As this summer wears on, my feelings parallel those of a summer long ago when I was 12. True, I’m “ever so much more than twenty,” much less 12, but I find myself waiting just as I did then, for The Great What’s Next to begin. Currently, that’s securing the publishing deal for my new novel, resuming speaking dates, and pitching my movies.
In the summer of my twelfth year, it meant waiting for junior high school to begin, when my bona fides as a teenager would be secured. When I would upgrade my acting career via my first-ever elective class: Beginning Acting, finally erasing the double embarrassment of my shameful wimp-out at the 6th Grade Talent Show and my failure to secure Debbie Reynolds as a co-star. And when I would publish my first novel under my new pen name “Jules Paris Casino.”
So I wandered in the Field across the street, singing the theme song from a recent Elvis movie, Follow That Dream, hoping the hideous disfigurement I’d received when I stumbled and broke my front tooth wouldn’t end my career as a movie star. I hated my 7th Grade class picture (taken two months later) so much that I stuck it on my wall and wrote “What, Me Worry?” under it (the motto of Mad Magazine’s mascot Alfred E. Newman).
It didn’t help that my voice was beginning to squeak. Or that my hormones, after voraciously gobbling up all of my 4th Grade baby fat, were beginning to do weird things to my bones. I’d lie awake at night and watch my legs grow in the moonlight. I ached all of the time.
Inside and out.
My internal aching found its analog in a book I’d bought at Hiram’s Supermarket: To Kill a Mockingbird. Until then, my favorite books had always been adventures (Twain, London, Dumas, H.G. Wells, and my literary namesake Jules Verne, of course). But here was a whole different type of story. Outwardly, it was about the trial of an innocent man in a racist town. But inwardly it was about a girl named Scout whose thought life, her longings and developing ethical values, seemed to parallel mine in every way. I read the book straight through three times, savoring every line.
Mommandad took me to see the movie version that fall. Oddly enough, I was disappointed—it wasn’t like the rendition in my head, no movie could be (I later came to love the movie, btw). Of course, it also didn’t help that, after we’d parked, Dad unwittingly slammed the car door on my finger. It was throbbing like a Looney Tune, but I insisted on seeing the movie anyway (Mom gave me aspirin). Throughout the show, my finger ached, my legs ached, and my heart ached…
Even as it sometimes does now.