As I’ve alluded to before, my childhood was not the best. In all honesty, I was a demon child, and a source of great stress and grief to my mother. I got in vast amounts of trouble in school, and that wasn’t even my trouble-causing final form. Without going into too much detail, it was enough that my mother threw up her hands, unable to deal, and I ended up in the care of the state. This is how I ended up never setting foot in a high school.
I don’t blame her, to be clear – demon child is not an exaggeration, or not much. I definitely needed that shock, and if the programs were not in fact an ideal environment, they did lead to my being the person I am now, and I’m glad to be me, although of course I’m still striving to be someone better.
Something that happened fairly early on here ended up making a huge impact on the shape of my life, and I’ve never properly thanked the person responsible. My mother and stepfather visited me, and dropped of some books, novels. On the cover of one of them was a post-it from my stepfather, with a note stating, roughly, that I should read these books with an eye to learning how good people acted.
I don’t know what he expected. What actually happened, though, was that I got the idea of incorporating, actively, facets of characters I admired. I read a lot, then and now, and I’m always on the lookout for something new to attach. One of the reasons I’ve reread Worm as many times as I have is that I want Taylor’s refusal to lose. As I’ve also noted, I think as a species we are up against some Serious Shit, and I want to bring everything I possibly can to bear on the problems facing us.
I’ve cribbed from books, from games, from television. “I will quote the truth wherever I find it,” says Richard Bach in Illusions, and the concept generalizes – I will add to my self that which is worthy wherever I find it.
The last major addition I consciously made was from Unsong. I can’t do the Comet King justice without a direct quote, and so –
“Do you know,” interrupted Jalaketu, “that whenever it’s quiet, and I listen hard, I can hear them? The screams of everybody suffering. In Hell, around the world, anywhere. I think it is a power of the angels which I inherited from my father.”
He spoke calmly, without emotion. “I think I can hear them right now.”
Ellis’ eyes opened wide. “Really?” he asked. “I’m sorry. I didn’t . . . ”
“No,” said the Comet King. “Not really.”
They looked at him, confused. “No, I do not really hear the screams of everyone suffering in Hell. But I thought to myself, ‘I suppose if I tell them now that I have the magic power to hear the screams of the suffering in Hell, then they will go quiet, and become sympathetic, and act as if that changes something.’ Even though it changes nothing. Who cares if you can hear the screams, as long as you know that they are there? So maybe what I said was not fully wrong. Maybe it is a magic power granted only to the Comet King. Not the power to hear the screams. But the power not to have to. Maybe that is what being the Comet King means.”
I read this when I lived in Colorado and it had a huge impact on me. We don’t need to hear the screams to know it’s happening, and when I look inside myself at the place that knows this, it grabs the part of me that said in a philosophy class once that if your ethical system tells you the right thing to do is something you don’t want to, you either need to run your ethical calculations again, do the thing, or admit that you’re not good, according to your system. It grabs that part, and shakes it, and demands that I make it stop Make It Stop MAKE IT STOP.
And so I work to fix the vast holes in my education, so that I can do something about the state of things. I’ve built myself a soul from parts I found lying around, and it turns out having done so makes me need to do certain things.
I’m happier about this being the case than the child I was could ever have understood.