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The Creative Potential of the Chaotic Mind

BookNerd

“It is said that a picture can say a thousand words. Well, so can a thousand words. They are the keys by which we can unlock new and amazing worlds, some of which ascend beyond the imagination, and it all begins on the first page.”BookNerd

Greetings Fellow BookNerds,

Since it’s been a little while since my last post, I just wanted to let you all know that I’m still here, and that I’m currently reading what is easily among my top ten favourite books of all time. I’m hoping to have finished within the next week, but there has been a lot of things going on in my life as of late that have been interfering with my reading schedule, one of which I will be addressing today.

Like most people in this modern age, I spend a lot more time on the internet trolling social media sites than I probably should be. Facebook is the worst for that, especially when sometimes that’s the only place you can get in touch with friends you never get to see.

There’s something I’ve come to notice after all of those hours clocked online, and it’s that so many people are so careless with their use of the English language. I know that meanings of certain words have changed a lot with the growing influence of popular culture, but there are just certain terms that shouldn’t be thrown about without a bit of consideration for what that term might mean for someone else. There are two words in particular that spring to mind: anxiety and depression.

Far too often, I see someone claiming to feel depressed because they didn’t have the bag they wanted at the store, or that they’re going to have a panic attack because their favourite celebrity broke up with their husband. People don’t realize how much of an impact we have on the meaning of a word based on how we use it, and how something that should be taken quite seriously, is instead turned into something of a joke.

I feel like there are still far too many misconceptions surrounding the idea of mental illness and what it actually is, and the only way to quash some of those preconceived notions is to keep shedding light on the issue until it is no longer the elephant in the room, and we can talk about it as freely as we talk about celebrity gossip or the latest grumpy cat meme.

First of all, mental illness is a lot more common than you might think. There is a very good chance that within your group of friends, at least one or two of them suffer from some sort of mental illness, and you might never be made the wiser because it’s not something that they can open up about so easily.

Second of all, mental illness comes in so many different forms and levels of severity, that it’s impossible to generalize the effects it can have on a person to everyone who suffers from it. It’s not like the common cold, where the soar throat, coughing and sneezing are pretty well the standard symptoms for everyone. It’s also not something you can cure with some cold medicine and a cup of tea… although mind you, I do find tea to be very relaxing for the mind. But I digress.

Thirdly, the worst thing you can say to a person who has a mental illness is that they should just get over it, or that it’s all in their head and they should just ignore it and move on. If it were that simple, then having anxiety or depression wouldn’t be such a big deal, but the reality is that it is NOT that simple, even if we want it to be. After all, you’re dealing with something that is inside your mind, a part of you that has sway over everything you do. There are ways to treat it, of course, but treating something and curing it are two very different ball parks.

And fourth… okay honestly, there is no end to this list, so I should probably just try to get to the point. There are so many people in the world, heck, in our own neighbourhood, who are struggling with some form of mental illness on a daily basis, even if we may not notice it. Many of us deal with it internally, because we don’t want to scare people off with all of the chaotic thoughts that plague our minds. It saps so much of our energy just trying to deal with it… which is why it’s not uncommon for them to turn to creative outlets to channel it all and achieve at least some peace of mind.

As a child, I would often spend hours reading books. I loved the feeling of being part of this grand adventure, while remaining in the comfort of my own room. Even back then, my imagination was always running wild, and at some point reading became my gateway to creative writing. As I grew older, I became more and more obsessed with books, until one day, I realized that I was no longer just reading books for enjoyment and inspiration, but as a way to escape from the anxious thoughts that were becoming more pronounced every day.

This actually put me off reading for a time, because the last thing I needed was another means of escape instead of dealing with my issues head on. So that’s what I did… for a time. However, this did not last, as it soon became clear to me that I was looking at it all wrong. I wasn’t reading books to escape reality, at least not entirely. What I was really doing, without realizing it at first, was trying to look at reality through the eyes of other people, in some cases those who see the world much like I do, in the hopes that I could understand myself better and perhaps once again find the inspiration I once discovered as a child so long ago.

The authors of some of my all time favourite books have suffered with mental illness for most of their life, and yet you wouldn’t know it with how famous they have become and how amazing their writing is. John Green, for instance, who has written many a tale of love, loss, and finding oneself, has struggled with anxiety and obsessive compulsion disorder for a long time. I fell in love with the Nerdfighter community him and his brother created before I even knew he was a writer, but even in his videos, I had absolutely no clue. You wouldn’t know it when reading The Fault In Our Stars or Papertowns, but that’s the thing about mental illness; it’s not always smack-you-right-in-the-face obvious.

