Sherman, set the Way-back Machine

I was a weird child. Yeah, I know that goes without saying, since I’m Aspie (Asperger’s Syndrome–a form of high functioning autism) and a creative person, but still…once I learned to read, I got rather tired of the Dick and Jane and Sally sagas really quickly. As soon as I was able, I was diving into what I had available: my father’s library full of Men’s Adventure books (Doc Savage, The Executioner, The Avenger, are some I still remember fondly), and biographies. Oh, I really loved the biographies.

It took me a while, well, until this year actually, to realize why I delved so deeply into reading. See, one of the things about the Aspie mind is that it doesn’t recognize the subtle social clues that is natural to most people. All the little hints that this is humor, that was sarcasm, this was ironic (or “ironing their words” as I used to say when I was younger), or any of those other subtle things–I just didn’t get. (To some extent, I still don’t but I can be more honest about it now.) I felt constantly on the outside of every conversation, every interaction. Making friends was impossible for most of my life.

But there was none of that problem when reading. Authors put down everything, right there, that I was supposed to know. Whether it was fiction or biographical or straight non-fiction–I didn’t have to guess. I was always right there, part of the conversation. There was no being lost or uncertain–or worse, outcast and scorned because I failed so miserably when I tried to participate.

Reading was pure escapism for me. It was the one thing that kept me sane throughout my childhood. And, through reading, I started to get a glimpse of what it was like to be social, what it was like to be accepted, what it was like to be normal. In an age before Asperger’s was even recognized as anything in the US (that didn’t happen until the 1980s, IIRC, and I had children by that time), there were no therapies, no even recognizing I had a systemic problem. Whatever was going to be done had to be done by me, even though I didn’t cognate that at the time.

In a way, I guess I gravitated to one thing that could seriously help me understand my world. Books, reading, stories explained how things were and how things might be. I think I adored biographies because those were real people and I was understanding them.

Reading was magical.

With reading came the ability to write down my own thoughts. Ever since I was small, I was playing out stories with toys. My mother has told me that as soon as I could talk, I’d chatter away about stories of my own creation about my toys, so it’s apparent that I was a storyteller pretty much from the start.

In first grade, we spent some time on “Tall Tales”. That may not mean much to younger generations, but Tall Tales are a form of more modern myth-telling. Some of the more well-known tales center around John Henry (who was the ultimate hero for the railroad workers), Paul Bunyan and Babe (his blue ox–loggers), and Pecos Bill (cowboys). I remember studying others like “Cactus Cat”, who was green and looked like a cactus and would slide under someone’s butt when they were trying to sit.

We had to write our own versions of Tall Tales, and I came up with “Bone Cat” which was an urban Tall Tale–a cat shaped like a bone who tricked dogs into burying it, then it would dig itself out and sit in a tree and laugh at the dogs when they came back for their bone. Terribly silly, but I was six. I also aced the assignment and got my little story printed in the school newspaper.

This is how I got introduced to the concept of actually writing what was in my head down.

Thus, my journey began. Stories were for my own pleasure at first. Private little fantasies where my hero or heroine was weird (like me) but got to be hailed and beloved. And they had to be for me, since I couldn’t put the nuances needed for others to understand onto the page. Doing that would take many years, a lot of tears and frustration, and the constant reminders from some very good friends that I was writing “in Dele-isms” again and needed to translate.

And with that introduction to writing came the closer introduction to Tall Tales, legends and mythology. I got into Bulfinch, Marvel comics, Egyptian gods, whatever I could get my hands on in the limited public library I had available. (Remember, I grew up LONG before there was an Internet.) In high school, there was even a class on Mythology, and I took it. I was one of two students who started the class with the vaguest notion who Ceres or Loki or Thoth was. It was very exciting.

The class focused on Greco-Roman, Norse and Egyptian mythologies. The teacher wove some history into the class as well, tying together the two worlds for me for the first time. She also nurtured my love of mythology by sharing numerous books from her private collection, so I was suddenly exposed to myths from the Inuits, Japanese, Chinese, African and Native American peoples (North and South America). I read about various cultures’ views on vampires (FAR more interesting than the traditional Transylvanian variety) as well as other , and my world kinda exploded in a very pleasant fashion.

By this time, I’d already been introduced to Fantasy and Science Fiction and started reading it. I wouldn’t say voraciously–my life didn’t require me to hide so much in books in high school–but if I read fiction, it was either SF/F or Historical Fiction.

I started writing stories semi-seriously in high school, but mostly in the safety of Star Trek fanfic. I was one of those Trekkies who adored Spock–like me, he didn’t fit in for many of the same reasons (except he had a known excuse). Back in the 70s, though, fan fiction was different. While you could use cannon characters, original characters were expected. I remember the advent of the original Mary Sue (and a merry ol’ sue she was too) and basically got out of writing fanfic when the emphasis moved away from author-created starships, planets, races, etc. It was time to move into my own fiction.

Which is the stuff of other posts.

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