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  • Sebastian Hasani Paramo

the edge: playing the game recklessly

I’ve never been good at playing video games. A child of the original Nintendo system, I remember playing each subsequent edition. I remember playing as Mario and whenever I jumped from platform to platform, I didn’t always make it. I wanted to so badly I kept failing and failing.

My younger brother and I played all the time. We fought sometimes over who would get to play. Sometimes our mother would have to step in because we’d wrestle over the controller. Eventually, I gave up and let him play. Being the older one, I believed the older brother is supposed to always win. Over time, I learned a lesson from our time sitting in front of the screen—watching him beat all the levels. It was okay if he was better.

I wonder sometimes, though, what it meant to follow the call of the void and risk losing something. If my life is a side-scrolling adventure, then I must keep moving. The screen never stops for Mario. I only have so many lives to lose.

Is it dumb to persist in doing something I’m not good at? If writing is a game, then I don’t know how to stop.

When I think of Lorca and his call to treat writing as if I’m about to die in front of the bull or leaping off a cliff, I wonder if I should live my life more recklessly, as if I have unlimited lives to become good at this game.

I also still wonder if there’s a better way to jump on enemies. Is there a hidden brick I’m missing? Will I hit it one day and receive the thing I want or need: Mushroom or Fire Flower? Should I aim to reach for the highest score or just finish the level?

Isn’t it about how I use what I’m given? The writers whose lives I read about when I was young seemed to live dangerously. I romanticized the idea of being a writer and oftentimes imagined it would be like living like a rock star. I thought I could be a modern day Dylan Thomas touring the country with readings and wild, intoxicated performances. I read the biography of Henry Miller in high school and imagined how I could and move through the world that way—living in Paris, banned in the UK and US for writing dangerously.

My early writings in high school were careless imitations of those early heroes. Today all of it sits buried in a hard drive. I have several notebooks hidden away in storage. Because I revered the surrealist, I believed my first thoughts were my best thoughts. This was the duende that Lorca wrote about, I’d tell myself.

Since then, I’ve veered away from being sentimental about the triggering moment that begins many of poems. I used to get upset with myself when I crossed out lines I loved. I’d keep the drafts I hated believing that one day I’d use them. I wanted to believe in the intention behind the line.

There are consequences to our thoughts, however, and not all intention is obvious. When I lay intention on the page, I’ve learned to ask myself what do I mean when I say this? I must then understand the levels inside of me and I must make them more explicit and know each world I build.

I realize now that we become good at the things we do because we must first be willing to hit start. I stopped dying when I learned to understand what to anticipate and learned the rules of the game.

When I write about my father, I must then ask what does he mean to me? As writers, we construct our worlds on the page and put them inside a room. We’re the makers and we must learn it’s not about button smashing or pushing forward and hoping we get lucky. There must be intention behind each maneuver I’m able to pull off.

Once I ask what does he mean to me?, I can then find the purpose behind each thought. I must ask if there’s something beyond the line I’ve written. I must ask why? If the question makes me uncomfortable, it’s only then that I’m risking something in answering it. The story then becomes the driving force behind the writing game and I have a goal in mind to reach.

When I teach college writing, I encourage my students to cultivate a point of view by asking them questions. As someone who didn’t grow up understanding his own, it wasn’t until someone asked me the right question that I began to see how I felt about certain things. I used to be embarrassed when my mother and father dropped me off at school and spoke Spanish in front of my classmates. I didn’t stop to ask myself why. Because it’s embarrassing, I’d say. Today, I ask myself why was it embarrassing? Because nobody else’s parents spoke Spanish. Because I wanted to be like everyone else. Because I wanted to be liked. Why wouldn’t they like me? Because I’m different.

Every because becomes an expansion of what is absent or present in defining who I was then and who I am now. Today, I would say it’s okay to be different. It’s okay to celebrate being bilingual, if only everyone could be so lucky. It’s okay to be me. To acknowledge my feelings and my identity used to feel risky and today I embrace it.

The word worry used to be on the tip of my tongue growing up. I worried about becoming someone likeable. I worried I would never be good at Nintendo and nobody would invite me over because I wasn’t good at it and that’s okay. I can still play the game casually.

I’ve learned to understand the field of poetry, the landscape inside myself, by asking questions.


Sebastian Hasani Paramo is the son of Mexican immigrants. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Southwest Review, Salt Hill, Pleiades, North American Review, & elsewhere. He is the Editor-in-Chief of THE BOILER. He has received scholarships and awards from Sewanee Writers’ Conference, Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and the Vermont Studio Center. He holds an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College and lives in Denton, Texas as a PhD candidate at the University of North Texas, where he is the Managing Editor for American Literary Review.

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