I will now start off this page with a sentence that has never before been used to begin a Magic article:
I am going to tell you about the day I lost my virginity.
I realize there’s not a huge market for Ferrett slash fiction, so I’m not going to get into any explicit detail about anyone’s Slippery Karst – but I have heard too much whining in the Magic community lately, and I am SICK of it. And you guys need to know how I found myself in the aftermath of my first girlfriend. How I discovered what I WAS.
Because it wasn’t the girl. It was the reaction to the fact that I HAD a girlfriend.
Witness my hunched teenage back, creeping through the hallways like a thief from door to door, spine flexed in submission from one too many vicious slaps on the back of the neck. Watch my eyes; no, scratch that – you CAN’T watch them, because my eyes slide away from yours the instant you make eye contact, darting off like startled goldfish, terrified of human reaction. Watch my arms instead; note the way they clutch my books in eternal paranoia, knowing that someone might slap them out of my grasp at any moment.
Witness the books. They’re hidden in my arms like refugees.
In the tight social net of high school, any individual thought is perceived as a threat. And must be crushed. Books and games that lie unapproved must be destroyed…
…That, or the spirit which flaunts them.
This boy has been successfully stamped down.
Stamped by the harsh pushes of jocks, by the mirthless chuckles of cheerleaders, by the sniggering ignorance of the druggies and the preps. Every thing he considers precious is now hidden; every aspect of his life which once asked for attention now begs to be ignored.
Mission frickin’ accomplished.
This is not a happy child. This is the boy who avoids taking public showers at all costs. This is the teen who plays Dungeons and Dragons and is ashamed of it, the teen who has discovered that his penchant for books and elaborate puns and intellectual games are NOT ACCEPTABLE.
He has a few friends who he’s close with. He can feel at ease with them. But put him in public, and suddenly his friends vanish like cockroaches in sunlight, leaving him alone and isolated again.
He spends most of his days simply trying not to be noticed.
And yet, somehow, this boy has been invited to a party tonight.
He’s been invited by a much older woman (twenty! Yeezus!), who he met at a weekend Catholic retreat where he had a blast, and she wants him to go to a party on a Thursday night with her, to meet her friends. If Beth knew him at school she wouldn’t have wanted anything to do with him… but she met him Somewhere Else, and is now seeing whether she can integrate him into HER social group.
Said party will involve drinking.
Thursday’s a school night, but he manages to cadge the car anyway.
He goes. The party’s terrible. Everyone’s a big damn snob. He extends his hand to say "hello," and the upscale preppies don’t even respond, leaving his hand hanging in midair like a balloon. Beth goes off into the corner to talk with other people.
Screw it. There’s always booze. Booze and anger; always a great combo, right?
He drinks. Heavily. Eventually, Beth comes over again, and he lolls up from his couch, happy to see her but telling her that her friends suck. "They’re jerks," he slurs, except he really doesn’t use the word "jerk," and goes off on an extended rant about what antisocial idiots these bastiges are. She is amused by the tirade, says she’s sorry for bringing him here. She’ll take him back to her place, where he left his car.
They drive. She’s sober. They drive right up to her house, and then right past it. The car heads into an isolated section of woods, vanishing into shadows, where she slams on the brakes, jamming the car into ‘park’.
"Hey," he says, "This izzin’ your house…"
"Right," she says, and pushes him into the backseat. And gets in with him.
Fade to black.
I wake up from the dream the next morning, in my own bed, shirt still on. I look out in the driveway; my car’s not there. Hmm. My parents ask me whether I’m okay; apparently, I got to Beth’s house fairly early last night and called in a ride home since I was drunk. There’s no talk to be had, since I was responsible.
I have some vague memories the night before about Beth and some warm cuddling, but it was obviously just some kind of dream. After all, I went to the party at what, eight, and I came home at midnight? Weird timing. Freaky. I pull on a T-shirt and go pick up my car.
Beth’s not there. Oh well.
