I've always been a reader. Some of my earliest memories I hold are of my grandparents and parents reading to me. One of my most treasured possessions today is not my flat-screen TV or delux garage workbench, but the tattered copy of Rip Van Winkle that I begged my grandmother to read to me as frequently as possible while I was growing up. Our second home, while moving us far away from my grandparents, had both a fireplace and large ornate bookshelf in the basement. I remember spending long spans of time with my winter backside warming (we heated our house through woodstoves) as my front side faced the acres of books with delight.
We lived rural and that meant that we didn't watch much TV. Usually just Masterpiece Theater and Mystery on weekends. Some nights dad would let me sneak downstairs to watch some Benny Hill much to my mom's displeasure. I could watch all the college basketball and NFL I wanted since my dad was a former high school football coach and all-around fan, but I found myself wanting to play sports rather than watch them. This holds true, for the most part, today as well.
Living rural also meant that, during the day, I rarely spent much time inside. Even if it was raining, snowing, or generally precipitating in some manner, you'd find me outside. I'd be hunting, playing in mud, or riding my dirt bike in endless loops. Even though we were far from other people and our house was rustic (it was a log cabin that my dad built with his own hands), having over one hundred acres of forest turned me into a person that feels very comfortable both in natural surroundings and being alone.
This concept of solitude was further reinforced at night when I would stay up late reading. Each night, after my parents tucked me in and mom retired to sleep and dad would relax in his rocking chair with a beer and sports game, I would turn my desk lamp back on and pick up in my book from where I'd left off the night before. I oscillated between fiction and non-fiction and, eventually, role-playing games.
At the onset, I didn't pay much attention to the game's rules. The value in the game, in my young mind, was in the construction of maze-like dungeons populated with dangerous monsters from my imagination. When I had free time at school or when I stayed over at a friend's house (a rare occurance), I recall staying up late running each other through our mazes. Getting a character killed was a regular and even expected occurance. At this time we were using Mentzer's Red Box, but it didn't really matter. We could have just as easily ignored the rules for AD&D or Rolemaster or Star Frontiers.
While I was a relatively popular kid in middle school, by the time I got to high school I had dropped out of sports and also out of the popularity race. I would have liked to have been popular, and in retrospect, I see how easily I could have been, but for reasons I don't understand I became even more anti-social and isolated during high school. It was at this time that I joined a new circle of friends and starting playing D&D second edition and RIFTS. In my school district, role-playing games were cool in elementary, OK in middle school, but firmly associated with unpopularity in high school.
My school grades, interestingly, performed inversley to my popularity. That is, while I was popular in elementary and middle school, my grades were exceptionally low, averaging in the low "C" to "D" range. Despite scoring very high on fluency assessments, I chose not to do classwork. Not because I thought I was above it, or even capable (sometimes I was truly incapable), but because I was more concerned with other things. Namely girls and friends.
In high school I dove into academics, did very well grade-wise (much to my parents relief), and by my sophomore year was also working full-time at a pizza parlor, quickly ascending to a manager's position. Here I met a new ring of role-playing friends and skirted with disaster. By this I mean my new friends held habits that were both illegal and physically damaging. Luckily, I graduated with good grades, a good bank account, and an ongoing love of both reading and role-playing. I left my job and devoted myself to school for my freshman year.
Sophomore year, to the immense displeasure of my entire family, I quit school to travel with my best friend. I quickly blew through my savings, but enjoyed backpacking around Europe. I fell in love with European culture. Specifically, English literature, the German language, and Belgian beer. To this day, you can see these influences in my fantasy writing.
I returned home, picked up a new job at a grocery store, and jumped back into school. By working and taking classes through all my summers, I was able to graduate with an education degree and secure a teaching position by 1999, nearly four years after graduating from high school.
Since then, I've moved, married, and fathered a wonderful child while living in a beautiful new suburbian home that I most assuridly did not build with my own hands. But I've also carried with me a nagging sense of guilt that I am not providing my own daughter with a childhood as enriching as my own. Sure, my house is newer, bigger, and holds more stuff than the one in which I grew up. Sure, she enjoys central air-conditioning, dance lessons, and friends that live on our block. But, she isn't outside as often as I was. She sees houses when she looks out the window instead of trees and fields. Her ears are filled, not with wind, birds, and insects, but the steady whoosh of cars and the occaisonal emergency vehicle. She can't throw a ball as hard as she can or want to in our backyard.
My wife and I read to her every night. One day soon, we'll all sit down and explore a dungeon that her daddy built. And I'm proud of what I have provided and will provide. I only hope that "will" includes a little love of solitude one day.