Whether you’re a world renowned actor, artist, musician or poet, everyone is susceptible to developing a mental illness, and in some cases it’s the reason a person is able to take their social status in the world to such great heights. It’s human nature to want to push beyond our own limits and discover the true potential that lies within each and every one of us. It can be more of a challenge for some than it is for others, but that just makes it all the more rewarding when we’re finally able to overcome our own obstacles.

I’ve struggled with anxiety for a very long time, but something I’ve found interesting is that in spite of that, I’ve managed to find a sense of peace and solace in the one thing I love to do most; write. My anxiety has hindered many things in my life, but the moment I have a pen in my hand or a keyboard at my fingertips, then those irritating thoughts and feelings become nothing more than background noise.

When you lose yourself in something you truly love and feel passionate about, and I mean really throw yourself into it body, mind and soul, it becomes possible to forget that you even have a mental illness. Of course, there will always be days when we doubt ourselves and our abilities, giving into the lies that anxiety spreads throughout our minds, but there will also be good days, and that’s our opportunity to shine the brightest.

BookNerd

 

 

 

A World Without Technology: Can You Imagine It?

BookNerd

“It is said that a picture can say a thousand words. Well, so can a thousand words. They are the keys by which we can unlock new and amazing worlds, some of which ascend beyond the imagination, and it all begins on the first page.” – BookNerd

 

Having grown up on a farm out in the middle of the boonies, I know what it feels like to be technologically limited. The house was heated with a wood burning stove in the basement, the grass was cut using a hand held scythe, the water was pumped out of a well, and the closest grocery store was very small and took twenty minutes to get to by car. When it came to watching television, one of my favourite pass times, we were lucky if we could get five channels, and that’s only if the weather was nice and we turned the antenna until it was in just the right spot using the rotor [for those of you unfamiliar with the term ‘rotor’, it was basically a device that had a nob that you turned in order to get a better TV signal… my how things have changed]. Then there was the dial up internet, which would often take up to an hour to load anything, and was incredibly frustrating when someone else wanted to use the phone, and were met instead with the familiar dial up screech upon picking up the receiver.

This may sound like a horrible way to live for some of you, but honestly, it’s a way of life that I miss sometimes. It may not have been easier, but it was definitely simpler in a way. It felt like I was living in the kind of close knit community that doesn’t really exist anymore, where people helped one another unconditionally, where parents went out of their way to run programs for the kids of the neighbourhood, and we were more afraid of the coyotes howling at night than we were of other people.

It’s also a reminder that there is so much that the youth of today who take for granted. I wrote an article once about how many of today’s children know next to nothing about cooking, food and nutrition. They think that it all just comes from the store and that there will always be plenty of food to go around. They have no concept of sustainability, of how it gets from the farm to their plate, and how pre packaged or ready made meals are not only less nutritional, but are also depriving them of the joys of cooking. It’s a shame, really, and it’s only going to get worse as society continues to make great strives towards making life ‘easier’.

I started thinking a lot about this after reading this passage from                           9780515147483_p0_v1_s260x420                 The Law of Nines by Terry Goodkind, which I will hopefully get to the end of in the next week or so. For those of you unfamiliar with this title, The Law of Nines is part of the same universe as The Sword of Truth series. I won’t say too much, except that you learn quite a bit more about the world that Richard ‘Rahl’ Cypher grew up in, and how it might not be all that different from our own…

Anyway, there is this one part in the book where the two main characters get into this deep discussion about what our world would be like if we suddenly no longer had access to the technology that we have come to rely upon so heavily for everything:

 

“Well, imagine life here without technology. Imagine life without the technology that heats your buildings, helps grow food in abundance, makes your lights glow. What would life be like without your phones, your trucks, your medicines and cures, without the means to supply the people in your cities with goods and services?

Imagine all the people in cities deprived of every kind of technology, technology that they use every day to survive. Imagine everyone suddenly having to find a way to grow their own food, to preserve it, to store it safely.

[…] Without your technology the fabric of civilization itself would come apart within days – if not hours. Everyone would be on their own. One city wouldn’t know what the next is doing, or if they were even alive. There’d be no plans or cars or anything else. You couldn’t travel to other places unless you walked. Do you have any idea how long it takes to walk just a few dozen miles? A distance that in your cars takes a brief time would be days of hard travel on foot.”

