Slouched on the front stoop, feet together and tucked in, knees up and to the side, just two steps inside the shadow of a blooming dogwood, and hiding behind a cascade of strawberry blonde bangs, she sits in her preferred perch: mostly invisible to automobiles and the rare pedestrian, but watching. And just waiting for something to happen.
So frequently alone that the word lonely will no longer suffice. Solitary yet forever surrounded by the clumsy and rude bustle of adults in their fearful attempts to avoid “failure,” whatever that is supposed to mean.
She feels endlessly lectured about the pitfalls and frequent traps she must avoid when she becomes a grown-up, but in her eight years she has been sequestered to a life of carefully-curated solitude, but given the stress her parents seem to experience, she doesn’t have much confidence in the quality of their advice.
Childhood is such a dull and frequently insulting experience.
She’s not an idiot, but her parents and other adults in her life never seem to realize that they are talking down to her as if she were some sort of subhuman moron. At least her grandmother seems to understand. She will take the time to acknowledge Marina’s uniquely insightful nature. And, of course her uncle Curt. Such a fantastic sense of humor, the guy is silly, and other adults seem eager to demean him because he still lives with his mother, but he is always happen and keeps her laughing.
She wishes she could see them more frequently. If only they lived closer, but mom and dad says there’s no jobs in their town, which is why they live two hours away.
Anyway, all that aside, Marina has become fascinated by this quirk, this oddly vexing thing that infects her imagination like an itch she cannot scratch.
It’s almost as if the weird little jokes that she learned from her uncle and her grandparents have infected her perception, and she is finding it difficult to disengage. Like a puzzle she can’t stop trying to solve.
Because just when she thought she had exhausted all possibilities for novelty within her infinitely small, claustrophobic and positively boring realm, there emerged, like an unacknowledged itch, the creeping recognition that just beyond the margins of her abnormally acute perception lie the threshold of something akin to an extremely well-told joke.
Just precisely like the jokes shared by her grandparents and her uncle. Straight faced but with a twinkle in their eye, and the most minute tweaks of timing in their delivery. Nobody else would see it, of course, but she had learned to pay attention to the smallest anomalies, the teeniest deviations from the norm, always a twist of absurdity or the tweak of timing. And she would burst into laughter.
Such was the cunning design of this increasingly tantalizing puzzle that it would not bear direct scrutiny. She had to view it askance, out of the corner of her eye, so to speak. She had to contrive her interactions with the world such that she caught herself by surprise, and only then was she able to tease out its uniquely living architecture.
Maybe not the right word to describe this thing. It’s sort of like somebody had preceded her across the tapestry of her existence and carefully placed icons and objects and references such that others would overlook them, but with the right perspective the same tweaks and quirks and subtle plays on timing would enable her to imagine correlations which magically transformed the mundane into the hilarious.
But such was the design of this puzzle, so to speak, but she could not set out to solve it through the disciplined application of her considerable logical skills.
Although indeed these little quirks appeared to follow a form of architectural reason that struck her as brilliant, they were never discovered logically. She was always surprised by them, and that in itself was another layer to the joke. As if it were a reminder to her that maybe logic is not the way to find that which is humorous.
I mean, have you ever tried to logically tell a joke? Just doesn’t work that way. Not well, anyway.
True, there are lots of different kinds of jokes. There are dirty jokes, there are jokes that employs shock. There are lots of so-called jokes that are mean spirited.
That’s not what Marina finds to be funny.
There’s something delightful about the delivery of something clever that evades the attention of others unless they do the unexpected. It’s that delightful sense that you got it but others did not, and if they were to embrace something unexpected, they would see it. But most people won’t.
So although her parents are keen to see her move beyond the silly era of childhood and progress towards becoming a successful adult, whatever “successful“ is supposed to mean, she finds it most fruitful and exciting to just let go and be a kid, as her grandmother says.
It’s only during these times when the so-called jokes manifest, and she burst into laughter, just exactly when she needs it most. Naturally, this creates no small amount of tension between she and her parents.
