Since publishing my book, The Unbound Soul: Applied Spirituality, I have been asked on multiple occasions to write more about illiteracy and how I overcame it. Although I wrote a bit about it in the book, the story is much richer and more nuanced than was appropriate to include there. Now, I’d like to go into greater detail about how I overcame illiteracy in hopes that it may be of some inspiration to others suffering from learning/reading disorders. In all honesty, the thanks go to my childhood friend Tim for cultivating my interest in gaming.
When I was about eight years old, Tim and his brother Rob moved into my neighborhood to live with his mother. His mother invited my family to their house for lunch and a swim in their pool. Tim was four-and-a-half years my senior, and at roughly 12 years old he was already over six feet tall and probably damn near 200 pounds. He was a curious combination of professional wrestler and Leonard Nimoy (Mr. Spock from Star Trek) in my eyes. We had a great time in the pool, playing Marco Polo and eating grilled hamburgers.
Tim lived at the top of a hill in an old adobe house that overlooked our neighborhood. The neighborhood kids thought the place was haunted prior to Tim moving there. As it turns out it wasn’t haunted at all; the ghostly entity that we saw on rare occasions through dusty windows was Tim’s near-80-year-old grandmother, who never came out of the house. In pre-Tim days the rite-of-passage was to go up there and stand in front of a window for five minutes to get a glimpse of the undead—the scariest damn five minutes I could imagine when I was a kid.
All of that changed after the summer Tim moved down to So-Cal for good. On occasion we neighborhood kids gathered at his house for a weekend of Risk or Dungeons & Dragons, which Tim ran with sadistic joy. He was a very creative game master with fantastic story telling abilities. At that time, Tim was the only kid in our neighborhood, and probably our town, to have his own personal computer, a Tandy TRS “TRASH” 80, which he would program code into in order to make it do odd and, to my eyes, infinitely interesting things.
About the time I was 12, and inspired by Tim’s “TRASH,” I got my first computer, a Commodore 64 and some games for it. Tim became a regular at my house, because while his computer was fine for programming, it really lacked in the gaming department. We played video games on my computer for hours and hours, bending joysticks beyond their capacity. I had a basement/game room, where we played pool and Ping-Pong while we planned how we were going to conquer the world when we got older.
It was about then that Tim introduced me to play-by-mail games (text-based games) in hopes that I would play too, but at my age, money was hard to come by—not to mention that I could barely read. About the time I turned 15, I got consistent work on our family ranch and that earned me some money. It was good timing because Tim introduced me to a text-based gladiatorial combat game with simple enough grammar and sentences that even I could figure it out. It helped that the text ran in a repeating pattern with only a few variables changing like “Joe strikes powerfully with his battle ax” or “Kent parries quickly with his broadsword.” Once I learned those patterns, I could read the bimonthly fight printouts without too much effort. With my new work, I had enough to pay my twice-monthly game dues, and go out bowling with Tim a few times a week.
Eventually Tim started his own gaming company. Tim’s first game was a text-based, open-ended space saga. I wanted to play, but I couldn’t afford it, so Tim decided to let me work for him by stuffing envelopes, as well as occasionally entering turn orders into the computer, which I was infinitely underqualified to do. Realizing this, it didn’t take long for Tim to downgrade me to mere stamp-licker/envelope-stuffer extraordinaire. This work allowed me to keep playing his game, which I loved, so I didn’t mind the numb, swollen, pasty tongue. Eventually I began prepping the stamps with water, but Tim was kind enough to let me break in my tongue first before he introduced me to the water method.
Somewhere along the line, Tim and I started betting on our bowling throws. Tim, my elder, was a more experienced gambler and better bowler, so he clearly had the advantage over me. After just a few months of gambling, I got myself $300 in debt thanks to stupid double-or-nothing bets, which I worked off at Tim’s company, doing his bidding. I suppose I can’t complain though; I enjoyed almost every minute of it … almost.
Fortunately, Tim snatched up a new gladiatorial combat game that was for sale. It was a much more sophisticated game than the first game that I had played. The sentence structure and content were much more challenging for me, but I was feeling up to the task, so I transitioned into this new game.
Every Friday night Tim’s stepfather drove us over to Barnes & Noble to buy books. Tim typically bought two or three new books every time and read them that night. I, on the other hand, just followed him around the store, while he recommended this title or that title. I think Tim knew I was functionally illiterate, but he never mentioned it to me, something I was grateful for. I don’t think I could have handled the embarrassment at that point in my life.
Week after week we went to the bookstore, where Tim tried to entice me with great stories. Little by little, I began to take interest. I suppose my reading confidence was rising due to playing those text-based games. Eventually, I asked if I could borrow a book from Tim.
Tim, sadist that he was, picked out a hefty tome of a book called Red Storm Rising by Tom Clancy, a novel about World War III. I re-read the first page of that book seemingly countless times, but every time I got to the end, I couldn’t remember any of the content. The mere struggle overloaded my brain circuitry, wiping my memory card.
I struggled with Red Storm Rising for what seemed like forever before I gave up and asked Tim if I could borrow an easier read. He handed me a book about vampires, which was much easier. It had lots of sex and gore in it. What teenage boy wouldn’t want to read it? I don’t remember the title but it was part of a series, and I read the entire thing. I moved on to Stephen King. I read a number of his books before getting back to Tom Clancy. It was such a feeling of triumph when I turned the last page of Red Storm Rising; I could read!
As I look back on my life, it is now clear that those simple gladiatorial combat games helped me learn to read. Were it not for Tim and his games, I probably would never have been able to write The Unbound Soul.
As often happens with childhood friends, Tim and I drifted apart as we got older. I may never get the chance to thank him in person for his contribution to my life. Be that as it may, I can feel it. Thank you, Tim!
The Unbound Soul: Applied Spirituality
- Enjoy an adventure filled memoir of world travel, ancient arts, the secrets of the mind/body, the universe, and spiritual awakening.
- Learn to overcome the obstacles within that have been preventing you from actualizing the purpose trying to flow through you.
- Step out of the prison of the mind and discover the hidden truth within waiting to be revealed!
Read an excerpt!
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Richard Haight is variously described as:
Inspirational Speaker, [Life Coach], Founder of [Richard Haight's School of Martial, Meditation & Healing Arts] and Author of [The Unbound Soul: Applied Spirituality]
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