I am a Storyteller
It was Labor day weekend of 1984.
I was almost 7, about to enter the second grade, and the family was headed to a camping event we did every year. My dad was driving, mom in the passenger seat, and my older brother sat between them on a wooden box. My sister was absent since she was fresh out of high school and off on her own.
I sat as I usually did on the mini-kitchen that was mounted on the van wall behind my dad’s seat.
We were driving down one of the highways in Oregon that had been raised up some five to ten feet from the surrounding area.
Without warning my dad lost control of the van. We plowed through a telephone pole and rolled down the side of the highway. Mom’s seat broke and she was tossed into the back of the van while my brother was thrown from the van through the side doors and I gripped the back of my father’s seat with all my might. Before I lost my grip and blacked out I watched as my dad was thrown through the windshield and back into the van being decapitated.
I woke up shortly thereafter to the sound of banging. Looking around groggily I saw someone reaching out to me and waving his hand to come here all while telling me something. He was reaching in past one of the wheels through the wheel well several feet up. Something didn’t seem right. I tried to move but something was pinning me.
The banging was coming from the side doors and that’s when I saw my dad. He was laying on his back but some debris and luggage prevented me from seeing above his chest. Not remembering what had happened I reached out and called to him. He just lay there unmoving. I called again, my voice weak. Nothing.
I could understand the man now, he was telling me to crawl to him. I tried to move again but found that the keg we had been transporting was laying on my leg. I couldn’t push it off. I told him I couldn’t move. He disappeared and a few moments later the side doors were pried open and a bunch of people came in and I was scooped up and carried away.
I was put into an ambulance with my mom. We both came through the accident fairly well. She was badly cut up all over her body, and I had suffered a cut on the nose and a broken leg. My brother had already been sent off and would require full reconstruction on his face.
My dad would be carted off in another vehicle.
My father loved his van. He took pride in working on cars. In fact, he never let anybody else work on them, except this one time. Dad didn’t have time to finish working on the vans transmission before the trip so he sent it to a local shop.
They took a shortcut on the repair which directly lead to the transmission failing which caused my dad to lose control of the van that day on the highway.
We would spend the next several weeks attending to all the things that happen when you have a terrible accident and lose a member of your family. There was the funeral, the consoling, the grief.
How did I deal with this? I promised myself I would not lose control. Bad things happen when you let someone else have control. I mercilessly buried some of my emotions to where I no longer felt anything nor knew I was doing it. Anger, frustration, and annoyance would soon be most of the things I would feel for many years to come.
During that year my teacher had grown concerned over my lack of progress in reading and writing. My mom hemmed and hawed over it, with everything that had gone on she did not know what to do. In the end she decided to go with the teacher’s recommendation to keep me in second grade for another year.
So I attended 2nd grade for the second time. I was also placed in an auxiliary program for kids with special needs. I was regularly taken out of class and given focused attention.
Unbeknownst to everyone at the time I didn’t need focus, I needed desire. Nothing about this whole “reading and writing” business excited me. I just didn’t care to try.
I’m fairly smart, especially with figuring things out. When I was three my father stepped away from working on the van for a minute and I took the opportunity to grab the screwdriver and completely dismantle the dash. I imagine he was proud, but my mom was pissed because he had left me alone again. I always got into things, taking them apart, experimenting, drinking bleach, you name it.
I’m also socially inept. I was the classic example of an introvert. I had no sense of humor and was completely deadpan serious as a child. It was no wonder I was always called a “know-it-all”.
My intelligence garnished me the ability to have most things come easily. This trait lead me to view myself as above studying or practice. If I didn’t want to do something, or think it necessary, I simply avoided doing it.
I thought that experience, while quaint, was not necessary. I always got through fine on my reasoning and wits alone. With little homework and ease, I managed to wring out a C+ or a B grade most of the time. Every problem I ran into I solved. The need for experience, for practice, was a problem for everyone else. This ideal would plague me for most of my life.
