Was reading S.T. Joshi’s I Am Providence, his H.P. Lovecraft biography; was enjoying it, too. Joshi is a good writer, and Lovecraft is an agreeable, interesting person, except for all that racism and nostalgia and the other pants-wettingly horrifying stuff.
What comes clear from the book is that Lovecraft was absurdly active from early on. (The letter writing — if he lived today, he’d be a blogger with the casual mad networked prolificity of John Scalzi and PZ Myers rolled into one!) His age wasn’t in double digits before he was reading the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and penning poetic re-tellings of epic poetry; and soon after he was pumping out a near-hundred of his own private astronomy gazette, and several other adolescently produced one-person magazines, and writing facsimiles of manuals of scientific exposition, a long time before he was eighteen!
I tried to throw the holey net of memory back to my own childhood, to remember what I wrote when I was under eighteen; the results weren’t anything as lofty as Lovecraft’s ambitions of iambic pentameters, but after all that thinking it does seem I did indeed excrete a lot of youthful stuff. (Here “excrete” is the proper descriptive term.) Whether reminiscences of it interest you I can’t say; but I think the popularity of biographies indicates people get some weird deep pleasure from learning details about other people; so why not my confessions of youthful follies and obsessions, then?
What I came up with was some 5600 words of retrospective description and observation; hence it’s broken into three pieces, of which this first tries to recall the mercifully lost schoolwork that I wrote. (All that I wrote was in Finnish, of course, unless otherwise indicated.)
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School, grades 1 to 6 (ala-aste): Occasional writing of “essays” or “stories”; forced, uninspired and uninterested. Did not have the patience or the light hand necessary for writing things out by hand; didn’t think the teacher would accept a floppy disc. Gaped a bit at a classmate who (in my opinion) made tales up much easier (the teacher read all assignments out to the whole class!); he became a smoking delinquent and now he’s probably a welder somewhere; I became a word nerd and am writing a blog. Life is like that.
Of the stories I have only two memories. One, on the general level of us young ones as writers. Our teacher had to say no-one was allowed to write in a character named “Pekka”; reason being everyone was using that. Not because we had a Pekka in our class; but because we didn’t, and imagination is a patchy thing at that age.
The other is a story I wrote, and that I hope is now lost; it was the oddest bird I ever wrote in elementary school, or heard there. It was a Clive Cussler pastiche (!), and it was probably no more than 500 words long. It had a submarine in it, and all manner of disasters. Afterwards I noticed the action element of a nuclear reactor on the edge of explosion hadn’t been resolved; oops.
(The inspiration for that story was something like this: “Mommy, I’m out of books to read. Can I read this one?” — “Sure, honey.” And then I tottered away with mom’s library copy of Cussler’s Dragon, which has nuclear car bombs with robot drivers that look like grinning silent metal skeletons. Curiously enough, after my shoulder blades stopped scraping the wall, I went on to read all Cussler had gotten translated into Finnish in our library so far.)
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School, grades 7 to 9 (ylä-aste, “junior high school”): Nothing that I remember. For non-school-related stuff, see parts two and three.
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School, grades L1 to L3 (lukio, “high school”): Mostly essays; I’m pretty sure they were awful, but luckily I was too full of myself to realize. A few short story writing assignments too; again had a classmate I was glad to have, and a bit envious of. He had written a zombie yarn, and I was bothered I hadn’t thought of that and oh tarnation it would be weeks until the next such writing exercise. (By this time, we could return the assignment as a computer printout; and life was much, much easier.)
Later, though I don’t think it was as a school assignment, I did write a zombie story: a man on a bicycle is hit by rain; retreats to an abandoned house to wait. He decides to sleep on the empty, dirty floor as it is late already and he’s trekking through an uninhabited countryside (much as in Lovecraft’s “The Picture in the House“, which I had read in Finnish by this time). He wakes to a lightning storm and a shuffling sound; he makes two observations by lightning’s momentary light. One, the stone he has been using as a pillow is actually a human skull. Two, the shuffling’s source is a murderous zombie coming to him across the floor. He flings the skull at the zombie, runs for his bicycle, and tears away, collapsing in a faint when he reaches the closest village. The village blacksmith notes a rotting severed hand still clutching the pannier rack (tarakka in Finnish); being a discreet man, he burns it and advises the trekker to dismiss the incident as just a bad dream. (Morals? None. Explanations? None. This is a zombie story!)
The only other story I remember writing as a school assignment was a tad artsy, probably as a result of “Motifs! Write a story with a motif in it!” It was a fairly plotless monstrosity that I think may have been better written than the tarakka zombie hand story (“What do you mean, ‘rewrite’? What’s that?”); but I didn’t like it as much.
This piece was a sketch of the life of a man. His first memory is flailing in a crib while a ray of light shines across the room above him. (Not X-files light; but rural Finnish sunlight.) He remembers trying to reach for the ray of light with his baby arms; he can’t reach it. This baby grows to be a boy grows to be a man; he grows up; gets married; has children; wife dies; children grow distant; grandchildren don’t come to visit. Many references to light, reaching and darkness. Man drags himself back to the house of his birth, finally, old and without anything left in the world; lays down on an ancient bench to rest. Weary eyes see the same familiar ray of light from the window; and “he reached out with his hand, reaching for the light — and he got a hold of it.” And somewhat predictably, that’s the moment he dies and we’re left with no fecking resolution on what the last sentence meant.
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Not exactly composition; junior high and high school: This is the time when I found out you could use a computer to write things; you wouldn’t be reading this if I hadn’t realized you could write stuff without the cramps and the smudges that result from an indextrous leftie writing with great haste. (The cramps and the general difficulty of writing anything longer were probably because I used to press the pen really heavily; you could have touch-read what I wrote after tearing the top five sheets off!)
There was one incidental bit of writing that was certainly school-related and from the junior high, the classes 7 to 9, the great hell of the Finnish school system. (After that the elementary school that everyone goes through ends, and the badly behaving nihilist morons enter the welder education pipeline and let us serious students continue on our own to lukio, the three-year high school proper, preparatory for universities and other places of higher learning.)
There was a computer class in junior high; both as a place, and as an actual subject. At some point the teacher, having already given us the lee to play Leisure Suit Larry 1 (“Here’s a cheat sheet if anyone’s interested.” — “Nice work, teach!”), and having put us through the paces of making a home page (“Great! I love this! Just wish I had something to put in here! No matter, here’s an animated gif of a nodding chimp as I don’t have a picture of Brother #2!”), he dragged in the Finnish language/composition/literary stuff teacher, and we spent a few periods writing fiction of our own choice on the computer.
Fiction! On a computer! Modern stuff! (The general feeling about it, was something like that, except that your general class of junior high kids doesn’t really get excited by anything except the impending end of the schoolday.)
The mode might even have been two people per computer, taking turns writing the same story. I remember just that the story seemed to be not altogether crap, and it had… skis? lamp-posts? packets of… something you buy from a store… and a man-boy standing on the outskirts of… ah, this is what human memory is like. It was something that took place in the there and now; some kind of a start for a story of real life becoming complicated by the addition of a ludicrous, threatening element; it might have gone somewhere, but then we again changed the subject; probably back to making home pages or learning Microsoft Word.
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Part 2 drops tomorrow: there, I get into epic fantasy, and swear I won’t write a story about saving the world… and then I do.