HBO documentary about social class.

“Class Divide” is a fascinating documentary that takes a look at the sharp socioeconomic contrasts in the quickly gentrifying Chelsea neighborhood in New York City between the wealthy students who attend the very expensive Avenues private school and their like-aged peers who live in the projects directly across the street.   Their stories and those of their families and neighbors interweave and the real story emerges — that these kids are not all that different from each other in their hopes, dreams and aspirations.

 

 

A lifetime of writing (part one).

Selectric_II

Writing, as opposed to the spoken word, has always been my preferred mode of communication. While it’s true I’ve never published a book or made a real career of it, I have a deep love of words and the rhythms and drama of the English language. Writing is where I feel the most at home in myself, and when I’m at my happiest and feel the most productive. Starting this blog, in spite of some painful incidents arising from it in this past year, has been the best decision I ever made.

This blog began as one for victims of narcissistic abuse and of course, as a ranting platform for myself, but recently I’ve been moving away from that subject for several reasons, the most obvious one being that I simply can’t think of anything new to say about narcissism that hasn’t already been said. There are other reasons too. I haven’t decided what this blog’s new focus should be, or if it should have one at all. But I love to write about writing, so that seems like as good a topic as any, at least for today, so I thought I’d share what my lifelong on-again, off-again love affair with the written word has been like.

Childhood.

little_girl_writing

English was always my favorite subject in school, and my best one too. Once I learned how to form letters and put them together, I found that I loved written assignments and always did well in them. As a child I also loved to draw and often wrote little illustrated stories at home for fun. Not too long ago I wrote the sad story about the little blank books my father brought me home from a business trip, and how I used to fill them with little stories and pictures (usually drawn in marker because I liked the sharp edges of a marker or pen over crayons and you could fit in more detail). Unfortunately, that ended one day when I found out some of my creations had been stolen. After that I was hesitant to write for myself anymore, and pretty much stopped drawing at all.

But my love of writing didn’t die, and as I grew older, my stories became more detailed and longer. I also liked writing papers for school about topics that interested me and enjoyed everything that went with putting together an awesome looking project–choosing what color construction paper to use for the covers (which I liked to slide into a clear plastic cover with a color-coordinated plastic spine to hold it all together), what to draw on the cover (if anything), how to design the letters spelling out the title, organizing the pages, etc. I almost always made A’s on these projects.

Once I learned to read fluently, I couldn’t get enough books. I remember in third grade, I read voraciously. For some reason, I was particularly enamored of the Mrs. Piggle Wiggle books. I also really liked anything by Beverly Cleary. But I’d read just about anything I could get my hands on. At about age 10, I received “Harriet the Spy” as a gift, and she became my hero. I must have read that book about 10 times, and I read Louise Fitzhugh’s other books as well (too bad she didn’t write more books). To me, Harriet was the coolest girl ever, and she loved writing as much as I did. If I couldn’t be one of the popular girls, then I wanted to be Harriet. She was relatable, but so much cooler than I was. For awhile I even carried around a notebook (a black and white cardboard speckled one just like hers) and wrote down random observations about people. I think Harriet is still relevant. I know Fitzhugh’s books are still popular because so many children who are “different” or feel out of place can relate to Harriet. I wish I still had some samples of my early writing, but unfortunately these were lost a long time ago.

harriet_the_spy
Harriet was my idol when I was about 10.

I was often the target of bullies, especially in 3rd-5th grades, and often would escape to the school library for solace. We had a very sympathetic school librarian. I loved everything about libraries, especially the smell of books. It was very comforting to me, and the only place I felt really at home. Books really were my friends. One of my favorite places to go on the weekends was (drum roll, please!) the public library. I think it’s terrible that government funds for public libraries have been cut in the past decade. I think they’re so important. The Internet is great, but nothing beats a library for nurturing your mind.

Adolescence.

girl_reading

During my teen years, writing became a back-burner activity, something I did when there was nothing else to do. I did continue to read voraciously, but was a lot less inspired to create anything of my own. What I did write tended to be what one of my teachers called “thunder and lightning” poetry–typical adolescent angst poetry about darkness, depression, despair, neverending rain, crashing storm-generated waves, and death imagery. I was Goth before there was such a thing (and liked to dress in black or dark clothes too). I also wrote long, angry screeds about my mother, who I’d decided (rightfully) was the shallowest, most un-maternal person on earth.

I also kept a diary. It was thick sky-blue leather hardcovered book with a golden lock and key. Unfortunately I couldn’t fit much in the spaces for entries, because it was a five-year diary so I only had a 5th of a page to write anything, and the lines were tiny (and my handwriting tended toward the large and florid). I finally quit writing in it after about 2 1/2 years. Like most other things from my growing-up years, I have no idea what happened to it.

Term papers became more of a chore, because now I was required to use and cite sources, etc. but once I got motivated, I did enjoy it and always got high grades. Sometimes, though, I’d wait until the night before it was due (after fretting for weeks) and stay up all night working frantically to finish the project. My teachers could never tell the difference, but I certainly don’t recommend waiting until the last minute to start a school project, if for nothing else other than the enormous stress that causes.