At some point during that second year of second grade I became aware of Sherlock Holmes and the whodunnit genre. On that day something clicked. The whole gearbox dropped into place. My mind was in high gear and off I went.
The teacher was in utter shock. All of a sudden I was a blur of activity. Writing up detective stories and reading Encyclopedia Brown.
Here I had found something to explain things to me. To help me make sense of this world which had so viciously ripped up my family. Logic and deduction, that was the key.
In truth it was a love of stories that was really born that day. I missed the clue staring me in the face that it was the stories themselves that were important to me, not the vehicle. I would not come upon that realization for thirty more years.
Growing up in the 80s and 90s gave me a front row seat to the booming tech and game culture. The intellectual part of my mind naturally gravitated to this while the creative side tugged at me towards art and writing.
My late-father had a fondness for gadgets and tech. He would bring home all sorts of toys. We had the first VCR, an Intellivision, and an Atari to name a few. For Christmas when I was five I was gifted with the NES, complete with a Zapper, the Super Mario Bros / Duck Hunt game, and the gold cartridge of The Legend of Zelda.
My very own video game console.
Over the years my creativity blossomed as did my attachment to video games.
I got into the TAG (Talented and Gifted) program and regularly attended Saturday Academy classes. Here I learned all sorts of things, but also, to program.
Then came high school and our first PC. It was a 386 running DOS and I took it over with glee. I taught myself how to use it, and to modify it. Let’s be honest though, it was a game playing machine.
During this time I would have spurts of creative activity. The stories could not be contained. I dreamed up new people, places, and scenes. I would put on headphones, listen to music, and literally pace back and forth thinking about how the events unfolded. I’d mimic the actions, jumping here or there, yelling a line of dialogue out load, crying at a sad point. I become the characters. I was one with the story.
I poured over how to write books. I got them from the library, and I purchased them when I had the money.
The desire to write novels, create comics, make movies, and the like had implanted itself on me. But something else was happening in my head. Games and programming were swirling, slowly clawing for purchase.
My creative spurts started showing a pattern.
I would get hyped about something and then quickly grow frustrated when I couldn’t get the results I wanted. Over the years I knew objectively I was getting better when I tried, but I was never good enough. Not even close. Not close enough that anyone would do anything but pat me on the head and say “that’s great kid”.
These spurts always lead to the worst depressions in my life. Every time, I truly wondered if I was worth the effort. I knew deep down that I had the talent and passion, I just couldn’t show it. It just wasn’t coming out right. Here was something I felt I was truly failing at.
I was out of control and I didn’t like it.
This was reinforced by my mom and step-father who always mildly encouraged my creativity but when I said what I wanted to do would turn around and tell me that I needed to get a “real” job. That I should do something that pays the bills. Then maybe, years later when I’m established, I could do whatever I wanted. Maybe.
Everything that deep down I wanted to do I was being told that I shouldn’t. I expected this from my step-father, but not my mother. I came to hate her. Hate her for regularly telling me how disappointed she was when I messed up. For telling me I was really good or promising at something but then not trusting or willing to let me do it.
It reinforced feelings of not being good enough. Of the feelings of failure that were already causing me doubt.
I was the youngest child, the one viewed as the smartest, the most talented. Everyone would tell me this. It was a heavy weight to bear someone else’s hopes and expectations.
I remember often looking out my bedroom window straight down the street and wondered. Wondered if my dad was going to turn the corner and walk home. That all of this was somehow a mistake. He would know, he would understand.
I know my mother only wanted what she thought was best for me, but sadly, those ideas consumed my thoughts. I developed a severe sense of what I now know as imposter syndrome.
I was out of control and I didn’t like it.
Towards the end of high school two things had become “clear” to me.
The first was a desire to make games. I felt I wasn’t good enough to do anything else, but I was good with computers. I could mix my love of stories with my fascination of computers and enjoyment of games. It would also satisfy everyone. Case closed, or so I thought.
