In the first half of the tenth chapter of Games Wizards Play, Mehrnaz and Dairine arrive in New York and the IDAA truly begins. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Young Wizards.
Trigger Warning: For extensive talk about anxiety/social anxiety, stage fright, bullying, abuse.
I just have so, so many feelings about Mehrnaz.
This may seem impossible to believe, but I grew up a shy and terrified kid. I was the person who couldn’t talk to his peers. Class presentations mortified me. If I had to read aloud, I learned to simply read loud and clear to avoid any possible criticism of myself from other students, who would pounce on anyone who messed up while reading. I remember pushing myself super hard to be good at presentations because it was the only way I could compartmentalize the extreme terror I felt standing up in front of people.
I have a vague sense of where that came from. It can’t have helped that I had such hyper-critical parents who couldn’t resist making comments about my appearance. My hair. My weight. The way I used my hands when I spoke. The sound of my voice.
Oh, right, I had a lisp when I was a kid. I went to some limited speech therapy in elementary school—I’m sure you’re not surprised that I stopped going to them because I got bullied for it—but more or less got rid of it through sheer force of will. It’s still there, and you can hear it easily if you pay attention, and I certainly don’t feel bad about it anymore. But when you are raised in a hyper-critical environment, it’s very easy to assume the worst of everyone and everything. You have to! My mind never quite knew when I was being turned on, when I was going to be the victim of another attack, when I was going to be made fun of. It meant that I was so sensitive that at any given point during a day, I was less than sixty seconds from breaking out in tears. (Surprise! I REALLY LOVE STEVEN UNIVERSE.) That was not a cute look in the late 80s and all throughout the 90s. Boys weren’t supposed to cry, so my sensitivity was used against me, which only made me more sensitive, and…
You get the idea. Throughout elementary and junior high, I was a horrible, horrible mess, prone to crying if I missed a question on a test or if anyone said anything remotely mean to me. I once broke into tears for misspelling a word in a spelling bee. I became an overachiever not out of some sense of duty or because I wanted to be a good student. It was entirely out of fear. Fear that I was a failure, and fear that my mother would take it out on me.
Mehrnaz is deeply recognizable to me. Her uncertainty is probably something a lot of us can identify with, so this is not about saying that there’s only one way to relate to her. But Duane writes Mehrnaz with a specificity that’s hard to ignore. She is a bubbly, joyous kid, one who is brilliant and talented and has a zest for life. Look at the way she interacts with Dairine’s father, who is nice and supportive of her! Even when she expresses her uncertainty to Dairine, Dairine doesn’t treat her like her mother. It’s once Mehrnaz is in that crowd of wizards that she begins to shut down. These people are certainly not her mother, but when you’re constantly hyper-vigilant about the world around you—your place in it, how much noise you make, how much space you take up, how you might very well trigger another episode in the person who harms you—it becomes virtually impossible to turn it off.
Thus, I have been right where Mehrnaz is in this chapter more than once in my life. It was me for a solid decade of my life, from young childhood—kindergarten, really!—until I was a teenager. I finally found my voice in the months after I was kicked out of my home, and it’s where I began to get involved in public speaking. Where I learned that my loud-ass voice could be a good thing. Where I learned that speaking up for myself had been denied me for most of my life. So when Mehrnaz found her own voice and was able to muster the courage to overcome her terror of speaking at the IDAA, I remembered when I was able to do the same thing. I remembered how it felt to be free.
So, basically: PROTECT MEHRNAZ AT ALL COSTS.
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