mercredi, septembre 29, 2004

La Lectrice, Part Two

My parents caught on to my obsession, of course, when they saw me reading like a little crazy person. I’m not sure what they said to themselves or what they felt about the whole thing, but what I felt from them was their great pleasure in me and their great pride in the way I didn’t seem to be stuck in any small definitions of childhood- not, at least, where reading was concerned. I can remember them calling me over one time. They had a theory to test- a book for me to read. I looked at the page and scrunched my little girl shoulders when I told them I can’t pronounce those names. I was sincerely sorry, too- as only a child can be sorry. So, they said try the words around the names- just one page- we’ll help you pronounce the names when you get to them. So, on a Sunday afternoon, I read one page- just one page- of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. And that was enough. I waited two more years to go back and finish it.

After one very long day in second grade, though, I arrived home and pulled my father’s 11th grade literature textbook (teacher’s edition) off the shelf. I flipped (for the pictures, of course- I was just a kid) and then settled down to read a translation of Sophocles’ Antigone along with all of my da’s notes on the symbolism of light and dark. (My father’s words were scribbled and marginalized, but oddly enough, they are the ones I still remember. And, of course, now that I think about it, that's not very odd at all.)

Now I was no stranger to Greek myths- in fact, they were my favorite stories. All that sex and violence- every character flawed- every ending at least semi-tragic even if it was a happy one. They were good groceries to my young way of thinking. (Rather like the comic books I found to read on those days when hell came just this close to freezing over.) But the words in this story were different and the ideas, too. Complex and lovely. After I finished reading it, I sat still under the dining room table, that heavy book on my skinny, kicked out legs and thought and thought while the room fell into evening.

Because my father taught them, I had a thing for the classics. I plowed through the complete works of Poe, Hawthorne and Dickens in one year; along with whatever else I could get my hands on. One night I foolishly insisted that I wanted to go to the school with my parents and hang out in my father’s class room during Parent/ Teacher Conferences. I’d gone through most everything readable in that room, so, in an attempt to stave off my impending boredom, my dad rummaged for something new before he headed off to the gym to tell parents why their kids were failing his class. What he handed me was a skinny little paperback which I’d nearly devoured by the time my parents walked in to check on me during a break. “You gave her Lord of the Flies? Honey, she's in third grade!”, my mother said to my dad, shaking her head. He seemed the tiniest bit defensive, but mostly proud when he answered, “Yeah, I did. She can handle it.” Trying to keep peace, I piped in with, “It’s okay, mommy, besides I’m almost done with it. See? Only a third left.” “Yeah. Only a third left.” My dad smiled at my mother coaxingly. And she, still shaking her head, smiled back.

I suppose third grade was when I realized that no one else in my little world was doing this. It was Dickens- specifically, The Pickwick Papers- which tripped me up. I can still remember what that table felt like under my elbows as I clasped my hands together and leaned way, way forward to include all of my friends around me in what I had to say. Something about a funny part in Dickens’ first novel- I know I was très hyper talking about it. They stared back at me. And then went back to talking to each other. (Kids are very efficient communicators, aren't they?) And I understood then that they didn’t know what I was talking about and that they wouldn’t know- not any time soon. It was the first time I understood that what was in my head was other and utterly uninteresting for my peers. The realization is a bright, hard spot of loneliness in my mind even today. It has been joined by a thousand other “you think too much”s since then. I have never figured out a good response to that one. This brain does what it wants to do. And what it wants to do is dig deep and run fast. Tant pis, huh? I cannot hold it back.

Even though the minds behind all those words, all those books, were my teachers and friends- my familiars- everybody's gotta live in the here and now or become awfully lonely. (Well, maybe not. I could shut myself away again with words and become a writer, maybe, but knowing me, I'd miss the here and now. And the girl in me would become awfully lonely. Eventually, she'd say honey, take me dancing, you know?) But I guess that my early experiences being other and outside, really did shape me. So much so, that when I encounter people whose minds move at too fast a pitch (especially when their personalities have some over all kindness and a bent sense of humor thrown in) I really do feel that I cannot afford to let them go.