I go to school. As I walk through the hallways, people smirk. "Nice GOIN’, Steinmetz!" they shout, giving me the thumbs up as I walk by. Someone slaps me on the back – proudly, this time. I have no idea what the heck they’re talking about.
I corner a friend, and his eyes go wide with astonishment. "What’s up?" I ask, and he merely stammers at me that I’d better check myself in the bathroom.
As I look in the mirror, a memory floats up from the bottom of my consciousness: Me, lying Dionysian in the back of the car, a half-dressed Beth smothering me with kisses, and I am saying with a cavalier, hand-waving freedom that was rarely present in my life back then: "Hickies? Whadda *I* care? GO for it!"
Sure enough, I have rings of hickies around my neck. Thirty of them. Neat little suckers, too. I’ll say this for Beth; she sure was precise.
What the hell do I do?
I try to pull up my T-shirt, but it’s not good enough. I’m marked. Knowing that I’m in for humiliation, I go to my first class. People are snickering. Josh, the jock who really has it in for me, immediately starts in before the entire class in the three minutes before the teacher shows up. Oh, he’s been humiliating me all along, but this is the best material he’s had in weeks – an obviously embarrassed nerd, coming in with splotches all over his neck. He leaps up out of his chair, prancing before me in sheer mockery:
"Hey, look at STEINMETZ!" he says, pointing at me with glee. "Guessa guy got LUCKY! Musta been a real dog, she’s goin’ with him. So didja get any last night, Steinmetz? Didja? Did our little boy get some nice little thang lass night, huh?"
The girls around me tried to shush Josh, so shamed were they for me.
And that’s when I realized that this was it. My life was being chosen… and it was gonna be chosen BY me or FOR me. I had finally done something cool, and I was STILL being humiliated for it. I could hunch down, endure his vicious jocularity, and take it in stride…
But I was not going to take it any more.
"Didja get any? Huh? Didja GET any?"
"No," I said clearly, rising out of my chair. I faced him directly and placed my fingers a quarter of an inch apart from each other. "But I came THAT close."
Josh slumped back in his chair, stunned. The class fell silent.
"You weren’t supposed to answer me," he said quietly, his face pale.
"Why not?" I said, taking a step towards him. "Anything else you wanna know? Her name is Beth. She’s twenty. She’s a college sophomore. We met at a weekend retreat, and I was drinking JD last night. Any other goddamn facts you wanna be apprised of, Josh?"
He fell silent.
I turned around to see three women, the ones who had always mothered me in class, looking at me with a newfound respect.
From that day onwards, I vowed never to be ashamed of anything I enjoyed again. I started reading whenever I felt like it. I talked to women, and actually became a fairly notorious womanizer for a long time. I emceed the Rocky Horror for four years straight and I was always happy to inform people what it felt like to walk around in negligee and stockings. (The answer: Itchy.)
But most importantly, I learned that the only person who could humiliate me was ME. And only then if I failed to stand up for myself.
And so I ask the collective Magic community the question:
HOW LONG ARE YOU GONNA STAY IN HIGH SCHOOL?
(Not literally. Metaphorically.)
So many of you are terrified of admitting your geeky tendencies. Of telling people that you play this silly little childish power fantasy we all share. And you’re all idiots who should be grownups.
There is no reason to hide it. NONE. Get under yourself.
Because a lot of the people who deride your geek hobbies now are going to have horrible, empty deaths. Really. Because the vast majority of people in America don’t really have any driving interests. They watch television, they like football, they’re fond of flipping through the National Enquirer when they walk through the checkout lane… but nothing drives them to get up in the morning except the threat of bedsores.
They’re like automatons. They get up, they work to survive, they watch television because it makes time vanish, they go to bed. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. Rizzo alluded to this in one of his articles, but he still missed the damn point.
These people will eventually retire… And will have nothing to do.
