Authors: Ann M. Martin
Clauda Kishi, Middle School Dropout.
Ann M. Martin
"Using your protractor," I read aloud, "measure each angle." I picked up the protractor and glared at it. It had such a friendly rainbow shape, but it wasn't friendly at all. It was a hated enemy. Why? Because I didn't have the slightest idea of how to use it.
My teacher had gone over it, more than once. And there were even some directions in the math textbook on the desk in front of me. But I couldn't remember my teacher's directions, and the author of my textbook clearly doesn't speak English - at least, not the same English I speak. She speaks very good math, but that's definitely a foreign language to me.
I'm Claudia Kishi, and I'm thirteen and in the eighth grade at StoneybrookMiddle School, which is in Stoneybrook, Connecticut. You'd think that being in the eighth grade would mean I am capable of doing eighthgrade math, but so far that doesn't seem to be the case. It's October, and school's only been in session for a little over a month now. What I want to know is, how did I already become so hopelessly behind?
It's not just math, either. I feel lost in all my subjects. I'm being buried by earth science. I'm history in social studies, in which we're studying everything between the Civil War and now. And English? It might as well be Greek.
But you know what? This situation is really nothing new, nothing I can't handle. I've never been a star student, to put it mildly. My spelling is atrocious, I have the worst case of math anxiety in SMS history, and my attention span is about as long as a five-year-old's -unless the subject happens to interest me.
Here, in case you're wondering, are the subjects that interest me: arts and crafts of all kinds, kids, junk food, mysteries. Interesting list, isn't it? Notice how vocabulary building doesn't show up on it? Or protractor usage?
School just isn't my thing. Art is, and so is baby-sitting. (I belong to this outrageously great club called the BSC, or Baby-sitters Club, but more about that later.) And I'm basically addicted to any kind of junk food - whether from the salty, greasy, sugary, or chewy food groups - and to Nancy Drew books. My parents don't approve of Twinkies or mysteries, so I keep my supplies of both pretty well hidden.
In fact, I was just reaching for a Yodel (I'd hidden a package of them behind the thesaurus my parents gave me for Christmas last year) when the phone rang. My phone, ~that is. I have my own private line, which is way cool.
"Hello?" I answered it.
"So, what are you wearing?" It was my best friend, Stacey McGill, and her question didn't strike me as odd at all. What we're wearing happens to be one of our favorite topics of conversation.
Not that we're shallow. We're interested in lots of stuff besides our appearance. But we both love clothes and jewelry and accessories. For me, they're just another outlet for my creativity. I see my body as sort of a blank canvas, a moving work of art.
Stacey, on the other hand, is coming from another place. Manhattan, to be exact. She's into clothes because - well, because she was brought up on an island where all the natives dress to kill, ev.ery day. I mean, have you ever walked down Madison Avenue at lunch hour? The sidewalk looks, like a feature in Vogue magazine. It's filled with women who look like models, all wearing the very latest couture. That's where Stacey - who could be mistaken for a model herself, with her long curly blonde hair and blue eyes - is coming from. Her style is a lot more sophisticated than mine; mine is much funkier 'and artier than hers. We're perfect shopping buddies because we rarely dive for the same item. She'll be going gaga for some navy blue, Chanel-style blazer while I'm raving over a faded denim jacket with sixties-style embroidery on it.
Anyway, I wasn't fazed by her question. Though I have to admit, I was a little bewildered. After all, we'd seen each other at school only an hour or so ago. "I'm wearing the same thing I was wearing all day," I said, looking into the mirror as I spoke. "You know, my tie-dye leggings, black overall shorts, red high-tops-" "I didn't mean what are you wearing now," Stacey interrupted me. "I knew that. And by the way, you looked totally cool 'today. What I meant was, what are you wearing to the dance?" "Dance?" I asked.
"The Halloween Dance," she explained. "You know, the one they announced this morning." "Oh, right!" How could I have forgotten? The announcement had been made during homeroom, while I was in the middle of trying desperately to finish homework for three different classes. I guess my mind had been elsewhere. "Good question," I said. "We'll have to come up with some awesome costumes. Do you have any ideas?" "I was thinking about going as a flapper," said Stacey. "You know, one of those old-fashioned girlswith the long beaded dresses?" "Sounds cool," I said. "I haven't thought about it at all yet. I'm too busy trying to figure out how to use this stupid protractor." I picked it up and made a face at it.