For example, it occurred to her that only while completely engrossed within the exercise of trying to maintain balance riding hands free on her bicycle, while humming to herself the tempo of a catchy tune, was she able to surprise herself in flashes of insight necessary to uncover yet one more layer to this “joke.“
Every time her parents see her riding down the sidewalk on her bike, hands in her pockets, they freak out. So, she finds she has to be fairly circumspect, but this methodology is nonetheless quite fruitful.
Only when she was not listening could she begin to hear it. Only when she was not looking for it could she begin to see it.
The correlations that she discerns are, at the face of it: absurd. Nonsensical.
The timing, the pacing, the context. All of those things in concert create the most delightful splashes of joy.
For what seems like a very long time, this is her private thing. She would not dare share it with her parents, because she is pretty sure it would earn her a trip to the school counselor, and ever more boring, fear-dominated discussions about mental illness.
Because she knows she is not insane; the adult world appears to be completely out of its mind, and in fact that is one of the more important context which makes this so-called “joke“ all the more hilarious.
One afternoon, she spots out of the corner of her eye something familiar. A girl from her school that lives three blocks away. Jana? She is in the third grade, but goes to her school. She watches her as she laughs to herself, and then stops, as if to see if anybody notices, and then seems to burst into laughter as she continues walking even faster.
Marina stands up and says “hello,“ and it shocks Jana. She had not seen her on the porch.
Marina walks across the front lawn, and ask: “what’s so funny?“ Jana says: “nothing“ and looks away, embarrassed.
Marina understands. For reasons that she does not yet fully comprehend, it’s almost as if she can read Jenna in the same way that she can read her self. She understands her embarrassment, so she says just exactly the right thing, because she knows that it would work for her.
She simply says: “I do that too, all the time. I see things that are funny, another people don’t understand, but I will laugh, because it’s really funny.“
And just like that, a circle is formed.
Marina and Jana are similar, but by temperament they could not be any more different.
Marina, for instance, he is obviously more pre-disposed towards action. She’s the kind of girl who will get up and talk to a stranger, as we’ve seen.
Jana, for her part, would be more inclined to stay back and thoughtfully consider the broader implications, which makes for a pretty good complement to Marina’s impetuousness, even though Jana’s parents are concerned that she might be too cautious or shy.
Because the two are bound to one another through a shared sense of humor, they quickly learn to work to one-another’s respective strengths, creating a far more powerful and frankly hilarious collaboration than what was previously possible.
Their parents are delighted. Both girls are suddenly less sullen, and it brings the parents great pleasure to see the other girl have a good friend.
Of course, there are periodic disagreements, and resulting fights. These arise from the girls respective differences, but this greatly diminishes when marina introduces Jana to Tui, a girl on-line that she met through Minecraft.
Tui is 11, and lives in California. She seems to completely understand Marina and Jana, and is really, really funny. She’s really good at using humor to defuse conflict which arises from the girls differences, but what’s really great about her is that she has the same sense of humor, and here’s the really great thing: as the three girls share with one another the different things that they had seen, they realize that they are something like pieces of a puzzle.
In other words: when Marina shares the things that she has discovered with Jana, and vice versa: the pieces fit as if it’s part of the same joke. This makes the whole thing even funnier, of course. For lots of reasons, one of them being: how could nobody else see it? Do they not see how amazing this is?
Tui sees it too. In fact, that’s how Marina discovered. She had been exploring the map on a Minecraft server, and had seen something that Tui had built and it blew her mind. It was almost exactly the same kind of puzzle, and after Tui confirmed that Marina was not trying to “grief” (destroy) her creation, the two became fast friends. They would share more and more of the funny things they had noticed, and would laugh deep into the night
Marinas and Janice parents were at first concerned about Tui, forever worried that a grown man was somehow behind one of these profiles, but a phone call to her parents alleviated their concerns. With Jenna’s coaching, Marina reasoned with her parents that although they frequently say things like “why can’t you just go outside and make some friends?“ The truth is is that she’s almost never allowed outside because they are forever afraid. So of course she and her friends would play with one another on line.
