tennessee. (See Moving To The South for more.) There, I found myself in a very odd position.

In Ohio, I was a smart kid. Nothing special, just smart. I kept up with lessons, did my homework (sometimes) and had extracurriculars (like Boy Scouts, which I grew really bored with after getting my Cub badge). But then I moved to Tennessee, and people thought I was super smart because I knew what a verb was and I’d heard of long division before.

And that’s about when I realized that I could excel in school in this state without trying at all. (I was right. Graduated with a 3.69 in high school and rarely did homework before class.) And, after that realization hit, I realized that I didn’t have to read all that much.

Sure, I did read some stuff, but it was always in-class when I was bored with whatever lesson was going. In fact, I read a good amount of HG Wells’s stuff after finishing tests in ten minutes.

The result of this is that I didn’t read anything enriching after the final bell rang.

What I did read was a whole mess of Star Wars novels.

Pictured: Not the best substitute for, say, Mark Twain

Pictured: Not the best substitute for, say, Mark Twain

Fun, yeah, but the books didn’t teach me anything about the world. Sure as hell didn’t teach me not to talk about how the war between the Alliance and the Empire didn’t end after Return of the Jedi. (I often look back and marvel at the fact that I never had my ass kicked in school.)

Incidentally, it was during this period that I didn’t listen to music aside from the films’ soundtracks. I was that close to becoming the basement-dwelling nerd archetype, instead of becoming the air mattress-sleeping nerd I am today.

And it was on that precipice that I teetered until I was in Houston visiting my Dad one year. We were walking through a bookstore, and I gravitated towards the Sci-Fi section marked Star Wars as I always did. My Dad came over, and, a look of severe concern shadowing his face, he asked if that’s what I usually read.

“Yeah,” I said.

Now, he knew I read these books. I remember taking a road trip with him, bringing the soundtracks, and reading one of them in the car. He seemed cool with it at the time.

“Do you always read this stuff, or can you read something funnier?”

This rankled me. I knew I liked funny things. People told me I was funny. “Yeah, I read funny things,” I responded.

That’s when he went down the aisle and picked up Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. Not the full series, mind you. That would have been overkill. He just picked up the first book, handed it to me and said, “Have a look.”

I did. I said I thought it seemed cool, mainly because I didn’t want to insult Dad’s willingness to buy me a book.

An hour later, I was howling in the back of the car, and my dad’s friend whom we were with had his own brand of sever concern splashed over his face. I think I remember seeing him look over at my Dad and ask if I was going to be all right, but that might be a creation of my stimulation-starved mind.

I’d literally never read anything that was nearly as funny as this book. The settings were surreal, the turns-of-phrase were brilliant, the characters were simultaneously identifiable and ridiculous, and, well, the phrase “A giant petite 4 lolloped off into the distance” did it for me in ways that nothing possible could or ever do for me again. (This might be why I’m pretty ambivalent towards relationships; I’ll never know that sort of glee again.)

I thought right then that I needed to get all of the books. I didn’t say that, though, because I was nearly suffocating from laughing so much.

“I think the humor kind of dies down once you get used to it,” my Dad said, a bit of caution in his voice. There was a certain knowledge there that he’d created a monster.

“I don’t care,” I gasped, “this is great!”

A couple years later, as I was extremely bored in my sophomore year science class (biology or chemistry, I forget which), I decided that I’d take a stab at writing something.

Now, I’d written before.  I’d written lots of stuff before. But those things were generally direct rip-offs of video games like Diablo 2 or Red Faction 2. (If there was a “2” in the title, I’d try to mine it for a cheap copy.)

You don't want to see the mess I made of this.

But this time, it’d be original, damn it. It’d be about a group of superheroes in Houston, Texas (because Nashville would be a sucky place to be a superhero), and they’d all be deeply neurotic just like I subconsciously knew myself to be. More importantly, it’d be fucking hilarious.

I started writing. Turned out I was directly channeling Douglas Adams.

Every time I’d hit a rut, I’d head back to H2G2 for some inspiration and no longer than getting a chapter further in the book, I’d have developed a new twist for the Justice Trio to handle. (They’re still very much alive, by the way. If you’re a bored illustrator and like comics, get in touch with me.)

So, I credit my current writing discipline–ironically–to Douglas Adams. People ask me what my favorite book is, it’s always H2G2. Same with author. I’m still really geeky in regards to that, but I like to believe it’s slightly cooler than Star Wars.

What’s the point here? Well, nothing really. Just saying thanks to the, er, essence of Douglas Adams.

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