Friday, December 28, 2007

School Days

"At school he was an average student," recalls an elementary school classmate of mine, "rather dreamy and inattentive. But what soon struck me about him was the absolute certainty in his own mind that one day he would become famous. In what he would be famous -- that had yet to be determined -- but famous whatever the circumstances." The "dreamy and inattentive" side of my personality -- the romantic and impractical visionary -- has been broadly affirmed by those who knew me. My ambition has been all but forgotten.

It's worth noting that I never quite fit into the local society of boys. I usually would not play with them, preferring my lone pursuits. In school I seemed an isolated, dreamy boy who didn't like rough play and whose preoccupation with dressing up in fine clothes that my mother had bought for me set me apart from the usual run of boys in my neighborhood. One classmate found me strange and conceited, without the usual interests of a boy. Another observed that I had no close friends, and that I seemed to prefer writing stories to the more routine school subjects. I was lazy, too, and did not participate in class projects with any enthusiasm, at least that is what some of my classmates thought. A survey of my report cards from the Rowan Elementary School in Philadelphia, however, suggests otherwise. My report card from Mrs. Lewis in 1963, for example, reports "admirable" work in writing, drawing, and arithmetic. I did, however, show a "lack of progress in grammar and language." Remembering my boyhood, I would say I never did like school and stopped going to school as soon as I got big enough to play hooky and not get caught at it. I would say that April, in particular, was the very best time not to have to go to school.

The usual sports that attract boys did not interest me. I often stayed away from the playground except when I felt like eavesdropping. I was never popular, although most of my classmates considered me friendly and courteous. Certainly no one thought I was academically gifted. I did my homework in a halfhearted way, though my writing ability was such that I could manage without much effort. One of my teachers, Miss Kaempfer, actually assumed that my mother was doing my homework for me.

At recess, I would stand apart from the other children, watching, seeming to study their movements, to listen to their voices, without reacting myself or wishing to participate. My daydreaming in class made me a subject of ridicule among my classmates and did not endear me to my teachers. What I was dreaming about I can only guess now, but it seems likely that I thought about heroism and glory, about crime, about human desire in its various manifestations. As a boy I felt that I contained all the contradictory possibilities of the human spirit within my heart.

1 comment:

Gary Freedman said...

This post is a description of the childhood of the writer William Faulkner, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature and who was perhaps the greatest American writer of the 20th century.