Early Adulthood.

term_paper

College was basically a continuation of high school as far as my engagement with writing was concerned and was limited mostly to term papers and school projects. Of course, the topics I had to write about were more in keeping with my interests (psychology and art). They were also required to be typewritten and I had recently learned how to type and really liked the “professional looking” fonts available on the school’s IBM Selectric and the futuristic looking font-balls you could snap in and out of the machine (I had a typewriter, but it was a basic Royal ribbon typewriter with standard typeface). In those days before the Internet, access to fonts that didn’t look like “typeface” was considered very cool. I also liked the fact I could backspace and actually erase mistakes, instead of having to use White-Out or erasing strips which only covered them and always looked messy. I still have a few of my psychology papers; sometime soon I’ll dig them up and read over them again.

The only project I ever did badly on in college was a verbal assignment on Narcissistic Personality Disorder (oh, the irony!) for my Abnormal Psychology class, but it wasn’t because I hadn’t done my homework or prepared for it; it was because we had to present it in verbal form, in front of the classroom, and I clammed up terribly and my mind went completely blank. I got a D in that assignment, and it took me a very long time to get over that. In written assignments though, I always got A’s or high B’s.

My love affair with electronic typewriters like the Selectric ended when I started my first office job as a receptionist and had to spend entire days typing up invoices and memos. I remember our first word processor and how cool that seemed. I even took classes in Wang, but once again, it wasn’t too long before that seemed humdrum too.

I only completed three years of college because I got engaged and had to work full time, and something had to go. If I had to do it over again, I would have waited to marry and gotten a degree in journalism or gone for a Masters. While married, I didn’t write anything more ambitious than shopping lists. I wouldn’t dabble in creative writing (for myself) again until my early 40s, although I did take jobs as a technical writer, medical editor and part-time book reviewer during my late 20s and thirties.

(To be continued in Part 2.)

Me and Ouija.

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Jon Santa Cruz / Rex Features (582062k) Ouija board with pointer VARIOUS - 2006

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Jon Santa Cruz / Rex Features (582062k)
Ouija board with pointer
VARIOUS – 2006

I just read a post by Linda Lee on her blog, in which she talks about a bad experience she had with a Ouija board at the age of 14. That brought back a memory of my own bad experience with one when I was 16.

I don’t like to mess around with the occult. I’m not particularly superstitious, but I err on the side of caution, and my religion frowns on dabbling in the occult anyway. I make a slight exception for astrology; although I don’t really believe in it, it’s a great deal of fun and I don’t take it seriously, so I don’t see a problem with reading my horoscope, even if just so I can laugh at its inaccuracy later on, or how it’s so general it could apply to all of the other 11 zodiac signs.

Crystal balls, tarot cards, tea leaves, numerology–these things don’t creep me out, but they don’t interest me either, and most of it just seems rather absurd to me.

But Ouija boards are another matter. When my daughter was 16 a friend gave her a Ouija board (this seems almost like some rite of passage for teens) and I wouldn’t allow the thing into my house. She snuck it in anyway, and when I found it I tossed it in the trash–down the street. Marketed as a “game” by the Parker Brothers game company, Ouija boards give me the heebie jeebies. I don’t even want to look at one. There’s a reason for my discomfort with this “toy.”

When I was 16 (the same age my daughter was when she tried to bring one into the house), my boyfriend and I spent hours in his room consulting Ouija. We used to ask it about our future as a couple, how many kids we were going to have, where we would live, etc. (We broke up less than a year later. He’s currently program director of a well known New York area radio station and has 3 sons with his attorney wife, while I’m divorced and take care of my 2 cats on a housekeeper’s income. How our lives have diverged).

Anyway, back when I was 16 and my boyfriend was 17, we’d rush home after school to find out what Oiuja had to say. It was very addictive, and soon I found myself playing with it by myself, alone in my room. Several years earlier, the movie The Exorcist had come out. You may remember it was about a girl who became possessed by a demon after playing with a Ouija board alone, just like I was doing. I paid that no mind, even though the movie did scare me when I’d seen it. With the fearlessness of the young, I continued to ask it questions. I’d rest my fingers lightly on the white plastic planchette, and slowly the thing would begin to slide across the lettered and numbered wooden board, resting on “Yes,” “No,” or sometimes even spelling out a word, a name, or a number.

ouija2

I thought this was all pretty cool, until one day when I was thinking hard about a question (which I can’t remember), and had not yet placed my fingers on the planchette. I looked down at the board and incredibly, the thing was moving all by itself! I watched with a mixture of fascination and horror as it spelled out the answer, all by itself.

I was afraid to touch it. I just watched, my eyes growing wider every second. I began to shake and felt the blood drain from my face. I had a strong feeling someone–or something–was in the room with me. The lights in the room flickered.

At that point, I picked up the entire board and the cardboard box that housed it, and ran with it to the incinerator down the hall (my mother and I were living in an apartment in a high rise). Without a second thought, I shoved it down the chute and slammed the metal door shut.

As I ran back to our apartment, I thought I heard someone calling my name. I ran inside, locked the door, and put on all the lights. I immediately took a shower because I felt contaminated from having touched the thing.

From that day forward, I never went near another Ouija board. I’m convinced those things are NOT something to be messed around with. I’ve known a lot of people who’ve described similar experiences using them.