First Steps

Published: January 17th 2009
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My family had, as a whole, displaced themselves to Charlottetown in the early 1980s. The move from the large city of Ottawa to the much smaller city of Charlottetown brought with it some challenges. Gone were the regular routines, friends and pathways, and in their place stood ones from a smaller and more isolated place. It was here that I first remember ever having been in a used book store. In all likelihood I had been in one before. My parents were dedicated bibliophiles and books around my house were as regular to me as cable television in other households. Books had also played a large role in my upbringing as my previously noted literary minded parents put a high emphasis on their children being avid readers. So when my father happened upon a used book store, in a run down old house, on a lot between a biker’s bar and a parking lot, it was only natural that an excursion was necessary with his two sons already old enough to read.
I can’t remember if it was me or my older brother that first made the discovery, but tucked away in the back room with the other children’s books lay a modest collection of comic books. Regardless who made the discovery, my older brother immediately hit upon the idea that we should buy some. As the younger brother I was easily swayed by the opinion of my older brother. For a child of nine years old, the two intervening years between me and my brother held unknown quantities of knowledge pertaining to the overall importance of things in a child’s life. He had been a model always for which games to play, toys to buy and television shows to watch (albeit an easy choice with no cable). So with very little pleading to our father, we had our first small collection of comics. I remember feeling the frustration at home as my father and then older brother would finish these seemingly mighty tomes in minutes as opposed to what seemed like hours of reading on my part. And although these comic book worlds weren’t exactly foreign to me, this was the first time I witnessed them in such detail. Soon entire weeks’ worth of allowances were being diverted to our exploration of these new worlds.
As my older brother moved onto new and better things, at least in his eyes, the exploration of this world stayed with me. One day I remember having the discussion that it was in fact impossible to become a super hero in real life. This was a hard truth to accept for a 9 year old still keen on the world of make-belief and so I set out to prove my detractors wrong. Sadly after verifying with my father and mother, the two authorities on every subject as pertains to a 9 year old, I discovered that the statement was indeed correct. For if I wanted to become something unreal like in these stories, that my imagination was the only place to realize it.
However I wasn’t ready to betray my dreams so quickly. Right around this time there had been a compendium put out by one of the comic companies describing, in some depth, every character in its gallery of heroes and villains, in the 60 or so years of the existence of this company. So with a careful study of these compendiums, I found that there did indeed exist a character that was possible, not the super powered juggernaut, rather the relatively meek global adventurer that relied on wits instead of powers, whose conquests were just as mighty, yet with more exotic locales. This panoply of characters included World War II heroes, gunslingers of the old West, jungle explorers, spelunkers, scientists, pilots, and deep sea divers. But for all of the things that these characters had, it seemed the one thing that they lacked was popularity, my exposure to them through this compendium was left at that, as finding anything to do with these characters in this small book store proved almost impossible. No one was reselling stories of these characters, because no one bought them to start with.
By the time that I had turned 11, I was still busy exploring these new worlds, but then it seemed that the same force which had brought my family together in Charlottetown also tore us apart. My mother and two brothers departed for southern Ontario and left my father alone. We moved to a small town where my grandparents lived and most importantly this small town had no bookstore, let alone one that would sell comics. More so the reading of comics had always been a father-son ritual and my mother didn’t understand fully the need to drive 30 kilometers out of the way to provide my curiosity some relief.
It was not long though until I found a suitable alternative. My grandmother was a well educated woman, one that loved books herself, and with two young boys of reading age in the house, she began subscribing to a monthly service providing abridged and illustrated versions of the classics by mail, so that my brother and I could read them. Although my brother has, at least at this point, read significantly more books than I have in our respective lifetimes, he nonetheless scoffed at the introductions of these shortened stories. I, on the other hand, found that which was missing to me. In the place of super powered space age denizens, I instead had the earlier Victorian version, but this also finally provided an outlet for some semblance of reality. For while these heroes did go on fanciful journeys and face exotic dangers, they did so without the benefit of a magic ring or an alien physiology. So for the next two years these books as well as a semi regular-infusion of comics kept me going in terms of my need to explore through the realm of fiction.
As every child goes on in age, they tend to put away the childish things associated with being child. So when I moved back in with my father at the age 15, I abandoned the reading of comics in favour of the pursuit of sports. But also in pursuing academics to a degree as never before, I found a brand new outlet for the exploration of fantastic worlds - our own one in real life. Fiction to me seemed like an outdated way to intake this worldly data and so I gave it up in the interest of non-fiction. I began to study the world as never before. Every small country became known to me, their cities and terrains, even if never seen, were at least provided for with some rough statistical data in my head.
This fascination with worldly events translated roughly into a study of history upon reaching university. While initially this was an exhilarating choice, as the entry year level courses dealt with the facts and the stories, the upper year courses dealt more with arguing over, what seemed to me, trivial points. To me one didn’t advance their knowledge of the world by debating inconsequential facts, but rather by simply studying and observing the world. So while initially I had been excited to launch into a discipline of this nature, my focus quickly digressed away to again finding out what else was out there. I did this somewhat unsuccessfully for a time with a focus on Hollywood movies. Also for a time I started to read comics again, once again looking for the lost insight I had had. Nothing though really seemed capable to satiate this thirst until one day, my father presented me with a rather obvious idea. I had been planning after university on teaching English overseas, but he suggested simply that I travel, for no other point other than to see and bear witness to the world. He postulated that while teaching that my job would detract from my ability to enjoy and so he suggested just a journey. And so begrudgingly at first, but gradually more and more I became excited about this possibility. Despite the insistence of a number of my friends that I would end up dead on the back alley of some forgotten street, I laid out an ambitious, yet realizable plan. In retrospect, my plan was far too naïve. I assumed things to be true about the world outside the one which I had known which were not true, and more than once I felt the pinch because of it. But finally I had discovered that thing which I had sought all my life. The fanciful world of all these stories was now my world, every sound and smell wasn’t described by a wave of words, rather it was experienced and felt.
So it is at this stage of my life that I look back in retrospect and see myself as sometimes playing the roles that I cherished in my childhood. For instance I have been the archaeologist examining ancient ruins in places as diverse as Peru, Egypt and Spain; the military grunt, wargaming in place of the real thing; and the jungle explorer, most notably in Africa on honeymoon with my wife. Every new exotic place provides not an antidote for my desire, rather it is just the next necessary step on my lifetime of adventure.


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