Sunday, June 22, 2008

Preserving One's Childhood in Writing

Things I wrote or drew in 1964, and a school photo taken around that time. I had forgotten about drawing the butterflies until I found them today. (Click on picture to enlarge)

This may sound like a strange title, and it arises because I am trying to sort out my things following our house move early this year. In the midst of the various things I and we as a family have accumulated over the years, there are some things that date back to early childhood. Unfortunately, I have very few photos of myself as a child, and given the improvements in camera technology, movies and digitalization, I am sure that all kids nowadays, including my own, have hundreds and thousands of photos or movie clips to remind themselves of earlier days. However, besides still having some of the stamps I collected as a child, I also have one hundred issues of a handwritten newspaper I wrote between the ages of 10 and 12, and also a few little notebooks in which I recorded some of the things that my much more imaginative mind at that time used to think about.
Issue No. 5 of Animal Life (it had eight pages). Also written in 1964. The picture can be enlarged by clicking on it.
In elementary school, I was a well above average student, although not the best and that used to bug me. I think it was because I often heard people say I could do better, but what was there really to do better at? At school at that time, subjects like arithmetic were not particularly challenging, and everything we studied in class was designed for kids. Interestingly, outside elementary school I was teaching myself zoology, having private Russian lessons, and writing my own newspaper series. I was in my own little world as it were, and sometimes I regret I did not just become a "normal" kid like everyone else and function more within society. I think there is a lot of truth in the view that our early years, however they are, shape us for the rest of life.
My interest in writing the newspapers started when I tried to form a club at school called the "Toad Club". Well, I guess it wasn't what the teachers would have recommended, but it did cause me to write a least one of those newspapers every week or so, and to handwrite the duplicate copies as printing in those days was really archaic. Photocopiers did not exist. Today I also found a notebook in which I wrote the names of all of the people who received copies of the newspaper and which editions. There were at least ten people over the two-year period and some received at least 30 issues. They were mostly classmates, all of whom I have lost touch with, as well as my Belgian grandmother and her brother, my great uncle, in Switzerland. While he spoke mostly French and German, he was most impressed with them. I met him and stayed with him in 1965 when writing these newspapers was at its height. He died suddenly two years later in 1967 in Lausanne.
The newspapers are not like a diary, so little is written about me. However, when looked at as a whole, they do reflect my worldview or at least the world I lived in at that time. In those years, my life revolved within a 5-mile radius of my parents' home in Surrey, England, except for the occasional contacts with relatives in continental Europe. I liked to write about animals and "country life" as I saw it, which tended to mean ponds and frogs, toads and newts. I liked to make up puzzles that my friends could do. I referred to some of the hit songs (like the Beatles) that were top of the charts at that time. I liked to write messages in code (with a corresponding table for converting the symbols into Roman letters) (reminds me of studying Japanese nowadays). I had little columns written by Polly the Parrot and Pip the Potato Squirt with their words of encouragement. Neither of my parents were writers like this. I just somehow developed the interest myself.

Issue Number 100. I was already in Secondary (Grammar) School then and was finally losing touch with my elementary school days. At the top in the middle is a badge for club members to wear.
What I feel I have learned from rediscovering these old newspapers is that people as they grow up have little to remind them of their childhood apart from photographs and memories. Memories are often sketchy in those early years as we get older, and for many of us, there are many unpleasant memories, like being scolded by a teacher who just wanted to be nasty to any defenseless kid, or being forced to learn what you were told to learn within a rigid education system instead of being taught how to learn what you wanted to learn for yourself at your own level and pace. One recommendation I would make to parents would be to encourage young children who like writing to write, and then to ensure that they preserve all these things. After almost 45 years have passed, they will be grateful for it.
I was not a good student of English within the formal educational establishment (I hated English lessons where we just read Shakespeare around the class). However, when it counted, such as when writing essays in high school and university (economics), I could write well. I gained much experience writing and editing magazines over the years. I have translated many a research paper from Chinese into publishable English. Now as I get my things at home in order, I want to move on, and focus more efforts on writing in Chinese, and eventually Japanese. There is no end to it. One day I want to do Ironman Japan and be able to speak Japanese well enough to converse with everyone there. If I get to that stage, I will smile a lot during the race. I will be happy in a way I never experienced before and I will finish before 10 pm.

1 comment:

Brooke Myers said...

That is so neat you still hold onto your old school papers too. I enjoy looking back at some of the work I have done in the past and to see yours is interesting.
Do you ever find yourself critiquing your work; I always complain about how sloppy some of my was?
The memories that come back are fun to re-visit though...

I really enjoyed this post...