The second was this thing they called the “web”. I had learned enough programming that picking up how to make a web page was a snap. I made a few websites and even created a few for others.
Here were things that I could do. That I felt I wasn’t a complete failure at. Something that I could control.
I now just had to figure out where to go for college.
It boiled down to the University of Oregon or the Art Institute of Seattle. My true desire was DigiPen, but it was in Canada at the time and I was already too late to meet the minimum admission requirement of Advanced Calculus. I had stopped at Geometry the year prior. If I had known I might have stayed in math regardless of how I felt about the subject.
If I went to the University of Oregon I would have to trudge through years of tedious general education which I just did with high school, and then years of tedious computer science. I already knew quite a bit, and I was better at learning on my own, so I decided to skip all of that.
The Multimedia program at The Art Institute of Seattle it was. I even won a full ride scholarship from one of their contests.
After graduating high school I underwent back surgery to repair my scoliosis, got married, attended college, had a kid, graduated, moved back to Portland at the insistance of my spouse, and then got divorced.
Portland was not a good place to be in the late 90s to have a career in game development.
I could move to a better job environment out of state, but I didn’t want to give up my daughter. I had joint custody over her but she was not living with me, and the relationship with my ex was very tense at the time. I feared moving out of state would be all that was needed to attempt to remove me from my daughter’s life.
So I decided I could just make my own studio and have a go at making games myself.
Turns out this is hard. Harder then anything else that I had done so far. I had no money, and since Kickstarter would not be invented for another 15 years, had little hope of getting any.
Without options I did what my parents had told me to do. I got a “real” job as a web developer.
I was out of control and I didn’t like it.
For the next twenty years I continued to grapple with trying to start a game studio, my daughter, my own life, work which was very spotty, and financial issues.
All the while with growing doubt, uncertainty, and my mother’s voice in my head. I would fight it, succumb to it, fight it again. On and on this would go.
I would look back on the time from middle school to my Art Institute days with longing. A longing which lead to sadness that the very thing I wanted to avoid had happened. I had gotten stuck. I would wonder how do I become that person again? How do I free myself?
During all of this I couldn’t resist my creative spurts, no matter how much they burned me. Their frequency dwindled with time, but they never went away.
Meanwhile everything was always in shambles. Projects left unfinished, jobs lost, and relationships strained or broken.
I got so mangled in my internal conflict between games and stories that by the time I was 35 my goal had devolved into developing a way to make games just like how one writes novels. Something which was completely out of my comfort zone and lacked any desire on my part. My conscious just refused to acknowledge what my soul was screaming at it.
An awareness slowly started to dawn on me this last year. It started when I became aware that I was a transgender women. Things started becoming more clear. I could look at myself as I truly was, not as the mimic I had become. The shell of a concept for what my conscious thought I should be.
I was in control, and I didn’t like it.
I always knew I loved all forms of creativity, especially stories. Slowly, painfully, I became acutely aware that stories were truly what touched my heart. That stories are a special form of creativity that are a central part of who I am. I have come to realize after all these years that stories are my keystone.
That I’m not a programmer, or a game designer, or an entrepreneur, or an engineer.
I am a Storyteller.
It’s been a very long and difficult road that looking back almost seems like a wasted life. A thirty year detour to get back to where I intuitively knew I wanted to be, needed to be, but my conscious didn’t. I know now that this is what I was meant to do. That this is the path for me.
It’s been painful at times. I’ve made mistakes, and I’ve lost a lot of time.
I have no regrets.
I love who I’m with, where I’ve ended up, and who I’m turning out to be. I couldn’t be here without having gone through all of that.
I still struggle. There are many days that I have to fight through my feelings and doubt, but I know that I can do this. I’m doing it right now.
Where do I go from here?
I not entirely sure. A lot of things have closed behind me, but many have opened up in front of me.
I know it’s a journey, and that each journey starts with a step.
This is my step.
I’m not completely in control, and I like it.