Don't get me wrong, I don't need people I encounter to be strong where I am strong in order to adore them and love their company. And I know that even if they can't quite match me at one point, they are very likely to surpass me at another. We've all got our strengths. (Frankly, huge chunks of this viewpoint were learned while reading all alone. Books have got some good info in 'em on human beings from time to time, I tell you.) Still, you never know when somebody's gonna feel threatened by your confidence or the ease and joy with which you do what you can do in life. You never know when somebody's gonna decide that your strength and joy is actually snobbery and that you need to be taken down a peg or two.

Don't know if you're thinking it, but I know I have thought it a trillion times- Can't we all just get all along? No, apparently, in a lot of cases, we really can't. That's a sad fact. I don't pull my punches or dumb anything down, but I've learned to dissemble when I realize I'm in the presence of a narrow mind and a pinched soul. Don't know who to feel more sorry for in that scenario- me or pinchy. I just make sure I'm not ever pinchy when I encounter somebody who blows me and what I got way on out of the water. Credit where it's due. There's enough sunshine for everybody. Whether you burn or tan is your business.

22 commentaires:

  1. When I moved to Texas from New York, I talked really fast. I had been reading lots of books by then, and at 11 my math teacher loaned me a copy of Robert Heinlein's The Puppet Masters. I was hooked on sci-fi, which was probably a given anyway because of my older (idolized) brother's fascination with it.
    Looking back, I wonder if my best friend at the time was complimenting me when she called me the "walking dictionary." Then, it didn't bother me. I felt a bit of pride at first. Later in middle school it did bother me, so much that I changed myself for those friends who couldn't converse at my level. Life can be hard for the young voracious reader. It's a shame that at 12 I had to dumb down my vocabulary for the majority of the people that I knew.

  2. I think it's wonderful that you were so into reading by the 3rd grade. I've always suspected that the 3rd grade mind can absorb much more than we throw at it, and find it a bit strange that most of the focus we give to young children is aimed at playing and being kids. Not that that's bad, just a bit strange the way we've ordered society. Perhaps it would work better to have children focus on marathon learning until their brains slow down a bit, then some time late high school (or age 30? works for me) focus on playing.

  3. Lectrice, I knew you were smart when I met you, but it was so fascinating to hear part of the back story. And I certainly hope there is noone who could "burn" on that story; you demystify smart-kidness very well.

  4. This, once again, resonated with me deeply. I was 9 when I picked up The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and read it cover to cover amidst wondering stares from my parents. But my Dad's a huge history buff and my Mom's a Victorian novel aficionado, so I had it coming and going. After that, I devoured Fox's Book of Martyrs, The Divine Comedy and everything Shakespeare wrote. Oh, and Harvard Lampoon's Bored of the Rings. It's no wonder that I grew up to be a self-absorbed freak!

    Now my son is 9, and I'm finding it hard to make literature compete with video games. This is so frustrating, but I manged just recently to get him hooked on Black Beauty, and it's open sea from there. Looking back, maybe it would have been better if I had saved the heavier reading for a less impressionable age - not that you could have pried Dante's Inferno from my cold, dead hands - but I wonder how much of my unfortunate proclivity toward morbidity can be traced directly back to my choice of reading material. Without a doubt, I believe the literature read first by a child makes an indelible impression.

  5. Hey, Chellee, thanks for the comment. It's a tough choice, huh? Dumb it down and lose a part of what makes it fun to be you in life or stay strong and face up to the fact that there will definitely be some hell to pay.

    World, thanks, and to tell you the truth, a lot of what made me a crazy reader back then was just my little, natural personality. I was lucky, though, to be raised by two very kick ass educators who have always been up for challenging the commonly held misconceptions regarding the learning abilities of young children and people in general. Reading what you wrote is like listening to Dabu Heebly and Mouton-Noir all over again.

