Words and Pictures I: Childhood
Just so you know, any photo or visual art you see here is mine, unless otherwise indicated. Pictures are as essential to my creative work as words are. In fact, the two hold hands every step of the way.
Let me explain: I’ve always struggled between the language of words and the language of pictures. For any American child who grows up abroad, words can be problematic. My first language was Italian, but at the age of five I was transplanted to New York, where no one spoke Italian to me. My first three years of education were in German schools, but back in the US my teachers expected me to read and write in English.
I can tell you, my spelling was atrocious. Idioms confused me. And some words were simply inexplicable. One day at school, the children called me a Nazi, a word I’d never heard before. I went home and asked my mother what it was. She frowned, stroked my hair and suggested I go draw in my sketchbook. That was easy, so I drew and painted, something I enjoyed and did well. Something everyone understood.
But it wasn’t that simple, because words were currency in my family. All of us loved to talk, to write, to read. My father’s degree was in English, my mother’s in drama. I began my first novel – a terrible copy of the popular novel Gidget – when I was twelve. My sister wrote plays, which the rest of us performed for family and friends. My brothers wrote, too, and then moved on to songs, which they eventually recorded. The dinner table was a wild cacophony of talk — brilliant, silly, loud, irreverent. My sister and I tacked a poster board on the back of the door in the room we shared, following the example of a character in a J. D. Salinger story. Here we recorded our favorite lines from the books we read, and I can still remember some of them:
Scarlet O’Hara was not a beautiful woman.
Maggie, girl of the streets, bloomed in a mud puddle.
However, we also shared a bulletin board devoted to pictures, many clipped from Life magazine, Newsweek or Time. I remember one of an injured soldier in Vietnam, and another of Grace Metalious, who wrote Peyton Place, sitting on the floor, typing on a small portable typewriter. In my memories, the lines from the books and the images from the magazines are inseparable.
My childhood was an illustrated tale: words and pictures on every page.
Next time, Words and Pictures II: Growing Up