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24 March 2008 @ 11:38 pm
Uneasy transition.  
As is their usual modus operandi, New Leaf Theatre is currently running a fantastic production of a play that most people in Chicago have never seen before and are unlikely to see produced elsewhere in the city; in this case it's Girl in the Goldfish Bowl, a two-act dramedy by Canadian playwright Morris Panych.

The standard disclaimer here is that I recommend New Leaf shows on principle, and did so even before they produced Vox Pandora last season. The other standard disclaimer, however, is that I don't mention or recommend specific shows until I've actually seen them.

I saw this one last Thursday. It's sticking with me pretty tenaciously, and I dearly wish I had the time to go see it again before it closes.

The most recent entry on New Leaf's blog deals with the question, raised in Girl in the Goldfish Bowl, of when one's childhood ends. I've now heard two epigrams dealing with this concept:

1) Panych's play posits that childhood ends "when you stop being happy and start remembering when you used to be."

2) The screenplay for the filmed adaptation of James O'Barr's The Crow offers that childhood ends "when you realize that you're going to die."

Prompted by marshalaw's entry on the blog, I've been thinking very hard about when my particular moment may have been, and I think it may in fact encompass both of the above observations.

In seventh grade, my family moved from the north side of Downers Grove to the south side, which required me to switch schools. This is, of course, traumatic...but in and of itself the move is not what I consider the death knell of my childhood.

My first two months at O'Neill Junior High I found myself assigned to Ms. Kubinski's Remedial Language Arts/Social Studies class despite my transferred grade reports making it clear that I had been thus far achieving at an accelerated level in both subjects...Mr. Samonte's advanced LAS class, it seemed, was already at capacity and there were simply no seats available. It was hellishly slow and I was incredibly impatient with the languid pace of the lessons. I was eventually able to transfer to the advanced class when one of the students therein moved away, but those months beforehand were my first experience with genuinely hating education. This is still not specific enough.

Within that class I sat in between two fine specimens of suburban upbringing named Junior Rogers and Rick Oostman, who I hesitate to call bullies only because there was a certain amount of primal cunning in them that went beyond the traditional desire to pummel and deprive of lunch money found in the Lesser North American Bully. They never laid a finger on me, either in class or outside of it. No, their sport was in (a) knowing that I didn't belong in that class, (b) knowing that I knew I didn't belong in that class, and (c) finding subtle ways to remind me that I didn't belong in that class but was possibly stuck in there, anyway, with them.

But I'd been bullied before. There was Jason, in third grade, who did fit the traditional role by shaking me down for what may have been fifty cents in pennies and who left me alone after the principal finally got involved. There was Aaron, who lived down the street, who used to hurl small chunks of cement at me when I biked past his house on the way to my friend Matt's. Being bullied was an unpleasant experience but it in fact was part of my definition of childhood. So that's not it either.

So where I think it ended was in a moment where all shades of these colors melded together and made a blank white void that slowly pooled outwards, as if the childhood were a mistaken idea of me that needed to be covered up so that the painting could be started anew.

I was sitting in class, frustrated, having dealt with a week in which I had tried and failed to keep Junior and Rick from copying answers from my pop quizzes. I don't recall what specifically was frustrating me, but at some point I must have stuck my ballpoint pen in my mouth and started to chew, pensively.

I can only assume that eventually something occurred that made me bite down ferociously. I assume, because all I knew was that suddenly my mouth was full of slippery blue ink. My hand kept moving to my mouth and returning to my vision with more and more blue ink upon it, and the taste, metallic and alien, coursed along my tongue with a mischievous glee. I panicked, wondering what had just happened, looking up at the people in the room.

And the faces that looked back at me--Junior, Rick, Ms. Kubinski, others in the class who I was either friendly or ambivalent with--looked back at me with disgust, amusement, or confusion. I recall nothing resembling concern.

That's the moment, then. Sitting in a class moving too slowly for my mind with my mouth full of blue ink, realizing that the world was full of strangers who have no use for your pain save the emotional response it elicits within them. Realizing that at some point or another you are going to be totally alone even when engulfed in crowds.

And my epigram is that your childhood is over once you define the borders of your body and internalize the xenophobic propaganda campaign that makes you distrustful of everything outside of it. Childhood ends the first time your cynicism outweighs your trust.

Further note: the craggy no-man's land that is the area between your childhood and adulthood ends when you figure out that you can't always trust your body to keep you safe, either. And in that allegory, your adulthood begins with you standing in the station with a single item of luggage deciding which train you're going to get on or whether you'd rather stand there on the platform forever.
Current Mood: contemplativeintrospective
Current Music: Ani DiFranco, "Heartbreak Even"
Danielle: Bjorkserendipidy on March 25th, 2008 09:46 am (UTC)
I will say that you are brilliant. This is perfection:

...your adulthood begins with you standing in the station with a single item of luggage deciding which train you're going to get on or whether you'd rather stand there on the platform forever.

