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Pokémon Go Outside | 2016 | A Little Slice of Heaven


I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.  

-John Green

A Creature of Epiphanies

I am a creature of epiphanies.

As a child, I spent some weeks trying to read. I learned how one night while drifting off to sleep. Before bed, I was illiterate and confused. Shortly after pondering why "A T" meant at, I was completely literate. To my tired brothers, I proceeded to spell every word ending in "at" I could think of, then moved onto other letter combinations. Once my reading module activated, everything else was figuring out pronunciation and meaning. (Diphthongs initially caused me to stumble, but I took to word roots like a duck to water.)

I did not learn how to ride a bicycle by degrees but rather, having failed a dozen skinned knees, I internalized the basics when my older brother pushed me down the driveway. I saw my only options as learning finally how to ride a bike and slamming against a parked car. After my frantic pedaling inspired gyroscopic motion enough to keep me on an even keel, I was apprehensive about getting off the bike again in case my sudden ability would vanish, so miraculous did my new ability to ride my bicycle seem to me.

Likewise, I spent my grade school career occasionally brushing against and sneering at poetry. It seemed to exist purely for pretense. If poets wanted so badly to convey a message, they should have done it via a letter or a story, some form that allowed them to be expansive and exact, not a fistful of nouns tossed haphazardly on a page as though trying to divine the future. I could have given the correct answers to questions asking me to explain the poems meaning, but I thought it all a waste of time and effort.

That is until one day in a college English class, when my professor innocently called a poem "funny." All at once, my brain turned on the portion that understood and cared about poetry as I chased meaning out of these lines. After that, though I do not think I would care to write poetry when there are so many stories desperate to get out of my pen, I understood it perfectly and could explicate with the best of them.

Driving is often the clearest analog most people have to my epiphanies. Suddenly, as you shakily turn onto the freeway, you are no longer focusing on every element of the road. The car ceases to be a ton of metal you are wielding on a very hard road and transforms into something innate. It becomes so you almost cannot remember every anxious lesson behind the wheel and only know what it is to drive.

I am a light switch, not a dimmer. Either my comprehension is on or it is off, but I acknowledge no middle ground. Though I am fluid and dynamic with the material once I have had my epiphany, I will look with petulance until you've hit me over the head enough time for me to decide that I've learned the subject on my own, at which point it appears fully formed. Given that I am a teacher, I think I would be a severely frustrating student in any subject I hadn't decided I already knew. In fact, when substitute teaching years ago, I ran across a math teacher whom I liked but whose subject escaped my comprehension. He remembered me as unmotivated and I didn't think I could convey to him that I cared literally as much as I could about something I didn't feel in my bones.

I've said that I believe I can love anyone whom I can stand to be around in a romantic context, which has been my downfall more than once. I do not mean that I did not love them, because I guarantee I have loved everyone I have seriously been with the best way I then knew how. I realize that the core of this is waiting for that epiphany. Eventually - sometimes after months or years, sometimes only after that first touch - I have that epiphany about the nature of this person in my arms and then I love them totally, sometimes foolishly. Previously, I loved things about them, skills or talents, qualities. Then, in a flash, I love them utterly. Like when I learned to read, one moment they were a page full of shapes I individually understood, then they were resolved into something I have always and intimately known.

Some things, I feel I was born knowing, though this might be source amnesia. I wrote in a way even before I was literate. I told stories of the stuffed animals that crowded my bed and never needed someone to explain characterization and dialogue to me, though I obviously improved when exposed to something that interested me or the requirements of necessity. Writing has only ever given me small epiphanies, firecracker sparkles in the light of the noon sun.

Likewise, though I have taken psychology courses by the bushel, some taught by people who made a deep impression on me, I never needed someone to explain how people work. I appreciated the assist with the vocabulary but "Oh, so that is what you call it" does not an epiphany make.

If left to my own devices, in a world where all my bills are paid and tuition is free, I could do nothing but take psychology and English classes (and would end up teaching them because I like showing off what I can do, else why be a writer?). In my paradise, I would make incremental improvements to skills where I already and intuitively excel while I continued to hide away from physics and calculus, fields I can understand with much cognitive sweating, but with slip from my grasp just as quickly (aside from lens refraction. For some reason, in that one section of the physics curriculum, I went from seventies to high nineties. It just made sense).

My recent blossoming comprehension of my mental state, my florid intrapersonal intelligence likely to credit with the pills that allow me to be somewhere aside from in my head, is the most recent example of my epiphanies. In developing my banal mantra of "I am in this moment," I suddenly and fully comprehended what thousands of pages of Eastern philosophy and hundreds of hours with witches couldn't teach me. Is my current awareness informed by the library of knowledge that piled on top of ice? Do I couch my knowledge in the language of Taoism and Wicca? Almost definitely. However, I blame myself for the epiphany, not all those who gave me the material I skimmed and didn't internalize. I guarantee no therapist has through conversation ever helped me - I've made clear in the past that I am a difficult patient and my defense mechanism is being Very Clever to make them prove they are worthy of treating me - only by writing me a prescription to shut me up and get me out of her office. So long as some reuptake inhibitor is letting me do some proper thinking without revving my brain in neutral, I will proceed about my improvement if just to give myself a task. I do not like to be unoccupied.

I don't know how close I ever am to a full fluency in anything that flummoxes me. As a former gifted youth, I don't respect the hard work of gradually learning, which is why I reacted to swing dancing with frustration. I wanted to stare out the answers and then be competent, if not excellent. This stubbornness is nearly a disability, as I cling to my peaks of excellence instead of filling in the valleys where light does not yet shine. If they will not, though seismic upheaval, come into the light, let them be dark.

Why be better than poor at a second language when I can be superb at my native tongue? I have only so many hours, so shouldn't I spend them in the glory of what my brain has blessed me?

No, of course not. That is not a complete human experience, even though I find comfort in the success of the familiar. I have to mindful of this as a teacher, because it would be easy to teach to the epiphanies rather than to students who learn subjects gradually and do not come in one day prepared for mastery.

Soon in Xenology: Faces.

last watched: Munich
reading: Hogfather
listening: Cat Power

Pokémon Go Outside | 2016 | A Little Slice of Heaven

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

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