Friday, October 15, 2010

Childish Beginnings

Nope, sorry, still no original fiction. But I was just thinking about something I wanted to talk about...
My first experience with the Internet.

Most people remember where they were when Kennedy got shot (I wasn't born), when the Twin Towers fell (I was watching live on CNN...I used to watch the news every morning back then but that was the last morning I ever did), or when they heard Michael Jackson had died (I was driving through the Bay Area to visit my cousin while my husband built a shed in his father's backyard). Children that were born in the last decade can never understand what it was like, this magical moment, not unlike my inability to understand that neither my mother nor father owned a television set growing up. Still, I remember my first experience with the Internet vividly.

My parents had driven me to Castro Valley, about an hour from our home, to visit with my aunt and uncle (my father's brother and his amazing wife). Unlike my parents, they had no children (my uncle had one son from a previous marriage but he was grown by then) so their house was filled with expensive things I could only admire, did not dare to touch. Their backyard was always well-groomed during their numerous barbecues, barbecues that offered salmon and real steak to the masses, rather than burgers and hot dogs. They owned the first big screen TV I ever saw (it was huge, took up a whole wall, and even when they moved to Florida they still had it). My uncle David had an impressive amount of law enforcement paraphernalia (something he and his brothers share, as they were once sheriff's deputies together in Alameda County). My aunt Marney kept birds that frightened me. Among their many amazing possessions was a computer in a back office I only vaguely remember...and that is where I encountered the Internet. I don't remember if I was allowed on it, or even how I came to be using it, but I remember clearly sitting before the old, grey desktop as the tunes of the modem hummed next to me. I'd never heard those sounds before, such a strange screeching, a weird beeping.  Then suddenly, a window opened.

"You've got mail."

I had no idea how iconic those words would become, that I would remember them more than a decade later. I explored AOL's many offerings (it was the beginnings of the Internet, after all, AOL had the monopoly) and eventually lighted upon the idea of "Chat Rooms." I grasped their concept clearly and searched until I found the one I wanted to participate in: A chat room for writers. As young as I was, I loved it then and I wanted to share it with the world, wanted the world to teach me to do it better. I engaged in conversation with strangers for over an hour, discussing the pros and cons of getting published, the differences the Internet would make to budding writers, how our contributions to the Internet could make it better. Then I figured something out, something that would color all further interactions with this wondrous idea, the Internet: You could lie, and no one would no.

The first lie I told was a simple one, I thought, but once it was out the people in the chat-room responded with disbelief. It didn't yet occur to me to lie about my age (I would do that later, with varying degrees of success), what I chose to lie about was simple: I had written an absurd amount of novels. Not short stories, or various types of works, just novels. I justified this to myself saying it was possible, there was nothing to say that any were any good, how could they react with such disbelief? What made it so astonishing, yet seemed believable enough that no one outright questioned me?
I know now what that difference is. It is not that no one person cannot write as many novels as I suggested (something like 47 I believe) but that...the emotional commitment to do so is staggering. Even if I had the time, would I have the mindset? The ability to sit down and think of nothing but to story, to plan characters, develop a plot, and write for so long that it would result in one novel, let alone 47? Children are prone to fanciful lies, but this is one in particular I remember clearly. Until this afternoon I'm not sure I really understood what kind of lie I had told, how impossible it was, where that astonishment came from. Sitting here, struggling to compile even a simple short story, just 1000 words, for no one but myself, I feel that same astonishment.

Oh, Internet. We have both changed so much.

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