      It goes on for several more paragraphs, and the more I read, the more I realized just how hopeless many of us would be if we could no longer rely on the convenience of our technology to get by. Growing up, I thought it was normal having to walk almost half an hour to get to a friends house, until I visited some of my friends in the city who literally just had to cross the road. It seemed unfair at first, but then I thought about all of the beauty of nature I got to enjoy on my long walk, a beauty that my city friends were being deprived of.

      Having to work harder to get something makes you appreciate it so much more, and I fear that that’s something else that might be lost on the next generation of youth. Having worked in a grocery store, I’ve seen all sorts of different family dynamics. It always warmed my heart to see children who were eager to help their parents carry the groceries, as if it was the most exciting thing in the world. There was even this one kid who really wanted to pass me all of the groceries by himself. Those were the days that made me smile.

Then you had the children on the other end of the spectrum, the ones that made you feel the same pain that the parents must be feeling as they watch their child throw a full blown tantrum in the middle of the store when they could only have one chocolate bar, or when their teenage child is too busy text on their phone to bother helping out when their parent is struggling to pack and carry all of the groceries by themselves.

Where has their sense of responsibility gone? Their respect for those who raised them? Their appreciation for the things that they already have? Everyday, it seems to only get worse and worse, and I fear that future generations will be completely unequipped to handle even the simplest challenges should they no longer have technology to lean back on.

What are your thoughts on this quote? I’d love to hear what all of you lovely BookNerds have to say, so please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments below, or on my blogs Facebook page. Happy reading!

Cheers,

BookNerd   

The Stories We Grew Up With

 

BookNerd

“It is said that a picture can say a thousand words. Well, so can a thousand words. They are the keys by which we can unlock new and amazing worlds, some of which ascend beyond the imagination, and it all begins on the first page.” – BookNerd

As long a there has been life, there has been stories. You could say that our very existence is the greatest story ever written, one which will span to the end of time itself. It is a story with as many antagonists as there are protagonists, and with over seven billion chapters, each one cataloguing the events of every individual life that’s lived.

We all strive to shine as brightly as we can, in the hopes that our chapter will be a memorable one capable of enduring the test of time. There are many pages to fill, however, and in the meantime there are many stories of our own creation for us to enjoy, ones which may have a greater influence on our greatest story than we realize.

I’ve been thinking a lot about stories lately. I mean, I think about stories basically every moment of my waking days, but there’s been an increasingly prominent theme among them that makes me yearn for the days when my greatest frustration was having to share my toys with my siblings.

Youth is by far the most fleeting part of our chapter, and yet for most it is the most memorable and cherished for the very reason that I would love to go back in time and fight over the last Lego piece I need to finish my castle; because our worries, our fears and our anxieties were so much smaller back then.

It’s also the time when our discovery of the world begins, and thinking back on it, a great deal of what I learned about life and how to live it came from the books I read – or had read to me during my pre-reading days – and I’m sure many of you feel the same. I’m not talking about the technical stuff, like how to learning how to ride a bike or how to use the toilet, even though there are plenty of books that can help us overcome those obstacles, I’m sure. No, I’m talking more about lessons of morality, values, and normative behaviours that are accepted by our culture.

9780679830665One of my all time favourite books when I was really little was called “Elmo Wants A Bath“. The entire thing was waterproof, so I could take it into the bathtub with me and not have to worry about ruining it. It was one of those books that was designed to help find joy in taking baths, instead of seeing them as a chore, and it certainly worked on me. I couldn’t wait to dump in the bubble bath and sculpt the resulting foam into bubbly mountains. It was such a simple book, and yet it impacted my life so greatly, and as such it holds a very important place in my heart. It helped me to realize that joy can be found in anything, you just have to know where to look.

51HPM256BGL__SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Another book I remember quite fondly was called “Dear Tooth Fairy“, which told the story of a young sprite who works hard to earn her wings and become a Tooth Fairy. I’ve always had a fondness for fantasy and magic, and it’s quite possible that this book was the catalyst for it. It was a truly a book of hope, using a combination of beautiful illustrations and a simple yet compelling story to teach us that nothing is impossible, and our only limitation is the size of our dreams. It also taught me a lot about oral hygiene, but my young mind found those bits to be of less significance 🙂

519NKBB2FXL__SX258_BO1,204,203,200_If you grew up in the 90’s, then you probably remember the “Little Critter” stories. They were certainly a classic, and what was so great about them was that the stories were very relatable for kids. There’s one in particular that comes to mind, and it was called ‘I Was So Mad’.

