Of Media and Insectae

Posted: March 30, 2013 in Random Thoughts, Uncategorized

This is a story of a children’s magazine. It may not seem like it at first, but as always, I get there eventually.

I can still remember much of my hometown’s main public library. All I have to do is close my eyes and I’m flooded with so many minor details that went completely unnoticed in all the days of my youth spent there—obviously not completely so, since my brain picked up on them even if my conscious mind didn’t.

It’s a four story building that was what I would call then a ‘square doughnut’. The first two floors surrounded a middle area which held an enclosed garden that open to the sky. There were windows on looking in on it from all sides so you never felt enclosed. Even the slow but serviceable elevator had a glass side to look out over it as you went up and down. The decor was very much a 60s style: sharp lines and curves shapes combined and colored in muted tones that I’d only ever seen in magazines and visiting my older relatives.

The periodicals were kept in the basement. It was only two large rooms, one for the archives and one for viewing them. The smell of aging newsprint permeated everything, but not in an unpleasant way. I like to think it added to the ambiance. The microfiche machines were an endless fascination to me, reading through old newspapers and picking up bits and pieces of history. I once thought they were just humoring me when I would ask for random dates that I’d pulled from the catalog, but now I think that their smiles were more genuine, that a kid would actually be interested in that kind of stuff was a pleasant surprise.

Then there were the two main floors. The first floor was mainly fiction, with a small section for reference books (of the ‘how to’ sort), the main checkout desk and card catalogs. Tucked away in a corner next to the stairwell going to the basement was a film archive, both reel-to-reel and VHS, with private viewing stations. Being a kid I mostly watched the cartoons. But one of those ‘cartoons’ was The Snowman, a hauntingly beautiful short film that beautifully haunts me to this day (if you haven’t seen it, watch it. Don’t argue. Go, watch. I’ll be here when you get back).

The second floor held almost everything else. More fiction (including the comic strip collections, which I never got tired of reading), nonfiction and the audio section, which had both audio books and music albums both modern and classical. There was even an art gallery. Yes, they lent you prints. You could take home art with a library card. That still blows my mind.

The third and fourth floors… to this day, I’m still not sure what all really went on up there. They didn’t go all the way around like the first two floors, squatting there on the far corner from the street. The windows looking out were tinted, and the main area was never brightly lit. On the third floor there was a small room dedicated to authors from Nebraska, another room that was only open whenever there was a book sale and the rest was a complete mystery. The elevator doors opening onto the third floor (the fourth needed a key) was like opening up into a different world. As an adult, I realize now that it was probably where the library offices are, partially open to the public but by and large not meant for it. I’d probably be gravely disappointed if I were to return today, so I’ll keep that little bit of memory as a memory because it’s more fun my way.

The enclosed garden was also a little world unto itself, though a much more terrestrial one. Stepping stones were scattered throughout clusters of plants that had little plaques with plant names and their genus species, a couple of small trees, a pump-fed stream and two small ponds on either side. It was open to the public most days of Spring and Summer, even to the kids. Though not very many besides myself would go out there. They did what maintenance had to be done, but mostly let Nature do its thing, which for me added to its appeal.

You’re probably getting bored by now. We’re almost there, I promise. Just a little more rambling.

Finally, we come to the children’s section. Counting the Young Adult shelves, it took up almost a third of the first floor—and this was no small building. It was a full quarter of a city block. One side was a glass-enclosed area where the bulk of the children’s books were kept. This is where I got to sit on beanbag chairs and get to know the works of Dr. Seuss, Shel Silverstein, Mercer Mayer, Beatrix Potter and countless other names that I can’t think of but would recognize instantly. The main area held the aforementioned Young Adult books, plus a little spillover from the previous room, more traditional tables and chairs for reading and a listening station for children’s albums. It even had a door directly to the garden area and out to the street. It was its own small library inside of the big library instead of just a section where it all got dumped.

And then there was the magazine rack. It took up a good-sized portion of a wall all to itself and was filled with every kid’s magazine imaginable—though as an adult, I have to raise an eyebrow at their inclusion of both Mad Magazine and Cracked. While not adult in the National Lampoon way, they certainly weren’t humor geared towards kids. But then again it’s not like they had a separate ‘teen’ section so you take what you can get.

All of these magazines had another thing in common: passed around dozens of grubby, clumsy hands on any given day, they were naturally mauled pretty heavily. Loose or missing covers, torn or missing pages, no thought put into where they were supposed to be placed on the rack. It was always a chaotic riot of colors and print. But again, these are kids we’re talking about, so it’s to be expected. You takes your magazine and takes your chances that some big selfish dummy hasn’t ruined this month’s issue of Highlights by circling all the differences or giving Goofus and Gallant an ink makeover.

But there was one magazine that was always untouched. One magazine that sat in a corner of the rack all but neglected. There was nothing fancy about it. It didn’t have pictures on every page. It didn’t have any bright, flashy attention-grabbing glossy covers. It was mostly page after page of words with little doodles throughout. It was the most boring kid’s magazine you could give to your average kid.

I wasn’t your average kid.

And that magazine was Cricket Magazine.

TCricket Magazinehis little publication was a hidden gem that I’ve only come to fully appreciate as an adult. For those of you unfamiliar with it, it’s a literary publication for children, with every story and work of art submitted by children. The ‘doodles’ were a cast of insects— including the eponymous Cricket— and other little critters kibitzing on the submission in fun yet constructive ways. It also had book reviews submitted by children, so these weren’t the books the grown-ups said were “recommended reading”, these were true peer reviewed books. It was these reviews that steered me towards the likes of Redwall, A Wrinkle In Time, A Wizard of Earthsea and many more like it, books I could sink my teeth into and expand my mind instead of simply entertaining it.

But the most important part of Cricket Magazine to my childhood was its inspiration. I wanted to be in it someday. I wanted to write a story that would be read by everyone who knew the magazine existed. I wanted to open up an issue and see my name on the Table of Contents.

Cricket Magazine planted the seed that made me want to be a writer before my age was even in double digits. Sadly, I never got to make that dream a reality. The ambition never went away, but I was too busy being a kid to focus on the task.

Now, I’m an adult trying to make it as a writer. The ambition that was born from a neglected literary publication for children remains with me in a likewise grown up but still largely unchanged way: I’m gonna do it someday.

And just like then, there’s still a part of me too busy trying to be a kid to fully focus on the task. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.

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