Illiterate: Entry #6

Time Capsule: Eighth Grade

In our last jump to my early elementary education, we observed a boy embracing rebellion and exploring alienation, an imagination taking root and sprouting sour berries of fictional oddity. Here, we flash forward to eighth grade where those central themes have exploded, the vines becoming overgrown, unmanicured to the point of bordering on weed-ness.

The year: 1997. The destination: Language Arts class. The mission: 10-minute free writing. What follows are seven entries spanning the autumn and spring semesters. The brief writings were never meant to be read aloud, graded, shared in any way, shape, or form. But despite the private nature of this work, I knew that there would be an audience of one—my teacher. So though these were intended to be journal entries—and you will notice some moral navigation and worldview building here—the words are not to be trusted entirely; I was showing off, hamming it up, making it impossible to tell what was my honest to goodness reflection and what was comedic material for my reader. Tread lightly.

Again, sic, all.

Contemplating Death

What do I think about? When I am doing my homework, or when I am outside, I sometimes contemplate my future. I think about my future in so many different ways. I ask myself questions like, “What will I look like when I get older?” and, “What will my accomplishments be?” and, “Will I have any big failures?” I do not know the answers to any of these questions.

I also contemplate death. I want to now where I will go when I die. I think of this quite often. Why do I think of this? I must be mad! Mad I tell you, mad! But I do hope that no one says “Lower him into the grave,” any time soon.

I would like to live a full like. A life full of happiness and love. I would like to graduate high school, and go off to Dartmouth College, and make my parents proud. That is mostly what I hope for. But, after worrying about all of that, I still think about death. I think about what it will feel like to pass away. And I think about reincarnation. Is it possible? Has it ever happened? I guess we will never know for sure until it happens to us.

With all of this bad stuff in the world, it’s no wonder why so many people die. It’s just the way life goes, I guess. You take risks and either get rewarded or pay the consequence. Like the man says, no one knows for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.

Ah! The time traveler makes his first appearance. It is obvious that awareness of (and anxiety about) past, present, and future was an issue even early on. I don’t recall these existential crises plaguing me to any large degree, but the fact that I had these thoughts to begin with was pretty remarkable, especially considering, to that point in my life, I hadn’t really been exposed to death or loss. There is a spiritual uncertainty here that I find interesting, and I wonder if there was a time when I considered appealing to religion for answers. Doubtful, because you may notice a distinct lack of “God” talk, no mention of the afterlife, the beyond. I address the possibility of reincarnation, but that’s less of a what-comes-next concept and more of a sequel. Livin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo.

My favorite holiday is Halloween. Christmas is actually my favorite holiday, but I’m not writing about that – Am I? Halloween is a holiday full of ghosts, goblins, and different, other-worldly creatures. A holiday where people dress up in costumes, frighten others, and go door-to-door asking for candy. What’s not to like?

I love scaring people and getting scared. It’s a wonderful feeling. Some people think that trick-or-treating is for babies. That’s not true! You’re never too old to go to houses collecting bags of money*, “teepeeing,” and egging houses. Whether you’re nine, or ninety, the fun still exists.

Some people think Halloween is Devil worship. Are they right? Who knows? I don’t think it’s Devil worship. Halloween is a time to celebrate the dead. [Teacher’s comment: “Really?”]

One thing’s for sure, it’s a time to honor and recognize lost friends and family. It is sad, though, that people only recognize the dead after they “pass away.” We need to realize how much loved ones mean to us while they are still among the living.

Most of all, Halloween is a holiday to have fun. It’s a time to forget all of your problems and worries. A time to forget your pressures and stress put on by society in everyday life. It’s a time to spend quality time with family. We should have more candy-collecting, scaring, celebrating-the-death, quality-family-time spending holidays. The world would be a better place.

*Brain fart, I’m assuming. Unless I had a seriously distorted understanding of trick-or-treating.