We’ve all had times where it seemed like the only word our parents knew how to say was ‘no’. It could be frustrating, especially when you didn’t know why they wouldn’t let you buy the candy bar from the store, or stay up past your bedtime, or watch a scary movie. The protagonist of this story gets so mad that his parents won’t let him do anything he wants to do, and decides to run away from home, but he barely leaves the house when his friends come by and ask if he wants to play baseball with them. When his mom finally says yes, he realizes that he’s not angry anymore, and he joins his friends at the park and has a really good time.

These are just a few of the books that I feel helped to shape me into the person I am today, by encouraging me to dream, have fun, and to not sweat the small stuff. This is why it’s so important to encourage children to read when they’re young as part of their fundamental development, because try as they might, our parents don’t always have the time to bestow upon us their wisdom in all aspects of life. Books help to fill in the gaps, and sometimes they teach us things about ourselves that we wouldn’t have known otherwise.

What are some of your favourite books from your childhood? I would love to hear about them! Leave the titles in the comments below or on my blogs Facebook page, and until next time, happy reading!

Cheers,

BookNerds 

 

 

 

Winding Down The Year

BookNerd

“It is said that a picture can say a thousand words. Well, so can a thousand words. They are the keys by which we can unlock new and amazing worlds, some of which ascend beyond the imagination, and it all begins on the first page.”BookNerd

 

Greetings Fellow BookNerds,

I know I’ve been absent for a while, but given that it’s December, I’m sure most of you can understand. One minute you’re sitting down, relaxing with a mug of hot chocolate, and then you’re rushing about trying to get a bunch of last minute preparations done as you realize that Christmas is only a week away and you’ve barely made a dent in your holiday check list.

I haven’t had a lot of time for reading, meaning the next book review won’t be coming out any time soon, but I will do my best to continue blogging about topics I find interesting. Also, you should know that I’m always open to suggestions from my followers. If there’s anything you would like my opinion about, or if there’s a previous post that you have a question about or would like to comment on, or anything else that comes to mind, feel free to jot it down in the comments below, or on my blog’s Facebook page.

Latest-The-Force-Awakens-Trailer-DescriptionTo get things started, how about you all tell me what you thought about the new Star Wars movie. I’m hoping that by now everyone has seen it, so this won’t be creating spoilers for anyone. Just in case, consider yourself forewarned. That being said, feel free to get the conversation rolling by sharing your favourite scenes, characters, lines, or anything else you loved about the movie. Heck, if there’s something you were disappointed with, I’d be curious to hear about that too. Leave your thoughts in the comments for this post or on my blog’s Facebook page, and then I’ll try to follow up on them in one of my next posts.

In the meantime, I hope you’re all prepared for the winter season which is finally upon us, and until next time, happy reading!

 

Cheers,

BookNerd 

When Videogames Are More Like Books, Amazing Things Happen

“It is said that a picture can say a thousand words. Well, so can a thousand words. They are the keys by which we can unlock new and amazing worlds, some of which ascend beyond the imagination, and it all begins on the first page.” – BookNerd

It is said that a picture can say a thousand words. Well, so can a thousand words. They are the keys by which we can unlock new and amazing worlds, some of which ascend beyond the imagination, and it all begins on the first page.” – BookNerd

Greetings Fellow BookNerds,

So, I just got the news that the next installment of Dreamfall Chapters is set to come out this Thursday, and I could not be more excited… well, I suppose I could be, but only if the new Star Wars movie were to come out on the same day. Still, I don’t think I’m going to be able to sleep too well for the next few nights, as my mind will be too focused on the next chapter of Zoe Castillo’s journey.

Actually, ever since I began playing this series, I found myself thinking a lot about how videogames have changed over the course of the past fifteen years or so, not just visually, but in the stories they have to tell, and the kind of thoughts and emotions those stories provoke in us.

For those of you unfamiliar with Dreamfall Chapters, it is the third in a series of games that began with The Longest Journey in 1999, a game which was both simple and complex at the same time. It told the story of two worlds; the one of science and logic known as Stark, and the other of magic and chaos known as Arcadia. The two worlds were once one and the same, but it became evident that magic and science could not co-exist peacefully, and hence they were divided, watched over by the Guardian who maintained the Balance between them.

