Portrait of the Artist as an Eighth Grader

By way of my very dear friend Jackie Kahn, who was the secretary of my elementary school while I was there, two pictures of me when I was but a youngin’. The larger one is me in the eighth grade, when I attended Sandberg Middle School in Glendora, California; the smaller one is me in either fifth or sixth grade, when I was at Ben Lomond Elementary, in Covina. Yes, I once had hair; it would have been rather depressing to be balding at age twelve.

And what was I like when I was twelve? Oh, you know, pretty much as you would expect: A precocious little dude who spent a lot of his time reading, playing D&D with his friend Tom Zimmer, Intellivision with Jim Cave (who was well over six feet tall in seventh grade) and riding bikes with Mike Burns (who is now Burns! of some Internet note), and, yes, reading more than a bit of science fiction, although not just science fiction — eighth grade was when I read In Cold Blood by Truman Capote, and I remember at least a couple of my teachers being somewhat disconcerted as I walked about school with that particular tome tucked under my arm. But in all I don’t think anyone who knew me then would be at all surprised that I grew up to become a writer, and notably a science fiction writer at that.

It’s kind of neat to look back at these pictures and see some of the same features staring back at me in prototype form; in particular my eyes look pretty much exactly the same. Looking at them in a 12-year-old setting also reminds me that they are one feature Athena’s inherited from me (as I inherited them from my mother); it’s nice to see the continuity from generation to generation. If I could go back, I might give myself a slightly more stylish hairstyle, but other than that, well. Welcome to me, in 1982 form.

32 Comments on “Portrait of the Artist as an Eighth Grader”

  1. OUQT!

    I remember shocking a seventh grade teacher by choosing Tess of the D’Urbervilles for a book report project. Fun times.

  2. Yes I amused my 7th grade teacher by doing a book report on Brave New World and horrified my 8th grade teacher by doing one on Kantor’s book Andersonville (they say fuck a lot).

  3. I read Michael Crichton at a young age. I devoured Jurassic Park and the Lost World in fifth grade, and Sphere, Airframe, and Terminal Man in sixth. My sixth grade teacher put her foot down when I brought in a Tom Clancy novel.

  4. Hey, a good looking kid there!
    I was reading well above my grade level all through elementary school…though nothing really horrified my teachers cause they were really cool with it.

    Damn, I feel kind of lame for that, now.

  5. Gee, I just did a book report on _Dragonflight_ in the 8th grade and got an F for “inappropriate subject matter”. Guess I should have stuck to the YA Harper Hall series.

  6. I don’t know, if I was an English teacher and I saw one of my 7th graders walking around with In Cold Blood, I’d be a pretty thrilled. Here’s a kid who loves to read! And besides, what 12 year old isn’t at least a little bit morbid?

  7. In Cold Blood was required in my ninth-grade class, back in 67-68. I’m still not sure exactly what my teacher was thinking.

  8. My 8th grade books of note for age-inappropriateness were Of Human Bondage and The Picture of Dorian Gray.

  9. let me ask the question I’m sure your wife has asked you; what happened to the hair? (if you have an answer let me know, looking for mine too)

  10. I’m the geeky kid that was told to Quit It after I turned in my 88th extra credit book report for the fifth grade school year. I kept reading, of course, but I couldn’t get extra credit for it any more. (I don’t know why the teacher picked 88 as the magical Quit It number. Maybe that’s just where her patience wore out. She was not a very good teacher in general.)

  11. Dude, I’m drawn out of lurking to tell you that I went to Sandberg, too! Couple years behind you, so we probably wouldn’t know anyone in common but the teachers; though since I lived on the corner from the school, you were most likely one of the Big Kids I saw pouring out on their bikes. Still, it’s kinda cool to find something tangentially in common.

    I remember the teachers were nonplussed by my choice of books, too. :) Do you remember how the track was so horribly placed three levels above the classrooms? It wasn’t a schoolyard so much as Mount Baldy. Somewhere I have a seriously geeky photo of myself standing under the school’s marquee when I was Student of the Month. I should dig it up.

    Oh yeah. Hi! :)

  12. awww adorable. My school photos i was either very small and sat with my brother who i looked the same as (mum did our hair back then) or hiding under a fringe I was growing out. At least the ones where I look like a boy are reasonably cute.

  13. My 7th grade English teacher saw what I was reading and recommended Mervyn Peake’s books. I persevered and made it through them, though I confess I didn’t fully appreciate or understand them. (Not sure I do now either.)

    John you were smiling at the camera in 8th grade. I’ve seen pictures of you in NoCal and Montreal, and I don’t recall seeing that smile. What happened, comrade?

  14. @8&10:
    I remember that hair style being popular, and common. The Scalzi’s current hair style is also very common. Less popular though.

  15. Love the hair! Actually, the hairstyle is really popular right now. My girlfriend’s nephew and his friends got the exact same style. Everything old is new again. They’re all in seventh grade.


  16. Is there an interesting story regarding how long these photos have been in Jackie’s possession, how she stumbled across them, recognized that they are of you (never assume people write their names on the back of pictures!) and/or how they finally made their way back into your possession?

    I would imagine so… but since you didn’t relate it already, maybe it’s not that interesting after all. :)

  17. One feature I see that foreshadows a career attending SF cons: you’ve got bags under your eyes. I take that you had been up all night reading Heinlein and that picture was taken during 1st bell?

  18. My copy of IT by Stephen King was confiscated by my 5th grade teacher. That woman just did not understand me. She also wouldn’t believe that my mother had bought me the book, until I had my mother come in to get the book back. Apparently my mom ripped the teacher a new one about the whole thing, and I never got bothered by her again.

  19. JJS@18,

    I just went to my 30th high school reunion- it was amazing how all those heads of blondish, permed hair (very fashionable for guys in the ’70’s) have changed. Apparently, there was some sort of pattern baldness epidemic among my classmates.

  20. Seriously: the hairstyle is full of win, you don’t have a mullet or a bowl cut, you don’t have a skater cut or a rat-tail, you don’t have a flattop or a moussed / hairsprayed out mess, you don’t have spikes.

    I had 5 of 6 of those for my 12-16 year old pictures.

  21. Ah, the promising future you looked forward to, back then. What the heck happened :-)

    Seriously, how did you see your future, at that tender age?

  22. 8th grade was when I was reading SciFi or spacing out all day at school and home. I did my homework on the bus in the mornings, but, mostly, I took the 8th grade off.

    BTW, when “my people” say the word, it sounds more like “young’un”.

  23. My “inappropriate for any age” book was ‘Ancient Evenings’ by Norman Mailer, which I read sometime in 9th grade.

    I’m still not sure what a book featuring so much sex, violence and outright surreality was doing in our school library, but I loved it (I’ve always loved those massive, intricate doorstop books that just go on forever). Had one teacher quirk an eyebrow at me and ask me if I was really old enough to be reading that. I said yes (I was one of these creepily precocious readers). He gave me a good once-over and must have seen something there that reassured him, because he dropped the subject.

  24. I feel like such a reading wimp. Had to give up on The Fellowship of the Ring in 5th grade because the nazgul sniffing around creeped me out too much. Got through Dune in 7th grade though.

    I think a schoolkid reading In Cold Blood nowadays gets said kid on the psycho-shooting-rampage watch-list.

  25. I don’t remember exactly what I was reading in middle school, only that it was a lot and probably from my mum’s gigantic SF/F paperbacks library.

    Is it my imagination, or are you wearing an oversized hand-me-down in the earlier pic? (I used to wear hand-me-downs at that age too, so it’s a familiar look for me.)

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