Monday, August 26, 2013

Early Scribblings

An archaeological dig this afternoon in search of research material uncovered the roots of my writing career: a faded exercise book filled with rough notes and drafts of my first newspaper column.

Our local newspaper, the Amherstburg Echo, ran monthly columns highlighting the exciting events happening at elementary schools. During the 1988-89 academic year, I handled Malden Central Public School's updates. For a nerdy grade 8 kid, this was the pinnacle of achievement. My name splashed every week for readers to worship every carefully-chosen handwritten word.

By the bottom of page one of the April roundup draft, you'll sense how much of a nerd I was. Normal 13-year-olds wouldn't show off their knowledge of deleted scenes from 1930s movies. Dig deeper and there's a nod to Mitch Miller, showing off my knowledge of early 1960s square popular culture. The column ends with a Stan Lee quote; every piece ended with a famous quote, usually one years past its expiry date. Normal 13-year-olds didn't go around quoting Walter Cronkite or Bob Hope in the late 1980s.

Perhaps my inner historian was asserting itself.

Perhaps I knew who my audience was. Older readers, including other columnists in the paper, thought my columns were adorable.

A few explanations:

Extended Education: a program for gifted students, who were pulled out of class one day a week to attend special classes. I was placed in the program in grade 5 and hated it. Dad taught the high school version for a year and liked it as much as I did. My sister Amy did her one-year tour of duty (she earned a trip to Washington, D.C. for Odyssey of the Mind). This is a topic ripe for future exploration, after asking family members to refresh my memory.

Maplewood: an elementary school in Essex.

The Beverly Hillbillies: my class's skit for the spring concert. I hammed it up as a random hillbilly. Foreshadowing my college radio days, I assembled the soundtrack with my friend Mike. We used advanced technology to mix the music: a tape recorder held up to a portable record player. It helped that I had recently recorded excerpts from the 1960s Beverly Hillbillies tie-in album from Mark Elliot's weekend archive show on CKLW-FM.

Vintage Courts: the fitness club in the local mall. The business has changed names a few times, but it's still in operation as The Athletic Club. It is the only portion of Fort Malden/White Woods Mall left standing after the rest of the building was demolished for a Wal-Mart and its surrounding plaza.

Note my earliest attempt at drama criticism. I found out just how good General Amherst's next musical was - I was in it, fumbling around stage in assorted costumes borrowed from Stratford for a production of Oliver! in grade 9.

My handwriting from grade 8 is far more legible than my current chicken scratch. Never great, it slid near the end of university. I've noticed lately that anytime I trying to dash out research notes via pen or pencil, my hand hurts. It's as if my fingers no longer know how to comfortably grasp a writing an instrument for more than a sentence or two. I often rewrite notes as I go along so that they'll be legible later. Hopefully a sign of over-adjustment to typing and not a foreshadowing of unexpected physical issues. Slowing down works most of the time.

I briefly wrote for short-lived incarnations of the high school paper, then edited the yearbook in grade 11. It was nearly a decade before I tackled a column again. You will be shocked to learn that it was the weekly helpings from the archives of the Ontarion. Flipping through the notebook, the work isn't as cringe-inducing as it could be. Too cutesy for its own good at times, but I was 13. What did I know?

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