Friday, August 31, 2007

An Odd Child Given to Nightmares

Born in Philadelphia on 23 December 1953, the second of two children, I entered the not-so cloistered world of lower-middle-class society during the Eisenhower Administration. My father, Jacob Freedman, a garment cutter by trade, was a man of sharp intelligence and naive innocence. My mother, Sophie, though somewhat remote, offered her children security and a degree of confidence.

I was an odd child, given to nightmares and a strange imagination, painfully sensitive, and very shy. These qualities proved to be an affliction when I moved from the bosom of the family home to the rough-and-tumble world of school. My physical awkwardness prevented me from excelling at games, and the total absence of solitude made life beyond the door of my family home, that separation between home and school, unbearable.

My subsequent retreat into fantasy was brought about by my interaction with other boys, who looked inoffensive but recognized the conflict between my need to be loyal to my family and my desire to befriend the boys at school.

I was different from the pack. I had strange manners and perhaps I could have been suspected of being a child spy and driven out. Isolated, disliked, distrusted and fearing humiliation, I saw fantasy as a release -- the only way to escape. First I tried to imagine life in the heavens in a castle I had built in the sky and when that failed to ease my mental anguish, I imagined swallowing potions in order to poison myself. I was a sullen and sad child who never smiled or laughed. I picked at my food and rarely finished a meal. I was bone-skinny. I couldn't know it then but I'd found the theme for my later writings: "In the lost boyhood of the sad child, the writer is born."

Perhaps if I had been sent to a psychoanalyst at an early age things would have been different for me. Perhaps I would have made a better adjustment to the world around me and have developed some self-confidence as well as some playmates. Perhaps I would have gained more self-assurance. But without an analyst I became rigorously keen in my observations, a characteristic which helped distinguish me as a writer. And in my fantasies I reveled in the escape from lower-middle-class conventionality, and indulged in imagined escapades reflecting my obsession to flee the creeping boredom of everyday life.

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