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Nov 17, 1980

Dear M.P.W.W.S.T.O.B.P.O.P.A.P.T.I.P.L.,

Do you realize that I received three (3) notes from you yesterday (wait a minute – it was today – when you read this it will be yesterday). I will have to make up or something. It's not that I have to – it's just that I feel obligated to write when someone writes me.*


We really ought to talk, the three of us. And looking in each other's eyes (I think I said that in my previous note). I don't know how much a note-writing session would help. It might help open communications. Remember Cindy's party? We will say things on paper that we won't out loud. (Don't start on the chalk board please)

I have a fear of my pen running out of ink. [ scribble ]

As for last year acquaintances...

I drew your picture on the bus last year. Geoffrey was sitting next to me and I told him I was drawing out of my head and that was why I was staring out the window. Actually I could see you in one of the mirrors. Why did I just tell you that? I don't know. I ought to tell you more things – but why should I.

1. last year
2. schweinehund

I remember one day1 I was in a bad mood and was stalking around the buses calling everyone a swinehund2 (pardon the misspelling) and I passed you and said accusingly, and I quote, "Woozle!" You gave me a rather odd look.

I remember when Jessica visited the school, I couldn't believe she was your sister but you were treating her so rudely I knew she must.

Remember last year at the Museum of Life & Science the book fair? That was the first time I actually met your mother face to face "Jesus I am overjoyed to meet you face to face."

My mom was congratulating you on your performance in "Rock and Roll Shoes".

I think Cindy – no, all of us are dynamite (T.N.T.) waiting for our fuse. So help me – we wait!

I sensed your obvious frustration today at lunch when Cindy got P.O.ed (no, Put Out) Have you had a talk with her in private? Recently? Can you? I mean are you mentally capable of doing so? Sometimes I'm not. I think you should talk to her alone – get a feel for what she's feeling.

Don't make jokes about you being graphic – you are. It's your precise way of thinking – sometimes like a computer! (I did not mean that as a compliment.)

I sometimes am ambiguous. Why do you always write in capital letters?

What were you talking to Mr. Goodwillie about on Friday after school?

[ in top margin of page 4 ] cavortions, what? [ /margin ]

Bye the bye – the last note you gave me was really the 30th. I forgot about the second one which was in my back pocket at the time.

Yesterday (here I go again – it was today) Today after school (A.S.) the walk home was an interesting encounter (as you would say).

My shoes got wet.

What do you have against Dickens? I am referring to when at lunch we started talking about A Tale of Two Cities.

Maybe you aren't [ empty space ] Whatever

Let's communicate more. (Communicate this communication to the other two commuters please)

Bye for now,

Pen is better because it lasts – it doesn't rub out!


Notes (30 of them)

We both tried really hard, each in our own ways. I wrote lots of notes; she wanted us all to bond with each other. I can't speak for the others, but I know I did – with all three of them, dammit, though in retrospect I did feel closest to Jenny. At the time, I was trying to be very egalitarian, and denied that any one of them was a "favorite", because that seemed mean somehow ("playing favorites")

Bonding, though: some part of my brain still thinks of E and C as being family, albeit estranged to some degree. If either of them needed help I'd want to give it, even though we've been mostly out of touch since everything blew up. I've searched myself for anger or resentment, and I can't find anything substantial. They were friends; it's a club with a lifetime membership, on my side. (I'd call it "exclusive", but really the main reason it has so few members is that very few people want to join – and of course two of the founding members – J and Tigger – up and died on me.)

Incidentally, I think it kind of establishes our proto-geek credentials that one of the things we sometimes did when we were gathered together socially was to have dialogues on pieces of paper, when we could have just talked out loud. (I don't know what happened to most of those.) I figure this was the 1980s equivalent to IMing when you're all in the same room, which is kind of classic geek behavior.

The Party

I do remember having one of those sessions at C's house, with all four of us. I don't know if the one I'm remembering was the aforementioned party. Fragments of memory which are probably that party are starting to come back, though. I remember feeling that hanging out with girl friends was very different than the hanging out with boy "friends", which had been my only substantial "young adult" social experience prior to this (kindergarten & 1st grade being the last time I had been able to hang out with girls).

With boys, you always have to be doing something, working on something, playing at something; there has to be an activity you're focused on so you don't have to interact with each other as people too much. At Mark's, we would play with his Lionel trains. At Jay's, we would read his massive collection of comic books. I can't remember much about any of the others.

This felt different. Despite the "goats and monkeys" syndrome early on, there was never quite the same sense of having to prove myself worthy; I could trust them to be supportive on some level where boys were always in a sort of competition with each other, just under the surface. It was like swimming in warm water. Girls care about how you're doing; boys don't want to know.

And going the other direction: if you were seen as a boy, showing too much concern about a[nother] boy's feelings ran the risk of being called "gay" and becoming the recipient of great hostility – in part because if he didn't visibly and forcefully reject said concern, then he might be seen as "gay" as well... and you're expected to know this, so you're basically [perceived as] harming someone by showing concern for them, and that's part of the anger and hostility (essentially "you're gonna make everyone think I'm gay and they'll beat me up! what kind of monster are you, to do that to a friend?").

From this single self-perpetuating behavior pattern, I suspect, emerges the core of toxic masculinity and misogyny. If affection can only come from women, that leaves men in a position of emotional dependence on women (which, not entirely without reason, creates feelings of resentment and possessiveness) and leaves women having to do all the emotional labor.

Hopefully it's obvious by now how badly this sucks for everyone.

I also remember having one of several dissociative experiences, and talking about them with C. I called them "unreality attacks". They weren't exactly unpleasant, just odd. I've heard dissociation described as like being outside your body and looking back at yourself, but this was more like I was watching a 3d movie shot from the perspective of my eyeballs.