Again with the death imagery. And the point that sticks out to me as odd is that I said I loved scaring people and getting scared. While I’ve always been someone who gets some sick pleasure out of scaring people (really, who doesn’t?), I always remember hating being on the receiving end. I think it’s my reaction to that sense of dread: Most people come down from that frightened high with a moment of relief, maybe with a giggle or a deep exhale, but I stay at that high, my heart continually pounding, my jaw clenched and knuckles white. It’s the reason I’ve never enjoyed roller coasters or haunted house. Interestingly, Halloween is still my favorite holiday, but that’s now because of the alcohol and fading inhibitions.

(Side anecdote: When I was a really young, my parents took me to a haunted house set up inside an abandoned prison. If you want to see the face of true terror, take a seven-year-old to a prison and make him stand in front of a hulking man with a grinding chainsaw and watch the child get swallowed up in a tidal wave of strobe lights and eardrum-rupturing heavy metal.)

I have noticed many changes during my short lifetime. I am following that very same stereotype that everyone goes through when on their way to becoming an adult.

I have grown taller, my voice is deeper than before, and it seems that my imagination has slowly disappeared. I can no longer “pretend” or play those kid games that everyone loved so much. Also, my parents don’t play games or sports with me as much anymore. They just think that I can entertain myself. They’re right.

I have also noticed that I can fend for myself with any help from my parents. I have much more responsibility too.

My expectations are greater as well. I am expected to do well in school and behave myself. That’s the part I hate, behaving myself, I mean I’m always worrying about doing something that might offend someone or make someone shocked or appalled. We have much more to worry about in this world of billions of people. There are so many deaths in this world.

And another thing, this politically correct thing has been blown way out of proportion. You could say just a couple words and offend an entire race. This isn’t a way to live.

I have also noticed that I have gotten more synical and dark. When I was young, I didn’t have a care in the world but now I can always see the bad in something.

I know that you people may think that I am exagerating, but I’m not. You may think that I am crazy, but I’m not. All of these things that I have written about are true and happen to everyone. Maybe not in all the same ways, but similar.

Change happens to everyone, and this is the way it happened to me.

Were I my own father, I would be concerned and slightly horrified. This reads like the manifesto of an ignorant shithead. I have to assume that most of this rant—and it’s hard not to call it a rant with lines like “And another thing…”—was in response to something that happened at school. It’s likely that I said something that I shouldn’t have (a common theme in my adolescence) or overheard some denial of one’s freedom of speech that shook me to my core. But the part that concerns me the most isn’t the diatribe about political correctness. (That kind of thing generally gets ironed out as people get older.) It’s the angry, cynical tone, in particular the mourning of my childhood. It wouldn’t surprise me if every contemplative youth eventually reaches a point where they’re forced to lament their movement toward adulthood, but the bitterness that I express kind of makes me sad. Even as someone who often looks longingly at the (less complicated) past, I’m troubled by the idea that innocence lost came that young for me.

I am writing about what I got for Christmas. I got many wonderful things. My parents are very good at getting me what I asked for. They even got me things I forgot to ask for. I love everything I got.

I received gifts like books, basketball jerseys, and games. I got a couple Dilbert books and this wonderful book about the Three Stooges life. I am a stooges addict. I also got an Allen Iverson reversable basketball jersey, and a Chauncey Billups basketball jersey. I got a video game, too.

My parents decided not to exchange gift between them. Instead they choose to re-finish some rooms. I wish I could buy them better gifts, though. I bought my mom these really nice leather slippers and a Danielle Steele book (hardcover). I got my dad this box of basketball cards and a nice candle. I wish I could buy more expensive gifts. Well, I guess these gifts I got them weren’t that bad.

Take a look at the final paragraph—it’s genuine adolescence. Over the span of a few sentences, I (a) expressed an opinion, (b) provided further information, and then (c) argued myself out of my original opinion. (Let’s just ignore that I got my father a candle for Christmas.) This effectively demonstrates the difficulties that young writers have with writing on demand. I was quick to take a position, but then I thought it through and realized the opposite was true. It’s fascinating to see such a basic example of the argumentative thought process of a child.

I am writing about the snow. When there is snow, that is when I come alive. I hate the heat. I can’t stand the humidity, eggs frying on the sidewalk, and clothes clinging to your body. But the bitter cold, now that’s fun. The only downside to snow is shoveling. The rest of the time, though, is good livin’!