It speaks so clearly to me, as so many of the things you write happen to do.

This subject breaks my heart. The clarity with which you recalled your memory is both beautiful and chilling.

PS--It can't rain all the time.
Marlimarsinthestars on March 25th, 2008 10:46 am (UTC)
My 2 cents
This is a really interesting point to ponder. One of my youngest memories is of sitting up at night, unable to sleep, thinking about death and when I would die - not due to a morbid fascination so much as a fear I might die before my life was ready to end. I remember bursting into tears while listening to Raffi sing about protecting the Earth, fearing the Earth would end before I was old enough to see it all. I was possibly 6 years old at the time. So I have trouble empathizing with the idea of childhood ending when the realization of death sets in. I prefer your version, that childhood ends when cynicism outweighs trust. Or perhaps, I would even say, when fear, or anger, or anything outweighs trust.
(Anonymous) on March 25th, 2008 04:13 pm (UTC)
By your definition...
I was born dead.

I'm getting better, but I've been a black-hat so long I've forgotten the sun.
Coleyraspberrychucks on March 25th, 2008 06:34 pm (UTC)
This reminds me of a similar situation that happened to me around the same time. It may or may not be significant or interesting, but I totally understand the frustration you had.

My elementary school decided to try this experiment called multi-age classrooms. They put grades 1, 2 and 3 in one class along with 4, 5 and 6. The idea was that students could learn at their level, which may be higher or lower than their actual grade. Like many ideas that the Kenosha Unified School District came up with, it kind of failed. At least for me.

I spent the last 3 years of elementary school in a multi-age classroom and got to work at a higher level in math. I never did 4th grade math. But by the time I was in 6th grade, there was nothing they could do for me. They only had 6th grade math, so I had to do it again that year. I got so frustrated with it that I just stopped caring and got a C for the year.

When I went to junior high the next year, I was put in Math 7. Essentially this was the Track 2 math class (à la James Franco's character, Daniel Desario, on the episode "Tests and Breasts" of Freaks and Geeks: "Track 1 is for the smart kids, Track 2 is for the normal kids and Track 3 is for the dumb kids.") and there was no way to get out of it and back to Track 1 where I probably belonged. All of my friends were Track 1 kids, so by the time we hit high school, I didn't have classes with them.

Luckily, by the time I hit 10th grade, I was in Geometry with a group of Track 1 freshmen who I got along with really well. This became my core group of friends by the time I finished high school.

There was another incident where they decided in 8th grade to make 3 classes of students where each group just rotated between the teachers. Somehow I got stuck in the class with the special ed kids and I was not happy about it. Again, most of my friends were in the advanced group, but jaded or not, I did not belong with special ed kids. I managed to get my mom to come talk to my teachers and get me out of that class and at least into the normal level one. Of course, by the time I was a junior in high school, I completely abandoned the honors classes because I knew I wanted to go to Columbia and knew I didn't need stellar grades to get in. Still graduated with a 3.25 somehow.
meg, meggs, meggin, meggyn, meagenmeggyn on March 26th, 2008 01:58 am (UTC)
...throwing us back to jr. high, eh? I thought I'd blocked most of that out...

Ms. Kubinski's Remedial Language Arts/Social Studies class...my first experience with genuinely hating education.

Yeah. I wholeheartedly second that remark. I too was in one of her horrifying and completely un-educational LA classes and I'm totally convinced that whether by her will, or some outside force, those days in that classroom with that teacher were definitely cursed. I don't know *anyone* who came out of her classes unscathed, or who even learned anything...other than, well, that there is a very real, tangible balance to all the good in the world.

Damn, I wish I could see this play you speak of. I've been doing a lot of thinking about childhood, the loss of it, memory, adulthood and all of the sticky areas in between lately.

Although perhaps parts of it were seriously defiled in jr. high I'm not sure my childhood ended there, nor with the recognition and reconciliation with the fact that I'm mortal.

I think the realization that sometimes adults (parents) lie (maybe just white lies, but lies nonetheless) to their children to either avoid talking about heavy topics or to make them feel better or perhaps because they don't know the answer themselves or simply to allow them to see the world through a rosier colored tint, rather than true reality, was when I started to see my childhood as something that *was*. When you realize you're no longer a child being told stories by those whom you trust and love, and see the world through your own eyes the way it truly *is*.
meg, meggs, meggin, meggyn, meagenmeggyn on March 26th, 2008 02:13 am (UTC)
...which is to say, I think the beginning of the end of my childhood began when I realized my parents (adults)...are human.

Simultaneously a terrifying discovery, and a relief.