Tag: Random House

“A Constellation of Vital Phenomena”:Taking Risks

Posted on May 19, 2013 by

Risk map in Wikipedia.

Risk map (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I remember as a little girl spending countless hours hunkered over the board game, Risk. As the air conditioner cooled our house from the scorching heat of northern California valley summers, my elementary school friends and I would hunker over the globe, carefully strategizing our next move against countries I had never heard of before. We never imagined our world as a constellation of vital phenomena. Marching our players across the flattened, cardboard world, we had no more desire for world domination than any other nine-year-old. I believe we simply wanted an escape, a way to pass the long, summer day without today’s diversions of the internet, satellite TV or iPads.

In our young minds, the world really did have boundary lines. We assumed that moving from country to country, state to state, would involve some sort of hopscotch game in order to transport ourselves out of one place and into another. None of us had ever left the west coast, let alone the United States. we read Scholastic World magazine, looked at our parent’s subscription to National Geographic, and only imagined those places too far away to really touch.

The Earth seen from Apollo 17.

“a constellation of vital phenomena”. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We couldn’t transport ourselves with a click of a mouse, fly over the South American jungles via Google Earth, or even comprehend the idea of one day setting our own two feet in the dust of a Nicaraguan road on a quest to discover what was really happening beyond our boundaries.

One roll of the dice, and our players advanced in the game, one more move towards occupying every territory and eliminating the other players. I remember the tickle of my tongue as I tried to pronounce “Kamchatka”, and the giggles when we landed on “Yakutsk“. Ural, Ukraine, Mongolia, Indonesia…our black and red players marched forward capturing one continent after another in our imaginary world where the Earth’s boundaries really were drawn in the sand, and the people there merely tokens in our game.

It wasn’t until nearly forty years later that I stopped to think about Risk and what it taught me.  I sorted through the pieces in my mind,  doing a quick Google search now and then for the new names of those foreign lands. I remembered the coolness of the linoleum floor as we lay prone for hours and hours, never wanting the game to end. I realized the damage it might have done as we learned from such a young age that the name of the game was to conquer at all costs, and I realized that actually, what it taught me was that what we do effects others. Our strategies impact lives. We may be divided by those imaginary boundaries, but we all share the same space together on Earth, despite where the lines are drawn or the battles fought. We are interdependent, reliant on each other to play the game. To break down the boundaries. To roll the dice, sometimes not knowing where we’ll end up, but knowing where we’d like to go.

To take risks.

This post was inspired by the novel A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra. In a war torn Chechnya, a young fatherless girl, a family friend, and a hardened doctor struggle with love and loss. Join From Left to Write on May 20 as we discuss Anthony Marra’s debut novel. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes. To purchase your own copy, visit http://amzn.to/XWBaxN.


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Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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