It was on these Minecraft servers that the three friends begin to assemble and experiment and collaborate on the different pieces of this puzzle.
They were amazed to realize that through this collaboration they were gaining a certain power, if you will. Not only greater insight, but the ability to more successfully navigate the frequently absurd and confusing world dominated by fearful adults.
They defined and evolved certain code words to describe their own insights about how their team was working, because they begin to become interested in Tui’s theory that there are other groups like their own on other Minecraft servers who might have actually seen the same phenomena.
They found it helpful to describe their triad in the following manner:
Marina was “fire,” which meant that she was the one which would inspire action, set the tempo, defined the pace. She’s the one who will take the first step.
Jana was her natural complement. She was “leaf,” which Jana chose because they realized that when the three of them would go explore a Minecraft server, the first thing that Jana did was plant more trees, cultivate crops, create sources for nourishment, raise animals, and even decorate.
Marina would dive into a mine and start collecting iron, diamond, and gold. Jana would be at the surface, growing trees, raising chickens, growing crops. And bringing marina food and resources as needed. Of course, Marina would share what she would collect with Jana.
Tui was frequently the intermediary between the two, helping marina with mining, bringing her resources, and helping Jana.
But also Tui would be out making friends with the neighbors. She was able to recognize the collaborative sophistication of other groups which would distinguish them from the normal hermits on Minecraft servers, and for this reason they referred to her as “water,“ which flowed between the different areas, and at least in the natural world (and eventually with a promised update to Minecraft) has the power to re-write the landscape.
The way they see it: if you can find other groups that have people like Marina, Jana, and Tui, they will build a collaborative fabric. Flexible and inter-dependent. Able to completely re-form and remake the landscape, while defending their efforts from the inevitable troll.
In fact, that was really interesting.
As always, some boy would come along and start stealing their stuff or breaking their structures, and of course this would horrify Jana, but Marina and Tui would very capably defuse these incursions, for both were able to take action, but to do so in a deeply collaborative manner. And while Marina might be pre-disposed towards brute force, Tui was able to do that but also make it clear that she represented part of a broader fabric, and they knew how to make it less fun for him to continue as is.
In other words: the neighbors would make it an unwelcome place for somebody who plays in that manner.
Almost always, the boys either went away or more frequently would start to play along.
Tui Was sort of a natural ambassador. She knew how to play with boys who were used to being opportunistic hermit’s, so she understood their language, and knew how to play a lot, but then she would complement them in a way which they enjoyed.
Ultimately, everybody wants other people to see and understand and appreciate their creations on the servers, and Tui would assist in creation, but then would bring Jenna and eventually Marina over to examine and explore the things that the boys had built.
Over time, they would teach by example how the boys could create similar collaborations. The key to unlocking this evolution in gameplay always lie in the sharing of this social joke. That’s how they always broke the ice.
For example, Tui would make certain observations and the boys would laugh, and that’s how she won their trust. She would teach the boys how to find others like them with a certain complementary temperament.
This became an extremely productive and fruitful methodology on Minecraft servers, but Marina was stunned to realize that the precise same methodology was applicable in the real world.
At first, Marina simply thought she was daydreaming the presence of Tui and Jana as she navigated the real world, idly looking forward to their next Minecraft adventure, but in follow-up Zoom calls the trio began to realize they were “watching” and “listening” to each other.
It didn’t make sense, but then again: the trio are wise enough to avoid trying to analyze a good thing to death; they simply accepted it and moved forward into expanded awareness, and shared capability.
This gave Marina uncanny courage when she stood up to her parents, with guidance provided by Tui, from thousands of miles away, slotting in at the speed of thought.
Jana, too enjoyed the advantage afforded her through collaboration with her team, and they joyously explored the boundaries of their expanded sensorium when they one day encountered a fourth: an older woman named Edna, capable of instantaneously moving from one physical location to the next, carrying in her arms the joyous presence of a little one, described by the woman as her baby Johnny.
And that’s when Marina started to get into trouble.