Thursday, January 31, 2013

What the Hell Made Me This Way?




















Yeah, that's me--fifth grade, Green Acres Elementary School, Fairfax, Virginia (left)
Yeah, that's actually my sixth grade class going on a field trip to my house (right)

So, what makes us the way we are, huh?

The older I get, the more apparent it is that you are a culmination of the path you took and how you interpreted the events in your life for good or bad.

I was the baby of the family, so you can guess I was used to whining to get what I want, feeling as if I have no power, and always having older siblings push me away, so I was the much younger odd woman out. Then, I grew up in a spooky mansion on the hill in the middle of suburban tract homes. Another odd woman out. Do you think that made me the fun kid to hang out with? Not necessarily. The other kids grew up in the suburbs and knew each other. I was like a foreign exchange student. 

See that fifth grade picture? I was calling every girl in my class and the other classes on a Friday night for a sleepover. Were there any takers?  Nope. They knew about the infamous ghosts at my home. Then, there's the fact I was living on an estate. People assumed we were wealthy, but my parents bought clothes on discount and never ever bought us toys, so we had to learn to play outdoors and be creative. Yes, we also had a Victorian summer home on the Chesapeake and a cabin cruiser, but there were no status items amongst us. We lived extremely basic and, in fact, grew and caught our own food at the summer home to give us kids character, along with no television or radio. My parents were much much older and they grew up during the Depression Era, so they had a mindset to put their kids in a beautiful setting and let them just flourish.

So, how did I manage to keep myself from being a total outsider? Well, with a sense of humor is how.

As if things couldn't get worse, in sixth grade the teacher decided we must take a field trip to my home. Holy heck! Can you put a bigger freaking spotlight on what a weird place I lived? My friends lived in modern homes with split levels and shag carpeting. The floorboards in my creaky home were stained with the bloodstains of Civil War soldiers and the place was filled with antiques. It was like the freaking Munsters abode complete with heavy velvet drapes and flocked wallpaper.

So, here I am walking my class and the teacher (and a few nosy parents of the students) through a hole in a neighbor's wood fence to walk behind the barn and past the carriage houses and the orchard to the big scary Confederate Gray house. My mother puts on a good southern spread that embarrasses me again because I wanted it to be casual but the kids actually love the stuff she puts out, so point one for my mother.

They inspect the artifacts in the cases, ask tons of questions, want to use the metal detector. For the first time in my life, my weirdness of growing up using a metal detector and digging up relics is "cool" instead of dorky! (sounds like ghost hunting nowadays, huh?) We play soccer in the huge pasture out front and explore the place, showing off a treefort and the barn and the boxwood mazes and the creek. The kids have a blast and it shocks me.

It ends up my greatest embarrassment is also my greatest asset. Apparently, all these years they wondered about my place too but weren't brave enough to check it out.

So, how do I come to be the one running this blog? It makes perfect sense, a childhood in a haunted house, handling relics and reading their history, curiosity about what creates such conditions, and the knowledge that, if I tell people I'm into this, others will join in with great curiosity. After that field trip, kids would openly talk to me about the ghosts and the house and the history and I was no longer a freak but an expert. I learned to be able to be totally self-contained and happy with my own creative pursuits and not living in the suburbs or worrying about fitting in with the cliches, so I could be an independent thinker and self reliant.

The fact that my parents didn't buy designer clothes or toys made me terribly creative and unaffected by trends and status, as well as a writer and a romantic and a nature lover. The fact that I did live in a mansion in the suburbs made me work even harder to just a regular person, unaffected, and no different than anyone else, just "real folk."

When you look at your life and the things you were embarrassed by as a kid, did they really end up being your strengths?

When I'm writing fiction, I always keep that in mind; a person's strength is his weakness and his weakness is his strength.

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