The summer I was nine, I lived mostly on biographies. I’d ride my bike to the Westfield, NJ public library and laboriously pick out the four books I was allowed. The Signature series featured a medallion with the Famous Person’s signature, even, amazingly, Jesus, the Buddha, and Genghis Khan. On the inside fly leaf, a winding path traced Famous Person’s life in a series of pen and ink vignettes, leading me to constant musing on the future vignettes of my life. The Landmark series lacked the vignettes but included more people.
Reading four books in less than a week, I ran through the age-appropriate offerings pretty quickly. Probably it was a shelving error that landed a Freudian biography of Louis Braille on the children’s shelves and I took it. I had a good vocabulary and a mother handy for big words. My problems started in Braille’s adolescence, when he began to be dominated by “id” and “ego.”
Embarrassed to ask for definitions of two such simple words, I was left with context. First, oddly, even sighted people never noticed Braille’s id and ego. Nobody said, “Bonjour Louis, how’s that id today?”
I concluded they were invisible and communicated with him by telepathy. Any choice launched a ferocious debate between these two while Louis awaited the outcome. Because they were always with him, the logical lodgings were his pockets, where they stayed unnoticed, like hamsters. I had a hamster, which is perhaps why that solution appealed. She didn’t communicate and stayed in her cage, but Braille lived a long time ago in France. Much was different then.
As Louis grew up and grew more famous, the ego had more to say, but was often quite helpful. I thought it peculiar that other famous people didn’t have ids and egos in their pockets, but as the Signature and Landmark biographies abundantly demonstrated, famous people were very different from each other and from us.
I hope I’m not the only one who built alternate worlds out of vocabulary problems. Anybody?