Dispatches, thoughts, and miscellanea from writer Jon Konrath


Another LJ writer’s block question:

If you were 12 and could see yourself now, do you think you’d be happy or disappointed, and why?

I think to answer that question, I need to look at where I was when I was twelve.

I turned twelve in the second semester of sixth grade, which puts me pretty much in the period when life was nothing but Dungeons and Dragons and computers.  This was before D&D was cool and nerds were the new jocks, and while I wasn’t severely beaten for being a geek, there was a fair amount of psychological warfare involved.  Actually, that was pretty much the turning point; in 6th grade, I was still in grade school, which was largely flat from a social standpoint.  We were still kids, nobody had discovered the opposite sex, and while there may have been some cliques and friendships and class structure, it wasn’t that pronounced.

The second half of twelve though, was junior high.  This is where all of the elementary schools were dumped into the big pond, plus puberty had kicked in.  Not only that, but it became important who you knew, what you wore, what your parents drove, and how you looked.  And I didn’t get the memo, and kept buried in the Dungeon Master’s Guide with a handful of D20s in my pocket, some Asimov in my backpack, and the ability to type SYS 49152 faster than anyone around.  I didn’t think that this was the time to “brand” myself, and I feel like I spent the next decade trying to reverse the person I instantly became on that August in 1983.

Another big game-changer when I was twelve was that I went on this long Christmas holiday trip to Florida, first to Tampa to go to Busch Gardens, and then to Orlando to go to Disney World.  My family never did these kinds of things; other kids at school always went to Florida, or on these ski trips.  I don’t know if it was economical reasons or that my parents back then were not nomadic in any way, but if we went anywhere, it was the quick trip to Chicago to my grandparents’ place.  At that point, I think I’d been to maybe six states, but other than those I saw as an infant, I’d never left the Indiana-Michigan-Illinois region, except for a couple of trips to Wisconsin, and a couple to St. Louis.  So this trip became a huge life experience at the time, even if it was just to ride the Haunted Mansion ride with 2.7 million other people like dopey tourists.

What the trip to Florida showed me was that there’s a lot outside of Indiana.  And maybe before that, I thought of going to college and getting a job and leaving.  But I never thought much outside of Indiana, because I never saw anything outside it.  It’s like that developmental step in childhood where you learn to stand; prior to that, you spend all of your time laying on your back in a crib, looking up at these giant monsters that feed and change you.  And when you learn to pull yourself up on the side of a couch and plant both feet on the ground and totter around upright, your entire worldview massively changes.  I mean, it literally changes by ninety degrees, but this mental switch is thrown where you realize that these giant feeding and diapering monsters are the same thing as you.  And I think this trip is what made me start to think that someday I could leave, and my world was bigger than the 40,000-person city where I grew up.

And the computer geek in me thought California was some uptopian paradise.  Every other movie back in the early 80s was about California, and this new thing called MTV showed a constant barrage of music from the region.  And I think a part of the twelve year old me would be surprised and pleased that I ended up here.  And while I’m not designing the next Commodore 64, I am working in the heart of Silicon Valley, and I’m making more money than I ever could have imagined.    (To be fair, I think when I was twelve, my total net worth was maybe a third of what I have in my wallet right now.)  In that sense, I think I would be happy.

And maybe there’s part of me that would be disappointed.  I mean, when I was twelve, I was being groomed to be the next Albert Einstein or something; my parents were pushing me into these gifted and talented programs; I was already reading at a high school senior level; and I was already outscoring a lot of college-bound kids on the SATs.  I think the twelve-year-old me would think I would have several PhDs in physics or chemistry and would be inventing some anti-gravity serum or cancer cure.  So yeah, I didn’t do that.  But I think the twelve-year-old me would also expect us all to have jet packs and time machines and an EZ Pass to drive your car into Low Earth Orbit on your daily commute to the moon.  That said, I think the 1983 me would be sufficiently mind-blown by five minutes at my 2007-era Macbook.

I think the big thing though is I would be happy that I finally figured out to some functional level how the social things worked.  I mean, I am not a social diva, and it’s still something I struggle with greatly.  But I am married, and I had more than a couple of dating experiences, and while I did not master things, I could say I figured them out.  And in 1983, at least toward the end of my first year in junior high, that stuff completely paralyzed me.  Like I said, the puberty thing set in, and I started having obsessive crushes on girls who would never talk to me, and I started my quick slide into depression, and I had no idea what the hell to do.  I had that deer-in-headlights thing for years, and slid backward into my own little world.  And I think to look 27 years in the future and see what I have now, I would be pretty amazed.

I feel a need to make a side-reference to the movie Hot Tub Time Machine, which I saw last night, and which roughly touched on some of this concept, but in a completely tasteless and so-awful-I-liked-it way.  I never thought we’d get to the point where looking back into the 80s would be a whole genre of art, not that HTTM is exactly art.  I still dug it, although Sarah was somewhat horrified.  I’m not saying it fired on all cylinders or it worked perfectly, or even as good as something like The Hangover, but I still dug it.

Okay, off to get some allergy meds going…