I feel sort of happier when it’s winter. The summer is too hot, the spring is allergy season, fall is the raking season, but winter is basketball and ski season. When I ski, I can relax. I love doing something that most of my friends and my parents can’t do.

Most people seem grumpy during the winter. People hate the shoveling, power outages, accidents, frozen pipes, and frost bite. Isn’t it weird that people love the other seasons, but hate winter? My theory is that winter is a way to balance all of the fun in the others seasons. Nature has to have an equal amount of fun and crappiness to balance the scale. It is impossible to have a large amount of fun without having something go wrong. It’s a conspiracy I tell you. A CONSPIRACY!

I’d like to make observations chronologically with this one. First, I begin another entry with, “I am writing about…” At that point as a writer, I felt the need to introduce my topic. Why? To give myself a beat before I offered my thoughts? To ensure that the reader and writer were on the same page from the opening line? It is mechanical and uncreative, but I sort of see the logic behind it. It’s such a left-brain thing to do. It’s a shame that that was how I approached a prompt, though—sequentially, structurally—because as far as unpolished adolescent writing goes, “When there is snow, that is when I come alive” is a beautiful way to start a piece.

My vacation was pretty fun. I did a bunch of different things. Some parts were boring. Others were fun. I did have a good vacation, though.

I worked with my mom at her work. I did a mailing for two days. It wasn’t that fun, but I got to listen to my cd’s. The mailing was about 1,700 letters to be sent out. The pages were folded, so that saved me some time.

I also went to the movies. I saw two movies. I saw Wag the Dog and The Wedding Singer. Wag the Dog was a really good movie and was funny. The Wedding Singer wasn’t the best Adam Sandler movie ever, though.

I stayed home some days. It was boring. I just sat home and watched t.v. When it was nice I went outside to play basketball. I rented Face/Off, Out to Sea, and Trial and Error. Face/Off and Out to Sea were really good. Trial and Error was terrible.

This, to me, is the most painful of the bunch. A dearth of complex sentences, loads of contradictions, limited vocabulary, sanitized reporting of my spring break. Everything placed into categories of either “fun” or “boring,” the kind of lazy comments that an uninterested teenager would say with an eye roll to his or her parents when asked about their day.  My heart wasn’t in this one, clearly.

I can’t believe school is nearly over. This year has gone by so fast. It’s been exciting. We’ve all had our ups and downs, but some try to strive to bring up that grade and behavior for the last quarter. Soon we will go on to bigger and better things. Forgetting some of the best times of our lives.

I still remember having my own business in second grade with Jon and Triston. It wasn’t a lemonade stand, it was a drawing stand. I haven’t been able to remember many memories, but I hope to make new ones. Most of all, I hope to remember the great time I had here and will have in John Stark [Regional High School]. Even more than that, I hope to remember how proud I have made my parents.

And the forlorn time traveler returns, a bit worse for wear. My concern at the end of eighth grade is the same one that I have today: memories lost. I have terrible recall, always have, and that’s worrisome for a writer, especially one who’s an only child, sort of the black sheep of the family, distanced—both geographically and communicatively—from the clan. Memories have drifted away; even nostalgia could do little to tether them to the shore. Who do I turn to, then, when I’ve forgotten? Who are my resources? My parents can fill in some of the blanks, but they can only offer highlights. What of my emotional states, the thoughts I shared with no one? All I have to link me back to 1997 are these writings, a few random passages. And honestly, as writers of all kinds, isn’t that all we really have to properly fill a time capsule?

Joshua Covell is a New Hampshire transplant who loves the big city lights and a state that completely sidesteps the national political spotlight but pines for good seafood and a proper time zone. He is a writer, editor, and co-founder of STFU, Internet.

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3 Comments on “Illiterate: Entry #6”

  1. Chris
    June 18 2012 at 9:16 pm #

    You showed flashes of major potential as a writer even at that age. This is probably my favorite piece of yours so far.

  2. Melisse Heinemann
    June 28 2012 at 3:17 am #

    I think you should start doing more ten minute free writing. These are my favorites pieces.

    • joshcovell
      June 28 2012 at 10:53 am #

      I think you just came up with the idea for Illiterate #7.

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