Saturday, March 27, 2010

Me and William Faulkner: On Not Fitting In

The following is adapted from a biography of the Nobel Prize winning author, William Faulkner.

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 solitary preoccupations 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--and my neighbor Barbara Stein--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.

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