    Thanks, Fid, I like that "demystify" compliment best of all. (Even though it's not what I set out to do. I knew back when I started my blog that it would be interesting to me to go back and track my evolution as a reader and as a thinker affected by what I read. I am an endlessly fascinating topic to myself, for myself, by myself. Ha! Seriously, I'm glad you are having some fun reading this. It's no good if it just comes off as me tuckig my thumbs under my suspenders.)

    Okay, Lyds, were we separated at birth? Also, you brought up something I have lined up to get to in the next one or two of these lectrice thingies- namely the whole, "yeah, I know he can get the job, but can he DO the job?" In other words, what happens when a kid reads heavy stuff so quickly that adults can't keep track of it all to be able to discuss it and help the kid sort it all out? (Because some things really need to be sorted out. Hmmmmm... I like to think I turned out all right. Right? Affirmations, anyone? Hug?)

  6. ouch lyd, the way you type "be thou" I can almost hear it ringing through the ballroom.

    But hey, yeah, smart kids, I wasn't the smartest kid in the class, but I sat next to... No, I have a smarty pants who is 6. And the hardest thing in the world is keeping him in good clean reading. He's read Black Beauty, Black Stallion, Robinson Crusoe, Heidi etc, but I tried to skim "Call of the Wild" and decided that those doggies are too vicious. I mean they rip each other's throats out, blood, devoring, etc.

    So, my brilliant slacker idea was to hunt for the library books marked "Historical Fiction" by way of a sticker on the binder. I say to myself, how much damage could they do if they're almost true.


    The other morning, a shaken little man comes to me saying, "I don't like these Delaware Indians, mom."

    "Why not?" I ask sweetly, paying 100% attention to him. :)

    "Because they just scalped Sammy; and he was just a two year old."

    You should of heard the fancy one I came up with to explain that away. (God has not gifted me with the ability to lie for no reason!)

  7. Affirmations and a hug, if that's okay.
    I think though that the kids who read the heavy stuff, when they get to the hard parts, like Fid's boy did, they go and ask the grown up.
    If I got to something that I didn't understand I'd go ask my parents and we would talk about it.
    Unless it was about sex. Then I couldn't ask my parents, I had to ask my friends. Who seemed to know even less than me.

  8. What I have to watch out for is that my little guy, who isn't so little anymore, internalizes his feelings like BOTH of his parents He wouldn't say anything about Delaware Indians scalping a 2 yr old Sammy, and I would find him crying on his bed for no apparent reason and would have to play 20 questions (or 50, depending on the depth of emotion) to figure out what was wrong. So count your blessings, Fids, and hope my little Ike grows out of it (he won't; I didn't).

    So Bjo, tell us how this intrepid little pepper dealt with her heavy reading, and how she grew.

  9. i was also enthralled with the greek myths. after reading the golden fleece in it's entirety. i was quite the young reader though...if i may be arrogant for a second. i did steal daryk's copy of Cujo in first grade and was the talk of class when i finished it and wanted to talk about it in the english section of class...but my reading was my mother fault (if there is a fault in it), when she read unabrigded robin hood to me before kindergarten, i fell in love with books. and i thank her for that. currently reading "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep" again. a recommended reading for all. anywho. smile, yr high on life, and it's a goood buzz.

  10. lydolyd, that internalizing crap is scary stuff in kids. I count my blessings. The other night the grown-ups were playing pictionary with only Ike. My tater-tot, got up out of bed to say, "mom, I just don't know why, but I have this strong feeling and somehow it won't let me get to sleep."

    "Hmm, that tingly hateful sensation is called jealousy, now get back into bed."

    That's not what I said, actually, but something like it.

