Spinal Taps Are No Fun, and Other Stories

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Sometimes I’m really surprised I’ve never written a novel set in a hospital.  The gods know I’ve seen enough of ’em–or did between the ages of nine months and fifteen years.  I was born with hydrocephalus.  That’s a fancy Latinate term for ‘water on the brain’, but what it’s meant for me is that I have a tube in the right side of my head that siphons away spinal fluid–not actually water–so I won’t die.  Dying, when you’re trying to be an author, and also just generally enjoy this cool place called life, is pretty inconvenient.

It was also pretty inconvenient to have about half a dozen brain surgeries between those years I just mentioned, and a whole lot of doctor’s appointments, including procedures ranging from the merely annoying (routine blood tests, EEGs and x-rays) to the really painful (a spinal tap I had around the age of ten).  But it was necessary–like I said, dying is something I’d like to put off for as long as possible.

Being hydrocephalic, for me, has also meant going through life with a head a lot larger than most other peoples’, and at the least of it, not being able to find a hat that’ll fit my head most of the time, and at the worst of it, having cars slow down on the street while people point at my head and laugh.  I’ve even been asked a time or two if my head ‘was real.’  (Seriously?  Yeah, it’s real.  It also meant that I got through high school without ever attending gym class, because my parents were afraid I’d suffer a head injury, which is a lot worse for a hydrocephalic kid than an average one.

Maybe it’s no surprise that I like science fiction movies and novels, and that I write science fiction, too.  I’ve wondered a time or two if these guys weren’t relatives of mine:

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But being hydrocephalic has done more for me than give me obstacles to overcome or reasons to be thankful for the gifts I do have, and the things I’m able to do.  I think–I hope, at least–it’s given me a sense of compassion for everybody who’s different, for everyone who has more to deal with than others–in reality, I think it’s given me more compassion for people in general.  It’s one of the main reasons I write the kind of stories I write–because science fiction, fantasy and horror are all, to some extent, about the Other–the alien, the monster, the feared, the misunderstood–and I feel like I’ve been on the inside of that, a time or two.  It’s made it easy for me to write about Martin Cabot, an English teacher who looks at life and literature from another perspective because he’s also a vampire, or Annah of Evohe, a teenage girl from another planet whose story, I hope, shows readers that even someone on another planet can have birth defects, bullying–and dreams she wants to achieve.  The man Annah loves, a human named Gary Holder, is hydrocephalic, like me–and when PDMI sponsored “Annah’s” premiere party in Gadsden, Alabama in 2013, part of the proceeds from sales were donated to hydrocephalus research.  I was happy they did that, and happy my publisher, Tc McKinney, was there for the occasion.  He looked happy about it, too.

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No, like the title of this post says, spinal taps aren’t fun, or hospitals either.  But our experiences in life add up to stories that make us who we are–and if we happen to tell stories ourselves, that can come in awfully handy.  I’ve done more in my life than most people would have thought possible for me to achieve, and like my girl Annah in the Children of Evohe series, I’m still trying to touch those stars that are just out of my reach.  But the things I’ve seen and done show me that it’s possible, and through words like these–and the ones in my books–I plan to keep showing others that it’s possible for them, too.

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The Final Frontier

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So, here’s a thought that’s been on my mind lately.  I know I’ll leave out some of the nuances and other angles from which this could be explored, but for now, this is just my take on an important matter: the matter of ‘normal’  versus the idea of being extraordinary.

 

We live in a country and a culture founded by people who were, in the nation they came from, extraordinary—even abnormal.  They were dissenters; rabble-rousers.  They were explorers—willing to take risks and shake up the status quo for the chance to make something new that would eclipse the grandeur of the old.

They were not by-the-numbers, by-the-book people.  They didn’t stay in their houses and go along with things they didn’t like out of fear of what the neighbors would think.  They didn’t stay where they were because a dream of going somewhere else was impractical.

They were not ‘normal.’   The word ‘normal’ derives from the mathematical ‘norm’, or statistically average or ordinary.  The people we look to as the Founding Fathers (and, behind the scenes, Mothers) of our country—our way of life—were not normal.  They were not average.  They were extraordinary.

 

We live in a country and a culture founded on the idea of the extraordinary—and of the freedom to be extraordinary—or average, if that’s all we aspire to.  But our country, our culture was established by people who wanted the freedom to stand out from the crowd without being beaten down for it.

 

We’re losing a lot of that, today.

 

We’re becoming a culture that privileges ignorance; that ridicules education.  We’re becoming a nation where rumor too easily becomes fact, and where spiritual doctrines are confused with legal documents.  We’re in danger of becoming a people who demonize difference out of fear.

I’m talking in general terms because I don’t want this to suddenly be about politics.  I’d rather it be about ideas—even emotions.  Politics differ from person to person, but everyone has dreams; everyone has goals—and everyone can relate to how it would be to live in a place where your dreams, your goals—even your own identity—were squelched and shut away because they were not normal, not average—in a word, because they were extraordinary.

 

Our nation, as a physical place, long ago ceased to have a frontier that was unexplored, in any real sense.  Science fiction has imagined outer space, or even the depths beneath the sea, as a locale which could be thought of as the ‘final frontier.’   But I think the real ‘final frontier’ is elsewhere.  I think it’s within all of us.  The real final frontier is the limit of the human will; the limit of the imagination, and the drive and desire to achieve what we imagine—the drive and desire to be extraordinary.

Think about it.

 

If there were no people left who weren’t content to be ‘normal’, who didn’t dream of anything more than the ‘average’, we would have no new innovations; no new discoveries—no growth.

Every established idea we have was once an innovation.  Every tradition was once a revelation.

The final frontier is freedom—the freedom to be different from the average; the freedom to be other than normal—the freedom to be extraordinary.

When we point at someone who stands out; when we ridicule someone whose ways are different from ours; when we laugh at someone who looks or sounds or thinks differently than we do, we begin to close a door on the very frontier that got us where we are in the first place.

I get it—the people who are different from us make us uncomfortable.  They may even offend us.  But if we had all always been the same, and stayed that way, the achievements of our history never would have happened.

The fact is, our culture needs both kinds of people—those who are the steady foundation, who keep traditions, preserve history, and provide the solid soil on which to build the future—as well as the people who climb above that ground, who build binoculars and telescopes to see the horizon, who invent airplanes and starships—and even books,  music and films—to take them beyond those horizons.

The final frontier is a place where both kinds of people are free to be themselves, and where they cherish that freedom.

In your rush to hold on to the world as you know it, make sure you’re not helping to close the frontier of potential for another.

 

The world is preserved by the average and the normal.   But it was built by the extraordinary.