OSC Answers Questions
I was wondering if you could write me back a brief response of some
important events in your life, when they occurred and where. Also, if they
influenced your writing at all that can also help.
-- Submitted anonymously
OSC REPLIES: - December 16, 1999
Events in my life in different places. I'll just list every place I lived, with a
brief list of important stuff (important to me, that is) that happened there:
Richland, Washington (SE section of state) August/September 1951: I was
born there on August 24. My father and uncle both worked for Hanford Atomic
Works, the nation's first commercial nuclear reactor. My dad was a sign painter.
Many, many years later I was phoned by some people doing a scientific study of
people born near the Hanford Works during that time period, tracking, not health
problems of those people, but problems with their children. Since I have a son
born with cerebral palsy, and we had several miscarriages that may have been
caused by defective embryos, it is quite possible (but also far from certain) that
some of these important events in our lives might have been caused by where I
happened to be born, and when.
San Mateo CA, 1951-1954: My dad started a sign company there, but back
problems that had plagued him since before his Navy service in WWII finally
resulted in such debilitating pain that he could no longer continue the company.
The financial problems stemming from the collapse of the sign company (my
parents refused to declare bankruptcy) were a burden on our family for many,
many years. But this put my father on track to change careers completely.
Though he has continued to make money painting signs throughout his life, for his
career he finished college and became a college professor. This meant that instead
of growing up the son of a small-business entrepreneur, I grew up the son of a
college professor and in the shadow of a university.
Salt Lake City UT, 1954-1957: We lived in several apartments during this
time while my dad was finishing his bachelor's degree. In one of the apartments,
my grandmother used to walk me to Temple Square, where I became familiar with
the buildings at the center of the Mormon Church -- and with the gardens there.
(My grandmother sang to me "Little Purple Pansies.") As a four-year-old, I
learned that when I sang, people really really liked it. (This is because I could not
only carry a tune, but could harmonize, which is relatively rare in kids that age.
My mother would play the piano and I would sing duets with her. I imagine I was
too cute to bear, singing "Old Man River" at the age of four ... but that's what I
did. Music has been a vital part of my life ever since.) Also, I remember my
retarded Aunt Donna reading to me from a book. She was hard to understand, but
I knew she loved me and I loved her. Our last year in SLC we lived in Stadium
Village on the campus of the University of Utah, married student housing where
there were lots of kids of lots of students attending school on the GI bill. It was
there that my mother worked with me on the alphabet and my sister Janice taught
me to read sentences from her Nancy Drew books. I remember reading about a
'colored woman' in a passage from that book; I had no idea what that phrase
meant, and conjured up the idea of a woman with skin of many colors. Years
later, when I realized what the term meant -- along with the meaning of other
terms I heard at that time from people outside my family -- I realized that I lost
something by growing up in a situation where I knew little to nothing about
people of other races. That would help as my wife and I decided where to raise
our own kids. Meanwhile, I began my lifelong love affair with books -- in large
part because my family was very much a family of readers. No intellectual
pretensions, but lovers of good stories. I also attended kindergarten on the U of U
campus and had my first experiences with school -- where from the start I got
along much better with the teachers than with the other kids. It was while we
lived there that my cousin Sherm, whose family lived on a farm in Benton City,
died in a tractor accident. We drove to Washington for the funeral. It was my first
experience with the death of someone that I knew. Finally, another odd
experience: I was up with my parents watching a television show on our
black-and-white tv -- a movie. There were several scary scenes that absolutely
terrified me. I got so upset I could hardly sleep. I had nightmares. And, for the
first time that I could remember, I wet the bed, thus beginning a long humiliating
struggle to overcome bedwetting. I rarely invited friends to my house because
they might see the rubberized sheet that I had to sleep on. It kept me from feeling
honest with anyone -- I always knew that no matter how smart my teachers
thought I was or how well I sang or did anything else, if these people knew I was a
bedwetter, they would scorn me. So everything was a lie. Thus does a pattern of
self-hatred begin <wince>.
Santa Clara CA, 1957-1964: While we lived here, my dad taught at San
Jose State College while earning his master's degree. Then he worked in
development of training manuals at Lockheed. This is where most of the
formative experiences of my life took place -- the books, the experiences at
school, the musical instruments I learned, and many family experiences. Some
key experiences: It was while at Millikin Elementary that I had my first
experiences with bullies, and learned that I had no desire to fight, even to defend
myself. I was also identified as "gifted" and put into a special class that met a
couple of times a week, where we learned a bit of Spanish. Much more important
to me, however, were the music classes (clarinet for a year, then French horn) and
the experiences with reading. The bookmobile was a marvel, but even before that
the visiting librarian would meet with students in a tiny closet of a room where
she'd talk to us about books and introduce us to such wonders as Rabbit Hill by
Robert Lawson and a book about Lewis and Clark by Dougherty (I think). I read
"Wheel on the School" and many other books that taught me what books could be.
