Thursday, September 09, 2010

A Life in Four Colors (Part Thirty)

1965 was also the year that I began junior high school. West Rome Junior High was radically different from West End Elementary, Elm Street Elementary, or Garden Lakes Elementary; suddenly I was expected to take responsibility for myself, and it seemed that the focus of the subject matter became more focused and more caefully honed.

And I loved it.

I learned a multitude of things in elementary school, but all in all, I thought of that phase of my education as a six-year preparation of the foundation by which I could really begin to learn. I learned to read--and not just to read basically, but to read well, and to read well. I learned basic mathematical skills of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. I learned to spell. I learned to write clearly and readably (a skill that my elementary teachers would be dismayed to learn that I squandered in my later years--I blame too many hastily written hall passes and hastily jotted notes for the loss of any penmanship skills I once had). I learned how to find facts and reorganize information. I learned to alphabetize, to prioritize. I learned social skills.

And then I moved into junior high school, where I saw immediately that everything I had learned up until that time served as tools for the learning I would do next. I had done summarizing book reports in the past; I now was expected to do analytical writing on characterization and themes. I had drilled on basic math fundamentals previously; I learned to do proofs and solve complex equations. I had memorized geography and natural resources; I now compared governmental structures and historical movements. did rudimentary literary analysis; I discerned symbols in what I read; I recognized the difference between simple drawing and artistry. It was a remarkable time, and I felt like I was truly where I belonged.

That doesn't mean that I didn't love school holidays and teacher workdays and snow days and weekends; like very adolescent, I thought that school could be too demanding. But I still enjoyed it enough that, when Mom and Dad wanted me to accompany them to Callaway Gardens for some spring press event--a trip that would mandate that I miss two days of school--I wouldn't agree to go until my parents talked to my junior high guidance counselor and he personally told me that it would be acceptable, that my absence would be excused, and that I would have no trouble making up the work.

I also learned to type. That's a little bit deceptive, of course; I had learned the basics of typing from my parents, both of whom were skilled typists. Dad was a newspaperman, so we had typewriters at home--two Royals, in fact, both worn and black and heavy as anchors. I wanted to be like Dad, to sit at that typewriter and make words appear on the page as fast as my fingers could move. Dad taught me the basics--where to put my fingers, where the keys were located, what keys to hit with which fingers.

But I wasn't good at it. That's where junior high typing class came in; I learned to type for speed, to improve my accuracy, to listen and type at the same time. And I also learned how to lay out type on a page. We did numerous exercises wherein we designed letters, prepared newsletters in two columns, left space for an illustration,justified type, and even used typography to design graphics.

I don't know how many other junior high students found this fascinating, but for me, it opened the door to new opportunities. You see, 1965 was also the year that I discovered fanzines. In response to an ad in the back of a comic book, I had ordered my first fanzines while I was in the 7th grade. And in those days before computers, before printers, before word processors, fanzines were generally produced with typewriters, designed by people like myself who used typing skills to produce amateur magazines that were ambitious in scope--amateur magazines with illustrations around which type had to be designed, magazines laid out in two and three columns per page.

It was as if junior high school knew of my growing interests in fanzines and my newfound desire to produce my own publications, so the junior high powers that be determined that I should be given those skills.

Junior high also taught me to be more discerning in what I read--to tell the difference between what I enjoyed and what was good literature. And it taught me to find the good elements and the weak elements in literature. I learned many of those skills from Miss Kitty Alford, one of the most quirky, delightful, and demanding junior high teachers I ever had. She loved what she did, she loved to read, she loved music, and she loved learning. And she helped me to love all of those things even more.

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