I don’t think Mia realizes what I’m doing to her. That’s probably a good thing. By the time she does, she’ll be too wrapped up in the latest Fantasy Flight boardgame or the newest Marvel comics crossover event to be too angry with me. (At least, that’s what I’m counting on.)
I’m turning her into a geek. Not on purpose. It’s just the atmosphere of our lives. She has no choice but to breathe it in.
I started, of course, with my writing. When she was very little she would ask me what I was writing about. When I told her I wrote fantasy stories, she started writing and illustrating her own. She would even fold the papers in half so that they looked like books. There were stories about lonely aliens and robots who ate people and then felt bad about it afterwards. I still have these. They’re brilliant.
It didn’t really catch fire, though, until I started turning Sundays into game days. We’ve had a revolving roster of players, but the stalwarts have been Jeremy and Alexa Duncan. (Alexa, by the way, has begun selling regularly to F&SF under her full name — Alexandra Duncan — and has already caught the attention of people like Ursula K. LeGuin. Click the link to her blog on the sidebar over there.) We played role playing games for a long time, and she would listen in rapt attention as her dad and his friends started telling a sort of story, bursting with a fascinating roster of characters and surprising predicaments. It occurred to me at the time that this pastime — which has been unfortunately stigmatized by popular culture as the hobby of social misfits and unwashed, basement-dwelling freaks — was being introduced to her as a completely natural way to spend an afternoon. It was defined by friends getting together, sharing breakfast, laughing, talking about books and language and history and, best of all, telling a communal, evolving story.
Later we set that aside for a while and moved on to board games, of which there is an amazing variety. The first grown-up game she sat in for was Talisman. Oh my God, did she love Talisman. It’s a quest game, where each person plays a standard fantasy character — dwarf, sorcerer, ghoul — and struggles to gain the power necessary to grab the Crown of Command, which will grant dominion over the world. Silly stuff. But the game is great fun, and Mia took to it like a shark to a kiddie wading pool. She was ruthless.
(She still is. The four of us recently sat down to a game of Mag-Blast, a card game about space warfare, and she announced her intention of reducing us all to flinders. Knowing her bloodthirsty nature, we took her seriously and attempted to beat her back. Whereupon she calmly and systematically annihilated each and every one of us in turn. It was brutal and beautiful.)
Then she started eyeballing my comic books. I have quite a collection. I don’t go for the single issue nonsense; I like big collections, so I can read a full story. And because I’m a book nut, I like nice hardbound copies if I can get them. So I took a few down to break her in. I gave her Ultimate Spider-Man, so she could read about him from the beginning. I gave her The Incredible Hulk, since she liked the movie so much. Then Mark Waid’s run on The Fantastic Four. She was okay with them, but she didn’t really get excited until she discovered Black Widow, the Russian assassin and occasional Avenger. Once she did, she had to read everything about her.
And then — my crowning achievement and the true hallmark of her descent into geekdom — came Lovecraft. She was already familiar with the aesthetic of the Cthulhu mythos because, well, because I’m her dad and I don’t know if a week goes by that I don’t reference it somehow. When she was eight she made me a Christmas card of Cthulhu wearing a Santa hat. Shit was tight. Last year, she asked if she could read him, and we went to Barnes and Noble and shared a very profound moment between father and child: the purchasing of her very first H.P. Lovecraft anthology. It the same one I started with, lo those long years ago: Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre: The Best of H.P. Lovecraft, with that nightmarish cover by Michael Whalen.
She went home that night and read “The Music of Erich Zann.” It’s not the one I would have chosen for her to start with, but she devoured it. And she raved about it. She couldn’t stop talking about it for days.
A few days later, sitting over dinner, she said, “Daddy, I memorized a poem.”
“Oh? Let me hear it.” I was expecting something from school. Maybe a short one by Robert Frost or William Carlos Williams.
She said, “That is not dead which can eternal lie/ And with strange eons, even death may die.”
I shed a small tear. I kissed her sweetly on the forehead.
She got a second helping of ice cream that night.