However, it was at home that I found the best books. My mother had been a fan of
Elswyth Thane's "Williamsburg" series and the book "Dawn's Early Light" and
"Yankee Stranger" gave me a taste for historical novels and romance. "The Prince
and the Pauper" by Twain made me an anglophile -- for many years that was my
favorite novel, period. I also read the Thornton W. Burgess books that our family
loved. And when my parents bought World Book, I read it from cover to cover (I
had already devoured most of the one-volume encyclopedia they owned before).
When I was old enough, I'd ride my bicycle down to the Santa Clara public library
and after going through William Altsheler's historical novels, I snuck over to the
adult section and began reading science fiction -- "Call Me Joe" and "Tunesmith"
were some of the most important to me. I also saved my lunch money to buy
books from Scholastic's Teen-Age Book Club -- even books that ordinarily would
hold no interest for me, like "Candy Stripers" and "Black Flag at Indianapolis."
Also, I wrote poetry and one poem of mine was published in a teachers'
newsletter. Not everything I learned was literary, though. I was sorely tempted by
shoplifting as a child of nine or ten. After being caught by my parents I vowed
never to steal again -- the adventure of it wasn't worth the shame. I've been clean
on that ever since. During that time I also learned that while I loved to run and
play outdoors, I was lousy at all possible sports and slower than every other kid
who wasn't actually crippled. Being bad at physical activities took the joy out of
them for me. Even though I loved basketball, I almost never played it again. And
I avoided running. Not till the past year and a half did I finally overcome these
early experiences and become seriously dedicated to a pattern of running, biking,
and other physical exercise, which I intend to pursue for the rest of my life. But
the intervening years were a long struggle with serious overweight, and because of
my body type, there was no hope of my keeping the weight off without serious
exercise. So the cost of failure-avoidance was a long saga of even more
body-shame than I'd had as a bedwetter. Bedwetters don't have to buy their
clothes in big-and-tall stores <grin>, and they can fly economy class without
earning hate stares from the people sitting next to them. In junior high I switched
from French horn to tuba.
Mesa AZ, 1964-1967: I got to Mesa in time for the 1964 elections. Even
though my parents were conservative and I favored Goldwater, no one in our
junior high was willing to take the part of Lyndon Johnson in the mock debate. So
I took his part and did a bang-up job, I thought. It wakened me to the fact that
even when somebody is "wrong," he can still come up with persuasive reasons for
his point of view. It taught me that I didn't understand somebody until I had
expressed his views in terms he'd use. Thus the beginning of my political
education. Unfortunately, in the archconservative culture of the Mormon
community of Mesa, the John Birch society seemed pretty reasonable and in the
fervency of youth, I thought Goldwater's slogan "extremism in defense of liberty
is no vice" was dead on. It took about six more years for me to make a major
swing away from rightwing politics to the moderate views I have now. Well,
moderate in the sense that if you average them out, they end up in the middle. On
some topics I'm pretty far left, on others pretty far right. But basically I've come
to despise the whole right/left package, since there's no particular reason why
somebody who favors gun control should also favor gay marriage, or somebody
who opposes the death penalty should also support abortion. In Mesa I also
became serious about genealogy, though by using bad sources -- which no adult
warned me about -- I ended up wasting all that time and effort. I wrote a school
assembly and had many good friends -- my views of friendship were most firmly
formed there, along with all my knowledge of being part of a close, coherent
group of friends who were loyal to each other.
Orem UT, 1967-1971: My dad became a staff employee and then a
professor at Brigham Young University. I attended Brigham Young High School,
a lab school where students progressed at their own rate. In this cliquish school,
the only people who were open to a new kid were the theatre kids, and I became
an actor. I also graduated a year early, and even during that one year of high
school I aced out of Spanish and took a college Spanish class at the sophomore
level -- and got A's. I was ready for college -- eager for it -- and after a brief
flirtation with majoring in archaeology (still a passion) I became a theatre major
and, eventually, a playwright.
Sao Paulo Brazil, 1971-1973: I served as a Mormon missionary here. The
influences are obvious to anyone who knows my work.
Utah, 1973-1981: I finished college, married, and we had our first two kids.
I worked as a book editor, magazine editor, and began my freelance career by
writing novels, short stories, and audioscripts.
South Bend IN, 1981-1983: I worked on a doctorate at Notre Dame, until
the recession put an end to that.
Greensboro NC, 1983-present: I moved here to work as book editor for
Compute! Magazine, but that job ended before 1983 did, and I've been continuing
as a freelancer here. Again, the influence of this locale has shown up obviously in
my fiction over the years.
There it is -- every place I've lived and something about what happened to
me there. Hope this helps with your assignment.