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    My daily writing--emails, journal entries, marginalia, more emails, blog posts, and tweets--shapes me as a writer, helping and hindering the big stuff I'm trying to accomplish. Every word counts.

    My name is James Black. I'm on Facebook and Twitter. Friend and/or follow me if you like.

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Portrait of the Writer as a Li’l Whippersnapper

j3black in 1974, age 5.

j3black in kindergarten (1974, age 5)

This kid was a real pip. I liked being him/her/me.

The picture was taken when I was in kindergarten. Life was already starting to wear me down, but I still had some fire. By third grade, I’d be lost for a while as I did a slowburn implosion for about ten years, until I came out, which sparked a slow-motion explosion that is still affecting the universe.

But then, at five, in my dissheveled red/pink (what color *is* that?) leisure suit, I was thrilled to be sitting there to have my picture taken. You can see my excitement to have woken up that day. Anything was possible.

I love looking at my eyes in this photo. I was already experiencing anxiety at that age. Before that photo was taken, on my first day of school ever, I weeped when Mom dropped me off. I didn’t want to go to school. Others felt the same way, including my friend Jan, who cried harder than I did. I remember feeling that my pain couldn’t compare to hers, so I let mine go. The first few weeks of kindergarten were pretty good.

But after this photo was taken, at the Halloween party, I completely lost my shit when The Wicked Witch of the West showed up. The other students taunted her, which riled her up, and I ran screaming to a corner of the room. She came to me, and I screamed harder until I realized she was a room mother hiding behind green makeup and a black, pointy hat.

She was obviously concerned about me and worked diligently to calm me down. My fear of her subsided. She was as kind as my own mother, who was running late but would be there soon. But I feared my classmates. They had all understood that she was pretending, and I hadn’t. They shared knowledge, a sense of the world. I was the freak in the corner crying about, as it turned out, nothing. They could turn on me, hurt me if they wanted to, and I knew that some of them would. That was the moment when I stopped looking like the kid in the picture.

I’m reminded of the classic/clichéd idea, “If I knew then what I know now,” which reveals a desire to regain innocence. I prefer the quote, attributed to Picasso, about how relatively easy it is to learn to paint like a master compared to the difficulty in learning to paint like a child. A child’s genius comes from fearlessness, which may be possible because of her/his innocence, but children don’t go unscathed for long; they’re incredibly resilient, at least until they’re not.

For some, I guess childhood merges somewhat seamlessly into adulthood. Adolescence is just another stretch of road. The scenery changes, and that’s fine, or at least it’s not too shocking. Those of us who don’t learn resiliency as we go have to learn it later. It’s harder to do (probably–don’t you think?), and I’d bet that most of us have to do it that way, so there are a lot of bad moods and general pissiness to deal with. You can give up, or you can become a curmudgeon who sneers, “Kids today…” with no sense of relief that they get to enjoy being kids, and no gratitude that you can learn from them as some adult in your life maybe, probably, hopefully learned from you when you were a kid.

If nothing else, the kid I was then might be teaching someone today: my left ear popped out from my head like a carefully aimed satellite dish, my expression of demented glee proof that I could filter good news from the increasing chatter.

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