"Oh, that's a snap!" said Stacey. "I can explain it in about two seconds, if you'll listen closely."' "Uh, that's okay," I said. I've been there before. Stacey is a straight-A student in math;. in fact, I think she's already taking some advanced course like trigonometry. It comes naturally to her, and she thinks it's really easy. That's why her explanations never work for me. I don't think she has any idea how little I understand. For example, I'm still not exactly clear on what an angle is, or what it's for, or why I need to measure it in the first place. I could never explain that to Stacey. She'd be rushing on to tell me how to find the square root of the isosceles or 'something.
"I think I hear Janine, down in the kitchen," I said. "I can ask her." "Okay," said Stacey. "Whatever. I guess I'll see you at the meeting later, right? We can talk some more about our costumes then." "Great," I replied. "See you!" I was glad she didn't seem hurt by my putting her off. It's just that school is always such a struggle for me, and if I started depending on my friends to help me, I have the feeling they might not be .my friends for long. This was something I had to figure out on my own. I wasn't really going to ask Janine. Her explanations are even more complicated than Stacey's.
Janine's my older sister, and sometimes I feel as if I'm living in her shadow, at least at school. Every year my teachers start out thrilled to have me in their classes, because I'm Janine's sister and they all just adored her. (She's always been a straight-A student.) But within weeks, they've usually figured out that I'm not the scholar Janine is. It's not that I'm dumb, it's just that I don't care about facts and figures the way she does. I can't seem to work up a passion for fractions, you know?
On the other hand, my art teachers have always recognized that I'm talented, and that makes me feel great. I don't mean to sound conceited or anything. It's just that I seem to have this urge inside me, an urge to create. If you put a pencil in my hand, I draw. If you give me clay, I sculpt. Color and form and texture are all languages I understand perfectly.
Anyway, back to Janine. She's a junior in high school, but she's already taking college-level classes. I bet she'll end up winning that Nobel Prize thing one day. Or she'll invent a new number, or discover a cure for the common cold. She's Smart, with a capital "S." In fact, she's an official genius. But I don't hold it against her. I like Janine. She's okay for an ,older sister.
The rest of my family consists' of my mom, a librarian, and my dad, an investment banker. (My grandmother Mimi lived with us until she died not long ago. I miss her very much.) Also, my Aunt Peaches and Uncle Russ live nearby, and they just had a baby girl named Lynn. After me, I might add. Lynn is my middle name. I adore that child! I have Lynn's newborn picture taped up over my desk. She might look ugly and wrinkled to some people, but to me she's beautiful.
I gazed at her picture for a few minutes, forgetting about the stupid protractor. I was daydreaming about how much fun it will be to take her shopping (once she's old enough to walk, of course) and buy her cute outfits. I was visualizing her in a cowgirl look, with red boots and a red satin shirt, when there was a knock on my door. ' "Come in," I said. It was Janine.
"Hi, Claudia, how was school today?" she asked.
I made a face.
"Need any help with your homework?" For a second, I was tempted. Then I remembered how long-winded Janine can be when it comes to math. She loves the subject so much that once she starts in on it, you can't shut her up. Anyway, I was tired of the whole protractor. thing and ready to move on,. even if it meant I'd be even further behind in math class.
"No, thanks," I replied. "It's nice of you to offer, though." "Sure," she said. "Anytime. I guess I'll go start dinner, then." She turned and left.
I closed my math book and cleared all my school stuff from my desk. Then I pulled out some drawing paper and my favorite Italian pastel crayons, and went to work on a project I've been thinking about.
I've been wanting to do a. self-portrait. But this wouldn't be a picture of me, exactly. It wouldn't show my long black hair or my dark almond-shaped eyes (I'm Japanese-American, in case you haven't guessed by my last name). This self-portrait would show more about who I am than what I look like.
I wanted to figure out a way to capture feel8 ings on paper, to show the world what I'm thinking. I wanted to create a self-portrait that would reflect me, Claudia Kishi, as I am right now.
In my art class this year, we've been learning about abstract art. Abstract art is "nonrepresentational" (big word, huh?), which means that it doesn't look like exactly what it is. In other words, if you paint an apple in the old-fashioned way, it looks just like an apple. But if you paint it in an abstract way, you use color and line and composition to suggest an apple.
I know, it sounds complicated. But to me, it's simple. And fascinating. (I guess that's how Stacey feels about math.) I couldn't wait to start my project.