In the game, you play as April Ryan, an art student with no real direction in life. She has been having very strange dreams, in which she travels to an unknown world and meets a beautiful white dragon who refers to April as her daughter. She tries to dismiss them at first, but when the world of Arcadia begins to leak into Stark, she cannot ignore them any longer. With the help of a mysterious man named Cortez, who seems to know a great deal about Arcadia, April soon discovers that she is a shifter, meaning that she has the ability to move between the two worlds.

Unsure where this journey will take her, April travels to Arcadia, where she meets all sorts of colourful characters, and learns more about this mysterious world and how she may be the only one who can restore the upset Balance between both worlds. It’s an older game, and as a result it doesn’t have the greatest visuals, nor the most exciting gameplay, but the story, dialogue and characters make it well worth your time, I assure you.

After I finished playing the first one, which to my surprise only took me a few days – my gaming is a lot like my reading, slow but determined, hence my surprise – I thirsted for more. When I discovered that a sequel had been made about eight years later called Dreamfall, I thought I might cry with happiness as I immediately got on my computer and bought the game.

I was so happy to see that they managed to keep all of the charm and wonder of the first one, while having created a gaming environment that was more suitable for modern gamers. They brought back much of the old, but also included a few new things for us to discover, which only added to the already amazing story. Of course, like any game, there are always things they could have done better, but overall, I was satisfied, and once again I fell into despair when the game ended, thus ending the journey… until I made yet another discovery!

In 2014, the game was reborn yet again with Dreamfall Chapters, taking the story to a whole new level that I couldn’t have even imagined being possible. Red Thread Games, who bought the rights to the game from Funcom, added an element to the game which was met with mixed results. Similar to games like Knights of the Old Republic and Witcher 3, Dreamfall Chapters includes various dialogue options which can alter the path your story takes. In other words, your choices have actual consequences, and honestly, I think that was a brilliant move on their part.

Games used to be designed in a way where there was only one outcome, and it was just a matter of making your way towards that outcome, which remained unchanging no matter how many times you play it. This is all well and good, except that there are no consequences for the actions you take along the way, and when there are no consequences, then all we’re teaching young gamers is that you can get away with anything so long as you know how to shoot a gun or go into stealth mode.

I love games that make you think, as opposed to shoot first and ask questions later. In Dreamfall Chapters, when you get to a point where you have to decide how to respond to what someone else has said, or you have to make a choice between two courses of action, the game pauses to give you time to reflect on those choices, allowing you to place yourself and their shoes and consider what you would do if placed in that very same situation. What’s more, each option provides a glimpse into your characters mind, so you can see the thought process they’re going through, not unlike what authors do with their characters. In other words, the characters begin to seem more like actual people, adding a whole new dimension to video gaming.

And with this new dimension, the stories that video game designers create can become even more complex, sometimes to the point where it literally feels like you’re actively participating in a novel. Dreamfall Chapters does this really well by dividing the game into different chapters, each one with its own plot twists and character perspectives, sometimes even ending on a cliff hanger to be picked up in the next couple of chapters. It’s a really creative and imaginative way to design a game, and I truly hope that the future will show us even more games following a similar path.

If any of you BookNerds out their are fans of this, or similar games, I would love to hear what you have to say about them and your opinion on the future of story driven games. Leave your thoughts in the comments below or on my blogs Facebook page, and until next time, keep on reading!

Cheers,

BookNerd

 

 

 

Everyone Has To Start Somewhere

BookNerd
“It is said that a picture can say a thousand words. Well, so can a thousand words. They are the keys by which we can unlock new and amazing worlds, some of which ascend beyond the imagination, and it all begins on the first page.”BookNerd

 

 

Greetings Fellow BookNerds,

It makes little difference where our aspirations lie, whether we yearn to become a doctor, a politician, a writer, a teacher, or a banker. Regardless of where our desired destination is, we all have to start at the same place: the bottom. It doesn’t feel like a very good place to be sometimes, especially when we’re surrounded by those who have climbed to the top of their life’s mountain and are able to enjoy the magnificent view from the top.

Yes, I’m sure we all wish that we could just skip the hardships and stress that comes from being at the bottom, but you know what? Regardless of whether you’re just starting out or you’re part of the big leagues, there are always going to be moments where you doubt yourself, or you question whether this was really what you wanted to do because it’s a lot harder than you had imagined it would be.