Unless these poor clods can find some hobby to cling on to, they will spend the last twenty years of their life sitting in a room, hoping desperately that their kids call them, wondering where all the good times went. Wanna see what happens to people like this? Go watch "Requiem For A Dream," the best damn movie to come out in the New Millennium, and see what happens to Ellen Burstyn’s character – the elderly mother whose husband has died, leaving her in utter isolation. The horror is not what happens to her in the end, although that’s pretty damned bad… The horror oozes from her monologue in the middle of the movie, where you realize her dreams have shrunken, SHRIVELLED, to the point where simply getting on television and saying NOTHING is her utmost fantasy.
The movie is, as the title says, about dreams dying, but hers were locked away in a coffin long before she came on screen. The same could happen to you.
You wanna know where the good times are?
They’re in that box that you’re hiding in your jacket. The one with the goofy green beatdown deck. That’s the one.
That’s the passion that will keep you alive.
And by hiding your hobby, by being ashamed of the wondrous little secret, you let the world define you and everyone like you.
Every time someone talks about those geeks who play Magic or Dungeons and Dragons or Warhammer and you hide your love – or worse yet, act embarrassed to be caught doing it – then you’re contributing to the stigma. You’re admitting, "Yes, you’re right – This IS a shameful thing I am doing, and I wish you hadn’t caught me at it."
Whereas if you stand up and say, "Yeah, I play Magic! It’s a fun game. Anyone wanna tell me how it’s any different from, say, spending your weekends in the Fantasy Football League, balancing points and sucking down endless facts about football players who could care less whether you live or die?" They’re probably not gonna leap up and join you in a game, but you have now tilted the balance. Someone they know plays it. Someone they know ENJOYS it. And is not a jot less cool for it. (Unless you’re the unwashed social misfit who they all giggle at when you leave the room. You big ugly dirty guys can just keep hiding, thankyouverymuch.)
Every time someone asks you what you did this weekend, and instead of saying, "I came in third at a Magic Sealed tourney!" you mutter, "Oh, nothing," because you don’t want them to think of you as That Sort Of Person – every time you do that, you contribute to the Great Misunderstanding.
Either you bow to the pressure and, paradoxically, INCREASE it – or you stand up and shatter it.
If you have a hobby, and you love it, and if you’re hiding it… Well, then you’re still in high school and you’re always gonna BE in high school. You’ll always be terrified that people won’t understand you, and ashamed of the way they treat you. And you’ll deserve every mock and every flash of fear you get.
Everyone’s scornful of the unknown and feels a need to mock it – that’s normal human behavior. But if you cave in to their pressure, you’re letting the world define YOU, as opposed to YOU defining IT.
You know what? You’re different. You’re always gonna BE different. You’re not gonna get to feel normal, ever, because you’re playing a damn game filled with weird cards and bizarre interactions and you like it. And the truth is, after this love goes away, something else will replace it. You are driven to enjoy things in ways that others never will be. People will be jealous and scared of you for this. DEAL WITH IT.
Because it’s a gift.
Relish it. Live your Magic. Be a geek. Be the nerd. Because it means you’re alive, you’re vital, and you’re ahead of the game. It might not be football or Yahtzee or "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?", but screw it – whatever gets you through the day is better than 75% of the world.
Remember that. Live. Breathe. Dare to do more than just frickin’ SURVIVE.
No multiplayer advice today; just advice.
Go in peace.
Member, Team AWWAJALOOM (http://www.theferrett.com/theteam.htm)
NOTES: Yes, technically I did not lose my virginity that night. Makes for a better lead-in, though, doesn’t it? It’s also slightly inaccurate to refer to myself as a "womanizer," since that implies that I just sort of used women for the vaguely-misogynist desires that gives Camille Paglia nightmares. Generally I picked the sort of women who shared my hobbies, if you catch my drift. But "hobbyist" seems a little dim for the usage here.
Considering that many, many, MANY of you wanted to sign up for the team, I’ll be getting back to all of you soon. Apologies for the delay, but I’ve been brewing beer. You know how it is.