    I did find Ike doing the mysterious crying in bed routine, accompanied by the run into the kitchen and open the fridge routine, accompanied by the poke head out of the kitchen and run back into bed routine because ElFid's kitchen is not snacking enabled. I tried the 50 questions and surprise, no luck. Maybe you could e-mail or call me some time and let me know what works.

  11. I like Ike. And I hate the thought of him feeling bad. (Not that any human being can get through life without some of that, but I, as an aunt, reserve the right to hold unrealistic aspirations.)

    Mebbe his elders could begin to model some feelings-on-the-outside stuff, huh? (I swear, though, that people who internalize shit really show their lack of practice when they begin to externalize it. Still, gotta be bad to get good at anything, right?) Also, mebbe his elders could smack my paw for even suggesting this. ('Cuz that would be a good starting point for externalizing stuff, right?)

    I hug evwybody as I head for the fridge.

  12. Also, Lukas, DAMN, Cujo? That's mean, mean stuff for a little kid, huh? Also, (speaking of "Do Androids...", which I have not yet read, but shall I'm sure) every once in a while I just CRAVE Blade Runner. Don't know why. It reminds me of the way that, every once in a while, I crave water (jump in, not drink). Don't know why that one happens, either, although, supposedly, this is just something that Scorpios feel sometimes.

    Which reminds me- does anybody in this group take their horoscopes seriously? I mean- I stop and start with the "sexy, with intense eyes" part of the Scorpio description. I'm done. I got a good one. Don't need any more. What about the rest of you peoples?

    (Did I just essentially ask, "Hey, baby, what's your sign?" If I had the sense God gave a lemon, I'd be embarrassed right now...)

  13. It's very curious to me how differently people approach reading. For whatever reason - parents, school, being raised by wolves - I always saw reading as work. My math brain would say "this book has 210 pages and I've got 14 days to read it - that's 15 pages a day." Then I'd stick to that. I could get to "and Arthur grasped the sword, pulled mightily..." oh - that's 15 pages, I'll read the rest tomorrow.

    Sometimes the best feeling was realizing that though the book was 210 pages, they actually numbered the introduction (which doesn't count) so I'd gotten away with a 210 page book that's only really 195. Or that smile of satisfaction when a chapter ended at the top of a page, so you basically got 3/4 of a page for free.

    It's a miracle that my conversations with H&P don't go more like:

    H&P "Remember that moment in Pickwick Papers, or was it Tale of Two Cities" when... (and I can't finish that sentence as I've read neither)

    and then I say "Yeah, that's like on Cheers when they invent the "Screaming Viking."

  14. Nature or Nurture?

    So there are many other readers of this blog exposed to the same parents, books, and comments in the margin. What's the deal? Nature or nurture?

  15. Same parents, yes. Same books, yes and (more often than not) no. I clocked a LOT of hours parked in a room reading while I could hear my sibs playing around noisily elsewheres. Also, I'm not sure anybody else came across those particular notes in the margin.

    But I can testify that we ALL sure encountered our parents' counter-cultural-cognitive-dissident-institutional-deviant ideas in pretty damn lively intellectual debates. (Debates which help to explain our poor conversational form to this day. Gotta have elbows if you're gonna throw down in a crowd of Hoaglands... mostly anyway.)

    I am fond of us and our elbows. ;-) I just can't always afford our rock'n'roll lifestyle anymore. We have become more cognisant of other conversational norms too as we've grown older, of course. (Sh'yeah, right!)

  16. Yeah, I hear that. My elbows were never quite sharp enough.

  17. I like your elbows. (I have permanently bruised ribs. And so do my family members. ;-) Didn't kill us, made us stronger, blabbity, blabbity, blah... I'm reinstituting high tea. I need a peaceful world.)

  18. Peace- peace, you say? But there is no peace.

  19. I can't give you a peaceful world. I thought a peaceful Worldgineer would help though.

  20. Thank you, peaceful World. That's a step in the right direction. Peace, one world at a time. ;-)