July 3, 2015
“Kids of your generation have become too addicted to television programs and video games,” my stepfather said to me as a 3rd grader, “Books are no longer enough to entertain you youngsters today.” He went on accusing me and my generation of being too visually dependent, that we’re incapable of creating mental images when reading. He accounted his own reading interest to the fact that he had no television as a child, and books were his only means of entertainment. I believed him, too. It was effortless to be entertained by switching on cartoons or playing a home video game. All through my formative years, reading was only a school-related activity, a chore; done because it had to be done. I didn’t know then that developing an interest in reading depended namely on finding appropriate age-level text and subject matter. So I’d say that my first spark of interest in reading snuck up on me in the 7th grade, when my mother and I went to a neighborhood yard sale.
She had stumbled upon a box filled of used “Archie” comic books, and before I had a chance to tell her whether or not I was interested, she had already bought the entire box. So on the way home, I rummaged through them. It was as though I had discovered a portal to a new world. As a pre-teen, I was oblivious to what a “real teenager” was supposed to experience, so reading about Archie’s teenage perspectives of friendship, romance, jealousy, fashion, etc. really appealed to me, almost like a voyeur observing from the outside what “real teenagers” are supposed to act like. Many of my girl friends liked reading “Nancy Drew” mysteries, but I couldn’t relate at all to girl who was mature beyond her years. I needed something where the main characters got into trouble and found clever ways to get out of it. So, after finishing the whole box of comics, I would then save my allowance money to buy a new one each week. It was the best feeling opening a fresh, new comic! I still have some of those old, discolored, dusty original issues from the mid-80’s that I’ll always treasure. That is how my original interest in reading developed, with the sudden realization that both reading outside the classroom and reading for pleasure can exist. Then reading with the anticipation of performing opened up a whole new world.
In high school, I really took to drama, namely reading and performing scripts that told interesting, personal stories. Reading came extra easy for me when I knew that the stories would eventually come alive on the stage. This interest carried me over to university, when my reading and writing horizons expanded even more with the meeting of an extraordinary woman named Joan.
As a fellow student in the UMKC theatre department who not only took acting classes with me but also studied art at the KC Art Institute, Joan Esposito had a journal/sketchbook that she carried everywhere. She allowed me to look through it, and as I leafed through sketches, paintings, doodles, her own writing, and writings from friends, I saw that this book had a life of its own. I knew right then that I wanted to start one of my own. That’s when my interest in writing developed. Over time, I had a journal for every subject that interested me, including one for important life lessons, one for recording dreams, one for observations in health and fitness related issues, one for my diet, and one for travel experiences. I even had one for taking notes on my favorite books. The moment I realized my own life story had value, one that is worth reading by others who could potentially relate, is what made me realize the existence of my own literacy. I decided that I will eventually write my own autobiography one day, recapitulating my entire life story, including how I’ve come full circle as a mom. I see my little ones starting to repeat the same old patterns, making the discovery of reading, like a rite of passage.
Reflecting on my 3rd grade self, being accused of having little imagination as I read, I see now that my daughters are also faced with the same conflict. They also have to reconcile between brainless television entertainment and the intellectual activity of reading, and I am pleased to see a spark of interest in the latter. Bedtime stories with Mom get them very excited to read, and they’re not only effective for entertainment, but also in providing a smooth transition from awake to sleep. Now I see my own 3rd grader reading for her own entertainment, just like Mom did, with comic books.
I have never been more reminded of myself, as I see her interest in comics; it’s just that instead of “Archie,” it’s “Naruto.” Every week, just like I once did, she buys a new one. I know that this is just a spring board for her reading interests as they unfold in her life, and she’ll treasure those paperbacks as a memento of where she started.