Vanishing Point A Bookand Websiteby Ander Monson


Dungeon 2

When I say the dungeon is our forgotten childhood, I mean the dungeon is where we forget who we used to be, the rudimentary selves we used to try out. We forget how close we were to death, injury, or incarceration. We forget the litany of crimes we committed: breaking and entering, trespassing, vandalism, arson, driving without a license, driving recklessly with a license, shoplifting, possibly sodomy, drug use, underage drinking, stalking. We forget the times we nearly died, or someone we knew nearly died, or the times someone died: the homemade bombs, the suicides, the drunk driving accidents, the murders, the shop class accidents, the list of accidental burns, the bear traps, the fox traps the dogs got into, the near-car-crashes, the car crashes, the insane driving, the sliding through stop signs into the intersection and opposing traffic, the guns, the snowmobiles, the bows, the hunting, the computer crime, the breaking into abandoned bus stations and setting off all the flares after having broken all the windows, the poor behavior, the lying, the pornography, the firework accidents, the drinking of the antifreeze, the snorting Kool-Aid and the subsequent mucous membrane rupture and emergency rooms, the pneumonia, the constipation requiring hospitalization, the frostbite, the exposure, the hyperthermia, the hypothermia, the falls, the falls, the falls, the broken limbs, the dislocated shoulders, the golf clubs in the faces, the near-bursts of bottle rockets exploding all around the face, the attempts to blow up the gas station with bottle rockets, the time we launched bottle rockets at the douchebag from downstate driving a Ferrari into our world and having the gall to fuel it up at the Citgo, and all the picks, sledges, circular saws, the knives, the axes, not to mention the other thousand domestic ways there might have been to die, many of them available in any garage or toolshed.

We are lucky to have survived it. This is the country. If it wasn't the country, it would have been the city with its litany of other ways to end or be ended.

We are lucky that our parents did not know the extent of it. We are lucky that they have forgotten their own childhoods, stuck them in the basement to be brought back out every couple years when some memory returns to mind unbidden that they had thought permanently erased.

The desire for exploration is a childhood desire. Those of us who survive childhood lose that desire in differing amounts.

A dungeon is undiscovered. A dungeon is imagination: anything could be down that corridor, behind that door, underneath that floorboard.

The hacker impulse springs from the childhood impulse. There's a reason why so many hacker-types are teenagers. There's an element of stupid rebellion, sure, but more importantly there is desire to know, desire to explore, desire to get in any place we are not allowed to get. This often correlates with the essay impulse.

When I was ten, my father often told us to put away our bikes that we left in the front yard. He said eventually someone would steal them if we didn't. After enough repeats of this conversation we came home one time to find our bikes gone. We cried, my brother and I. We wailed. We raged. We bemoaned our fate. How could someone have done this to us? We would revenge ourselves on the neighborhood kid, since surely it was one of them, who had taken our stuff. Dad said, well, what did you expect? He said, well, there's a lesson here. What was the lesson?

A couple days later I discovered our bikes in the darkness of the locked basement along with our accumulated boxes. Of course I got into the locked basement. That's all I wanted: to get into whatever I could get into. I stole the bikes back from the basement and hid them somewhere else. I told my brother. I said we needed to wail enough that my father would relent, and go to find the bikes, and find them missing, and then there would be a lesson learned indeed.

I couldn't wait it out, or maybe it was my brother. We let him know we were onto him. What was the lesson, we asked him? Tell us the lesson.

I still don't know what the lesson was. Was it that your kids will get into everything? That they're wired like dwarves and thieves to try to obtain access to everything they possibly can?

That if we try hard enough and explore deep enough that we can recover anything that has been taken from us?

I like to think so.

Anything could be in the basement, in the attic, in the dungeon below the cellar, in the mines. When did we stop exploring dungeons?

When did D&D become about the role playing, not the mindless, desperate, fevered exploration?

When did we learn that certain things were really off limits?

Were we hit hard enough?

Were we penalized effectively enough?

Were we conditioned not to open certain doors?

Were we arrested when we made that bomb joke in the airport?

Were we beaten up by bigger kids when we did something just stupid enough to finally warrant it?

When did we start to wear, to own, to be the product of our own limitations?







* This essay appeared in Devil's Lake, perhaps in a somewhat different incarnation.