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Record of an Aspiring Hero

Posted by in Short Fiction


Lesson one of problem solving, all problems have solutions. Lesson two, if you try to be too clever, you’ll never find one. This morning a man wearing a vaugely indo-european accent told me that I’m the most clever person he has ever met, so I thanked him and started to cry.

I need Osaka.

Solutions are slippery things. Too often we try to catch them head on, we sharpen our spears and stalk our prey and wait for the perfect moment to launch that fatal, visceral strike, blissfully unaware of it’s twin sneaking up from the shadows — all top hat and twirly mustache — ready to tweak our noses.

It’s why cleverness can kill, it blinds us to the obvious; draws hard, plan-shaped lines around the limits of our awareness, seducing us into denying complexity while all the while setting us up for the same old cosmic standup routine. It’s also why most solutions are best approached at an angle.

Angles are my bread and butter because hunting solutions is what I do, it’s at once my vocation and my career, the reason I get out of bed and how I afford the bed in the first place. I take my job very seriously. I once sat for twelve hours staring at a wall looking for a solution. It wasn’t there. The wall was there, of course, but the solution, that had gotten away from me. I found it two weeks later while falling out of a plane at something approaching terminal velocity. There is a lot of clarity in falling out of planes, and some pretty sharp angles.

Solutions require angles. Finding angles comes down to developing effective ways to be less stupid, which can be tricky because as human beings, stupidity is our birthright. Many millenia of slow, meticulous evolution has seen to this — helping to wire the impossibly complex meat we live inside into a nigh-perfect (by our standards) instrument of self-preservation and replication. Unfortunately, the same tools that are so brilliantly adapted to keeping us alive and breeding, are not, despite our most ardent wishes, designed to be windows into anything resembling the universal truths we like to think ourselves capable of sussing out. It’s why I need Osaka.

I once met a man who thought the world was going to end in three weeks. It didn’t. I saw him again a few weeks later, and he still believed that we had three weeks left on the clock. That seemed odd to me, so I asked him what had changed, and he replied that nothing had. “Three weeks is three weeks,” he informed me. I agreed. He nodded. He’s still out there today and eventually he will be right.

People are bad at thinking about things.

We are especially bad at thinking about things we don’t understand. We are unspeakably bad at thinking about things we believe we understand. We believe we understand everything, which doesn’t bode well for a society that increasingly requires that we think subtlety and understand brilliantly. That’s why my efforts as a problem solver have lead me to a single, effective strategy to overcoming this flaw in our programming, and that is to assume I understand nothing and work actively to correct that.

That’s why I need Osaka. Perspective is the arch-enemy of stupidity and travel is perspective careening through the sky at 30,000 feet. I figure if I look around hard enough and long enough and talk to enough people in enough broken Japanese that by the time I get back I’ll be marginally less stupid, and solutions will have a harder time playing tricks on me.

You might be saying at this point, “Nameless stranger, that’s quite a price to pay for perspective, will you be bringing along your gold-plated Butler or will you be leaving him on the private island to take care of your collection of bespoke formal-wear?” First, Conroy doesn’t like planes. Second, questions of money almost always come down to questions of value. What you choose to value and what you don’t. I just happen to value some things radically more than others.

Some people like new shoes or new cloths or new anti-matter reactors for their rocket ships, I turn my government sponsored chits towards buying jet fuel and searching out meaning machines, wonderous new adventurers to make my life seem less drab. If that means that my boots and my warp drive have a couple of extra holes, so be it, I need Osaka more. Equally relevant, I care about how money works, and respect it enough to get to know it intimately before bandying it about like a tart. It seems odd that we know so much more about how to spend money than how to save or invest it, it’s like a middle school love affair, all tongue and no tenderness. That has always seemed so crass to me.

Back to problem that led me to Osaka.

It’s not my first. It’s not even my first today, and the details of it are less relevant than the words that brought it to me, “What is worth changing here?” It’s a question and a calling card, a kind of emblematic statement of purpose emblazoned upon my psyche. It also really annoys my friends. I ask it everywhere — at the gym, on trains, when I’m trying to learn how to spot weld, and when people call me at 3AM because they’ve been locked out of their flat and need a shoulder to cry on. Ask that question enough and you’re bound to end up with quite the menagerie of solutions waiting to be found.

Solutions that hate cleverness. Solutions that require angles. Solutions that are laid bare by perspective and by knowledge, that chitinous exoskeleton that gives perspective its form and stability. Solutions that I hunt because I am a hero and it is the only truly heroic act left, the kind of mundane, achingly beautiful heroism that seeks to perfect the world not by torrents but by drops, building its effort into a current that can drive us all into a better future.

I do this all because I am you.

I am who you are and who you could be. I am the hero in the corner of your soul — alive, radiant and dancing. I need Osaka because knowledge and the solutions it brings are worth fighting for and right now, at this moment, Osaka is the spear, catching slippery solution in the throat as it creeps from the shadows. I do this because I know, we know, that there are problems we were meant to solve and that the wild hunt has begun.