I gazed at the blank paper, thinking about all that I wanted my self-portrait to convey. I wanted it to show my sense of style and my sense of fun, my deep family ties and my pride in my Japanese ancestry, my love for color and texture, and my connections with friends. That was a lot to pack into one little drawing, but somehow I felt I could do it.
nce I started on my project, it was hard to stop. When I'm really involved in creating something, it's ciS if the world goes away and time stops. The house could practically burn down around me and I would barely notice. That's why it took my friend Kristy three tries to get my attention.
"Claudia!" she called. "Claudia! Hello, CLAUDIA!" Finally, I looked up and grinned. "Hey, Kristy," I said. "Is it five-thirty already?" She was standing in my doorway with her hands on her hips.
"Five-twenty-five," she informed me. "You know I like to be early." I started to clean off my desk. I wasn't ready to show anyone my project yet, and if Kristy Thomas was there it meant that all the other BSC members couldn't be far behind. It was time for a club meeting, and nobody likes to be late and face the wrath of Kristy.
The BSC was Kristy's invention, which is why she's president. Among her friends, Kristy is known as an "idea person." She's always coming up with these very simple yet totally . terrific ideas. Since my friends and I love kids and baby-sitting, the BSC has to go down in history as the best Kristy idea ever.
Here's how it works: seven of us baby-sitters meet in my room (because of my private phone line, which earned me the title of vice-president) from five-thirty until six on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Parents can call during those hours and set up sitting jobs. (We have two associate members, just in case we're overwhelmed with work. They don't attend meetings, but they're always standing by to help.) We keep track of our schedules in a record book, and we write up every job we go on in the club notebook. (Not exactly my favorite thing to do.) It's really very simple, and it works perfectly.
Well, almost perfectly. Recently there have been some glitches. In fact, for awhile there it looked as if the BSC's days were numbered. Everything was going wrong. We were fighting with each other, we weren't making time for meetings, and there were more than a couple of bad sitting experiences, including one in which a child was injured.
Things were so terrible, in fact, that Kristy decided the club was history.' And none of us even put 'up a 'fight. We disbanded the club and went our separate ways, and we thought we were better off. It took a terrible accident to show us how much we needed and missed the BSC. We decided to start up the club again, but agreed that we'd take it slow and see how things went. So now we're on probation.
We haven't been meeting again for very long, and we still aren't totally comfortable with each other yet, but I think we're glad the BSC still exists. I know I am.
By the time I'd finished cleaning up, everyone had arrived. But you'd never know there were seven girls in my room. It just wasn't like the loud old days, when we'd all be giggling and talking at once as we waited for Kristy to call the meeting to order. There was no giggling, and nobody was talking much. When we did talk, it was with this slightly polite stiffness, as if we were talking to adults we didn't know too well. I pulled out my usual supply of junk food (Raisinets this time, plus some Smartfood cheese popcorn) and passed it around, and everyone was careful to thank me as they helped themselves. I think it's going to take some time for the BSC to be itself again. Still, I know we love each other, and we'll be friends forever.
I know most of the people in the BSC really, really well. In fact, I've known a couple of them - Kristy and her best friend Mary Anne Spier - since we were in diapers. So it wasn't a big stretch for me to imagine the abstract portrait I'd do of each of them. That's what I was doing as I looked around the room: trying to figure out what characteristics of each person I'd show using only color, line, and composition.
Kristy would be easy. In real life Kristy has 'brown hair and brown eyes, is short for her age, and dresses very casually in jeans and turtlenecks. Her portrait, on the other hand, would be a study in motion and chaos, suggesting a whirlwind of activity. Kristy's always busy with something, whether it's Kristy's Krushers, the little kids' softball 'team she coaches, or just her own family, which is huge. She has two older brothers, Charlie and Sam, and one younger one, David Michael, plus a 'stepsister and stepbrother who live with her every other month (Karen and Andrew), plus a toddler (Emily Michelle) Kristy's mom and stepdad Watson adopted. And then there's Nannie, Kristy's grandmother, who lives with the family, too. Not to mention the assorted pets! Fortunately, Kristy lives in a huge house. Actually, it's more like a mansion. Watson is really, really rich. But Kristy didn't grow up having everything she wanted. In fact, after her dad left (he took off years and years ago) Kristy's mom struggled to keep the family going. So they definitely deserve all the nice things they have now.