I’m not saying all of this to rain on your parade or anything. After all, I am also at the bottom, and have chosen to follow the path to becoming a writer which many have taken, but only some of whom have made it all the way to the end, to the top of their own mountains. It’s a daunting journey, especially for someone like me who suffers from anxiety and occasional depression episodes, and sometimes I ask myself that very same question: is this what I really want to do? And do you know what I tell myself every time? Hell yes!

Writing has been my passion for as long as I can remember. Even though I didn’t really get into reading until I was in grade 4, I probably wouldn’t have had the time anyway because up until then, I was too busy trying to create my own stories. For me, it’s not just a dream, but something I feel that I need to do.

I suffered from crippling shyness when I was young, and as a result I found it painstakingly difficult to express myself vocally. As you can imagine, it created challenges for me whenever I wanted to make friends, but that wasn’t even the worst part. I’ve always felt that I had a lot of really good ideas, but because I was too shy to share them, most of those ideas never got to see the light of day, something I look back on every day with immense regret.

I can’t change how I was in the past, but even if I could, I don’t think I would want to, because then I might not have the same drive that I do today to pursue a career in writing, and that just seems to wrong. Our past is what makes us who we are, and as difficult and torturous as some of those moments may have been, we still managed to ‘keep calm and carry on’, as the saying goes.

And you know, being at the bottom isn’t all bad. That’s when you’re able to see all of the different possibilities laid out in front of you, and we are still able to see each one of them as attainable. There’s also that saying where once you’re at the top, then there’s nowhere to go but down. A frightening prospect indeed, but it’s something that we all must face after we’ve had our brief moment to admire the view before reality kicks in.

When you’re still at the bottom, the only way to go is up, and I think that’s what gives many of us hope, even on our darkest days. So really, we should be treasuring those moments in our early days, because as tough as things might get, our origins give us roots to keep us grounded, creating a place that we can always go back to if ever we find ourselves in need of comfort.

What is your dream? I would love to hear all about what inspired it, and what you’ve gone through thus far to achieve it, because we all have our own story, and there is always a pair of ears somewhere waiting anxiously to hear it.

Leave your thoughts in the comments below, and until next time, keep on reading!

Cheers,

BookNerd    

Let Fear Be Your Motivator, Not Your Excuse

“It is said that a picture can say a thousand words. Well, so can a thousand words. They are the keys by which we can unlock new and amazing worlds, some of which ascend beyond the imagination, and it all begins on the first page.” – BookNerd

“It is said that a picture can say a thousand words. Well, so can a thousand words. They are the keys by which we can unlock new and amazing worlds, some of which ascend beyond the imagination, and it all begins on the first page.”BookNerd

Greetings Fellow BookNerds,

It feels like a lifetime since my last post, even though it was just a couple weeks ago. I’ve been kept busy with my Nanowrimo story, which sadly I am very far behind on, but even if I don’t make it to the 50,000 word mark, at least I can proudly say that I devoted time to working on it every single day, and that’s a victory in and of itself. I was considering setting my blogging aside for the rest of the month to avoid too many distractions, but in light of recent events, I convinced myself that it was okay to devote some time to my followers and anyone else who may stumble upon my blog.

I have always wanted to travel, but due to money constraints and lack of time, I still have yet to set foot outside of Canada. Fortunately, living in Ottawa for five years has allowed me the opportunity to experience a worlds worth of cultures without having to leave the city, for which I am extremely grateful. Of course, I would still like to one day fulfill my dream of travelling the world, but sadly I have to admit that I am being rooted to the ground where I presently stand by fear, a fear which is slowly encroaching on us all.

Having grown up in a neighbourhood where you had to drive in pitch blackness at night because there were almost no streetlights to guide you along, where the neighbours dogs roamed free and you didn’t always know if they were friendly, where most nights you’re lulled to sleep by the sound of a pack of howling coyotes on the hunt just outside your house, and the house itself has aged to a point where it sounds like a haunted house, let’s just say that it takes quite a bit to get me quaking in my boots. In fact, it used to be that the only thing I was truly scared of was ventriloquist dummies, a fear which regrettably sticks with me to this day. I don’t know what exactly it is about them, but the very sight makes me want to dart behind the nearest rock. But I digress.