I'm not clear on what her objection was to the chalkboard. I think this is a reference to a time when we were all in room 4 for some reason and started writing things on the board there. The problem might have been squeaky chalk; this was several years before whiteboards and dry-erase markers started to be a thing.

(Added 2018-01-31) I just flashed on a memory that this had something to do with me unexpectedly quoting lyrics from Jesus Christ, Superstar, but I can't quite picture why I was writing them down. Possibly J refers to that incident specifically in a later note, which may clarify things.

Last Year (1979)

Happening to catch sight of each other in mirrors is a theme that came up a couple of other times. She mentions one in a note.

I think that time when she called me "Woozle", I felt... understood, in a weird way. (She knew that name for me because our mothers were associates long before we became friends, doing minor advocacy on certain local issues – I think the naming of Academy Road[1] was one of their collaborations.) It showed she had at least a passing interest in my existence, anyway, which was unusual.

Jessica assures me that I was not rude, and that Jenny (being a younger/youngest sister herself) was just teasing me, having noticed that I was being more familiar with Jessica than I would be with a friend or other random person. I'm pretty sure I took it seriously at the time, though.

The encounter “last year at the Museum of Life & Science” was almost certainly the one I describe thusly in my Jenny story:

I think the first time I remember recognizing her as an individual, rather than as one of the sea of faces belonging to children of people my parents knew or some other such broad category, was when I was with my mother at the Museum of Life & Science and we ran into her with her mother. This was a fairly common occurrence – running into contemporaries in the tow of their mothers, nothing of significance being said – except that this time, while the the two moms were talking, she was looking at me. There were radio signals going out. I could feel them coming across, but had such low expectations as regards to friendship from interesting people that I filed it along with my other idle people-fantasies.

I should probably note that this encounter took place at the old location, on the south side of Murray avenue. The north side hadn't been developed at all, to the best of my recollection.

"Rock and Roll Shoes"... ye gods, I was terrible in that. I had three lines to say, and on each of the three nights we performed it, I blew two of them (not the same ones). Or was it two out of the three nights? Anyway, I'll probably put up a page and go into more detail about that when I come across the relevant memorabilia. The fact that J's mom would praise me for that mediocre and incidental performance... I should probably say no more at this time.

I'm also going to say as little as possible about my interactions with C – not by preference, out of negative feelings or anything, but just because I kind of sense she'd rather not have them discussed. I do "have feels" about this, though, as they say on the internets.

The “jokes about you being graphic”: in her previous note, she had said "I'm not used to someone as graphic and straightforward as you." and I'm pretty sure my note in response to this included a graph I drew in which one of the axes was something like "what I think of that comment". So that was my joke.

Yes, she often was ambiguous... and I often had a hard time with it. This is common with autism, which seems to be probably a trait of mine.

Why do you always write in capital letters?” That's an easy one. I had been taught handwriting at DA, and never really took to it; it never flowed or felt natural or looked good. In 5th grade, I started drawing comics (they were terrible and only made sense if you happened to be inside my head at the time), and naturally defaulted to all-caps for the lettering – and after awhile, I noticed that my writing in that style did have a flow and aesthetic to it that I liked. So I started using that style more. It's not strictly upper-case but Small Capitals.
IMG 20171107 082815921.this is how my writing looks now.crop.adj.jpg

What were you talking to Mr. Goodwillie about” seems very likely the same conversation described here, where I've written more about it – but I think it's fair to summarize by saying that having friends had substantially improved my mood and (therefore) ability to interact socially (in class and elsewhere) and to focus on my work.

I have no idea what “cavortions, what?” refers to. My theory at the time, to the best of my recollection, was that I had used the word "cavortions" in the note to which she was responding. This remains my primary theory. Sadly, opportunities to rigorously expose this theory to scientific investigation are unlikely to emerge at any time in the future.

Today after school”: I think maybe the school bus broke down in our neighborhood, and the driver allowed us to walk home? And it had rained recently and the gutters had water in them, so we couldn't resist splashing? That seems like a thing that happened at some point, anyway.

What do you have against Dickens?” Nothing, in principle; it's just that I've always had a hard time reading mainstream (non-SF) literature. It doesn't sustain my interest, and often the social conventions it presents clashed with my head – especially if gender roles were involved (as they often were), because that got into issues that I lacked the necessary understanding to even begin to untangle (see Me/gender identity/paradox). It only got worse in college.

This became somewhat less true as I got older, but I've never really enjoyed fiction other than SF and Fantasy. (At age 15, change that to pretty much just "hard SF"; I had a difficult time with Lord of the Rings and even non-tech-oriented SF like Dune. Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine made no sense to me at all.)

Pen is better”: I have a longstanding aversion to irrevocable things – such as setting down words in ink, where you can't edit them. With Jenny's encouragement, I did eventually get over that particular preference.

One of the reasons I avoided suicide in 1984 was because it was an irrevocable decision, a commitment of resources with no "undo" option. I've made other irrevocable decisions since then, some of which didn't seem as irrevocable as they turned out to be, or seemed like less was at stake (like moving to Athens). Some worked out well, some didn't. SRS was perhaps the biggest, most-obviously-irrevocable decision/commitment I've made, and I've been very happy with it. Irrevocability was, really, my main concern about deciding to do it.


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  1. NC Highway 751, which ran just on the other side of the woods behind our house on McDowell Street, had by that time already been named "Cameron Boulevard" (after "bloody Eddie Cameron" in my mother's words) between Duke University Road and 15-501 Bypass. In order to prevent the remaining stretch from being similarly named, a process which apparently seemed a political likelihood, there was a campaign to rename the remaining otherwise-unnamed stretch of NC 751 between Duke University Road and University Drive to "Academy Road", after Durham Academy.