Earlier in this journey through my childhood writing, I noted that I don't have much in the way of fiction from sixth grade, and the same is true of seventh, probably because my middle school curriculum put a heavy focus on creative writing in eighth grade. We'll get to that soon.
The documents preserved in my seventh grade folder are primarily nonfiction reports and essays, though one exception is an afterword I was assigned to write for the novel SHANE, speculating on what happens after the end of the story. (All I remember of this book is that it involves a guy on a horse, or maybe that means all I remember is the cover.) Throughout my school career, writing an additional chapter to a novel was a frequent (and fun, for me) assignment. If this is a widespread phenomenon, it's just occurred to me that a lot more of us have written fan fiction than we might have realized.
The most "interesting" works from this time period are a number of opinion pieces, but before we check out those essays, I want to share one fact-based report, in part because it has such a ridiculous cover.
If you care to read my social studies paper on The Baby Boom, you can go right ahead. While it starts off with a decently written introductory paragraph ("excellent beginning," comments my teacher), the bulk of the text is dryly presented statistics. The most notable element is that I wrote this paper in 1988, when "the oldest Baby Boomers [born in 1946] turn 42, and the youngest [born in 1964] turn 24." I'm now 40 myself. Let's all take a moment to feel old, and then contemplate the odd conclusion of my report: "As the Baby Boomers approach mid-life, are they also happier than their parents were? Ask them." Feel free to weigh in.
The first of my adolescent opinions that have been preserved for posterity is a regrettable one. In 1987, controversy arose at the local high school over the use of a Native American mascot for the teams, known as the Warriors. After much debate, the offensive symbols were changed, and the teams came to be represented by Roman warrior helmets. I remember all this happening and how in class we wrote letters about it to the town paper (that venerable home of my first publications). I was horrified, however, to discover that I stood on the wrong side of history in this matter, very much in opposition to my current views. In my letter, I maintained that the mascot couldn't be offensive because nobody had raised any objections until now, an infuriatingly familiar brand of bad argument that as usual overlooks my ignorance of the many past protests. I also wrote, "If the Cleveland Indians were offensive to too many people, their name would be changed," so it appears I harbored too much faith that what took place in the wider world would reflect what was right. Sigh.
Sometime that year or the next, one of my classes pondered philosophy, which meant we recorded our opinions on important questions in fancy illustrated books.
How can you tell the difference
between right and wrong?
There are three questions to ask in deciding if something you do or say is right or wrong. They are: is it a lie?, was it meant to hurt?, and does it do more harm than good?. The following is a list of all the possible combinations of the answers, and whether I think they are right or wrong.
yes, yes, yes - wrong
yes, no, yes - right
yes, yes, no - wrong
yes, no, no - right
no, yes, yes - wrong
no, no, yes - right
no, yes, no - wrong
no, no, no - right
Looking at the list, you may notice that all the ones that were meant to hurt are marked wrong, and all the ones that weren't meant to hurt are marked right. I feel that this is the deciding factor. Essentially, all lies are wrong, but "little white lies" that do more good than the truth are all right. For example, if your friend asks you how her new haircut looks, and it looks like a bird's nest, you aren't about to tell her that, you'll say it looks nice. If what you say is harmful, but you didn't mean it to be, it's right, because it wasn't your fault. But if it isn't harmful, but you meant for it to be, it is still wrong, because of your intentions.
Again, I cannot endorse the assertions of Young Lisa. I don't even endorse the structure of this essay. If "was it meant to hurt?" is the only question that impacts the ruling, why are there three questions? I had hoped to discover that my musings on right and wrong would demonstrate an evolution, or at least an inconsistency, from my letter to the editor, but I guess even if I acknowledged that the mascot was doing more harm than good, as long as there was no bad intention behind it, it would still be right, and therefore should be kept? I may have had above average fiction writing skills as a youth, but my critical thinking needed work.
My other "philosophy" essays are pretty uninspired, but perhaps I'm expecting too much of a 12- or 13-year-old, and I'm sure these all seemed like deep thoughts at the time. I'm more enamored of the illustrated title pages for each composition, some of which are rather detailed.
Before we leave behind this embarrassing investigation of my early opinions, here's the final essay in the book, which addresses one of the biggest questions of all.
Is there life after death?
I do not believe in heaven and hell, as they are presented: heaven up in the clouds, with pearly gates, wings, and harps; and hell under the ground, with fire and devils. If there is life after death, I believe that everyone goes to the same place. No one is punished for what they did during life, and there is no sickness or pain. I do not know if I think that people in this place can remember being on Earth, or if they can watch people on Earth. I was going to say that this life after death is a very primitive world, without technology, for as a whole, people were happier before technology. But this is very depressing, and I think it's just wishful thinking. Deep down, I think that there is no life after death, when you're dead, you're dead.
It's kind of interesting how during the course of the piece I meander my way to a final admission of my non-belief. But I'm more intrigued by the assertion that people were happier before technology. Taken in combination with my Baby Boom report conclusion, it appears I was preoccupied by the fear that earlier generations had it better. Now that I think of it, that's a major theme of my novel, so I suppose I can't distance myself completely from my youthful thoughts.
Good Stuff Out There:
→ At Hazlitt, Tobias Carroll considers the effect video games have had on books: "After over thirty years in the collective consciousness, it's worth looking at how video games have served as a deeper literary influence above and beyond material for plots and settings."