As we grow older, many of our childhood fears stay with us, but the way in which we perceive them changes. For example, our childhood fear of spiders was based purely on how they looked. I mean, eight hairy legs and a pair of fangs can be quite terrifying for someone who is still trying to figure out the difference between a circle and a square. As we get older, our curious minds seeking out information about every little thing, our fear of spiders then becomes a fear based on our knowledge of them and what these tiny arachnids are capable of. In other words, our fears never truly disappear, but simply evolve, sometimes to a point where we are no longer bothered by that fear.

The key point in all of that is knowledge. The more we understand something, the less we are controlled by our fear of it, and that can be applied to just about anything. I used to be terrified at the thought of driving a car, but that was only because I didn’t know how to. Once I practiced and got my license, I couldn’t believe that I had ever been scared of something so simple as driving! I felt the same way before starting my first year of university. All I knew about it going in was what my high school teachers had told me, which was essentially that no matter what, my grades were going to drop down from what I was used to getting, and what my friends who had been to university already told me,  which was more or less the same thing. But that thought alone made me terrified, and that’s because I was basing the next four years of my life on what little I knew about the whole experience, and the added fear of living on my own for the first time didn’t help either. Four years later, and I can say with confidence that university was one of the greatest adventures of my life, and part of the reason for that was because I didn’t let the fear of my preconceived notions get the better of me.

The same logic can be applied to people. I’ve always been a bit of a socially awkward individual, never quite getting a firm grasp on the norms of social interaction… in other words, I had difficulty making friends. Not an uncommon problem, I know, but the situation is different for every person. For me, I grew up in a very different environment from most of the people I met. It’s not easy to join discussions about current pop culture when you live out in the boonies where there are more farm animals than people, and your television only gets about 3 channels, maybe 4 on a good day. Don’t get me wrong, I love where I grew up, and I wouldn’t change that way of life for the world, but it did make things challenging for me at times, namely making friends. Oddly enough, things became a lot easier when I got into reading books. It finally had a common interest I could share, but not only that, they changed the way I saw the world.

It’s the power of knowledge. Whether fictional or not, books have a way of opening our eyes to things we didn’t even know were there, educating us through the experiences of others as they journey into the unknown. In books, the protagonist is put into situations where they have to face their fears in order to become stronger, whether it’s to help themselves or those they care about. My favourite part was when the hero rallied the people together to face off against a common enemy, so that they may conquer their fears as well and finally live in peace. Of course, stories are different than reality, but one thing they both have in common is that fear can be our greatest enemy, but also our greatest motivator.

So when I hear people lashing out at someone, not because of something they themselves did, but because of what others have done, I can’t help but feel a stab of pain in my heart knowing that those people have become victims of their own fear. When we let it, fear can manipulate us, twisting our thoughts into ugly, misshapen ideas capable of tugging on our emotions, making us feel a certain way about something that we never would have before. It’s a poison to the mind, and it can cripple us emotionally and physically if we give into it for too long. Worst of all, it can turn us into the kind of person we never wanted to be.

When I read the news story about a woman standing in line at a grocery store was afraid that a Muslim woman, who was standing in the same line as her, might try to harm her in some way, I wanted to cry. In the aftermath of what happened in Paris, I don’t blame people for being scared. We hear about horrible stuff like this happening on the news almost every day, but we never think that it can happen to us… until it finally does. We can’t always make sense of it, when our world is turned on its head so suddenly, and we instinctively want something or someone to put the blame on in our need to find meaning in it all. I’m not about to tell anyone to stop being angry, sad or scared, because that would be asking the impossible. However, the moment people use their fear as an excuse to push their hatred and anger on those who did nothing to deserve it, that’s where I draw the line.

Humanity has grown and changed so much, and to think that such archaic sentiments like racism, bigotry and prejudice still exist is disheartening, and fear is only going to make these feelings grow stronger in people. It’s the side effect of uncertainty, which is directly linked to a lack of knowledge and understanding. Of course, knowing more about something won’t necessarily extinguish our fear completely, but it can help us to better understand the root cause of our fear, instead of letting our fear control what we see and how we see it.

I would like to end this post by sending my love and best wishes to those who were affected by the attacks in Paris, and I hope that in the face of such uncertainty and devastation, that you are able to stand together and find hope amidst the fear. I hope that the video posted below will remind everyone that the actions of a few do not define a people as a whole, and that we must look beyond a person’s exterior to see what is truly in their hearts.

BookNerd