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My Life as the Ultimate Warrior

February 17, 2010

Notable News from a Year Ago, February 17, 2009: On this day in 2009, analog television signals were scheduled to end in deference to digital. Alas, analog found a way to keep on ticking until June 12. The message to me? Never give up easily.

You sure you want a piece of me?

My dad tells an affecting story about my first day in kindergarten. According to him (and he’s a storyteller in the great oral tradition, so he’s given to feats of exaggeration just to make the story better), I walked in the door after my first day near tears, upset to the high heavens because of something that had happened that day at school. My dad, who worked the night shift so he could be at home when I got off the bus at lunchtime, was understandably concerned.

He tried tame questioning to get it out of me at first: Tell me what’s wrong. What happened at school today? I can imagine that, as the questioning lengthened, all manner of foul possibilities crossed his head: teachers, bullies, the bus driver? In addition to this there was my brief history as a crybaby. I didn’t have the nickname Siren for nothing (for the tears, yes, but mostly for the wail). So he had to consider if this was just me being me, or something more sinister? Had I been touched or treated inappropriately? Was he going to have to go up to the school and kick somebody’s ass?

In high school, when I was playing basketball, Dad called me the Ultimate Warrior.

Finally, my silence driving him insane, he applied force like a nutcracker to a crab leg to get the juicy innards out. Not physical force but verbal insinuation, the kind that would tell any kindergartener that if he didn’t give up the goods and like RIGHT NOW, he’d be in for a world of hurt, so I suppose you could say it was verbal force with the threat of physical force. Either way, it convinced me to divulge my secret torment.

Shoulders hopping up and down, tears coming down my face, I struggled and finally found the words: “I — I — I been to school one day and I still can’t read!”

To which my dad, clearly disgusted with the needless rise in his blood pressure, told me to go to my room. Silently, however, he must’ve been asking of himself, and of God, what it was he had brought into the world.

Yes, dear Dad, what indeed.

It’s a question I’ve asked myself more than once: The fire that burns so religiously inside of me — where did it come from? I have theories, but specific answers are difficult to come by. With reading, I know my mom spent an inordinate amount of time with my older brother helping him to read, so even before kindergarten I would take a book and hold it up, mumbling the words. My dad, likewise, was a self-professed reader, mostly of current events, and constantly urged us to read the newspaper. So, to a certain degree, I craved the attention from my mom and had the importance of reading reinforced by my dad.

Over the years I’ve come to identify this ridiculously sly yet competitive part of me as the Quiet Assassin.

It could, on the other hand, be a problem specific to younger siblings, an issue I jokingly call Little Brother Syndrome, LBS for short. How else do you explain the unrealistic belief that I could do in one day what my brother struggled to do in three years, than it was a competition, even in elementary, between brothers? It started with who got to sit in the front seat of the car; now it came down to who could read the best, and do it the fastest.

But even that doesn’t explain the unfettered intensity toward perfection that streamed through my veins — not all of it. The truth was my brother and I never overtly competed against each other. When I wanted to sit in the front seat, he let me do it. He never taunted his reading superiority to me; I wanted, from the beginning, to read better than him. In high school, I never said I wanted to play basketball better than him, but he started later than I did and the opportunity was there.

The story of basketball in my life (and my brother’s) is a story all unto itself, a saga for another day — but here again is the unexpected fire in my life that no one, including myself at times, sees coming. Over the years I’ve come to identify this ridiculously sly yet competitive part of me as the Quiet Assassin. In high school, when I was playing basketball, Dad called me the Ultimate Warrior. In most cases, it comes to the same thing. I’ve never been afraid to put it all on the line. I’ve never been afraid to do the work to get what I wanted. You may not be able to tell it in one glance, but make no mistake about it: I want to be the best. I’ve come to take names, and if need be, to kill.

Perhaps it started as LBS, but over the years this unquenchable yearning has morphed into the one truly consistent aspect of my life. If I’m not playing to be the best, then quite simply, you can expect me not to be playing. On the basketball court, in the classroom, at the piano — I don’t take well to mediocrity. Over the years I’ve grown from a boy who cried when he couldn’t read after the first day of kindergarten, to a man with a more accepting (and maybe even apathetic) viewing of failure, but it’s still me. The “name-taking” part of me will still come out if I’m not cognizant, like it did with The Writer’s Will where I literally hoped to take the name of every literary agent who snubbed me and rub their faces in it later. But the older I get, the less frequent the attacks.

That’s one of the reasons I know corporate America isn’t for me, and why I developed the Plan. I stopped wanting to be the best employee ever only a year into the job but have been compelled, because of my desire to be financially self-sufficient, to continue working.

But the fire inside of me will not die. Sometimes the winds are strong and the flame flickers, but it never goes out. When it is at its strongest, as it has been since having surgery in December, it can be difficult to focus on the mundane choir of going to work and earning a paycheck, easy to believe the breakthrough is right around the corner. Maybe it begins with “How to Change the World”, which I placed in the mail today. Maybe it’s “Incidental Music”, which I mailed about three weeks ago with a $12 reading fee that has yet to clear the bank. Maybe it’s The Dopple Effect, which I hope to pitch later this summer. Maybe it’s something I haven’t even considered yet. I don’t know. But I sit here with my flint and steel. I strike. I strike. I want desperately to share the fire inside of me with everyone in the world.


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