Recently I was going through a plastic storage tub in the basement full of stuff I'd retrieved from my childhood bedroom at my parents' house. Until just a couple years ago, there was still my JC Penny simulated wood bedroom set there, the desk stuffed with childhood ephemera: saved copies of Sports Illustrated, comic books, old concert tickets, schoolwork assignments.
One manila file folder I found was full of information about Soviet military aircraft. My dad was in the Air Force reserves at the time, and he used to have a subscription to Air Force magazine. Apparently an annual issue in the magazine was its "Soviet Military Almanac", highlighting the USSR's arsenal. In my file folder are all kinds of graphs comparing NATO and Warsaw Pact (the Communist eastern bloc nations) as well as photos and artist renderings of Soviet fighters, bombers, helicopters, and tanks - all from the 1983 edition of the Almanac.
I was such a child of the Cold War. My dad spent most of his time running a restaurant in McMinnville, The Sage (which recently celebrated its 30th anniversary). But one weekend a month and two weeks a year he'd put on his uniform and become a military intelligence expert. He knew classified information! As a kid, I loved the intrigue. And of course I bought in to all the patriotic fervor of the noble USA standing up to the world Communist threat. Not that it was completely untrue, mind you. The Communist nations were horribly brutal dictatorships. I just look back on it today through the prism of adulthood and seeing that things are never so black and white as they're made out to be.
It was weird enough, particularly as a liberal now, to open up this special file folder that I as an 11 year old was creating my own research library on Soviet military aircraft. If I met an 11 year old today who had a file folder about Al Qaida, part of me would pity the kid for being obsessed with elements of death and destruction. But then I even found a drawing I'd made - actually just a tracing, I'd guess - of two Soviet planes. Somehow seeing the drawing made in my own hand of a MIG-29 Fulcrum and an SU-27 Flanker, with my child penmanship marking the names of the two planes, feels extra eerie. Perhaps it's because now I'm a visual arts critic. In a sense, this drawing is artwork, and thus I feel in part trained to look at the piece and try to see the thoughts and emotions behind it. So I see myself, a pretty privileged and well adjusted middle class kid with a good family, all things considered - and with an encouragingly early aptitude for learning, self-study, and intellectualizing. But also I see a kid at 11 already neurotic about the most dangerous forces in the world. I guess like a lot of the artwork I rate most highly as a critic, I'm drawn to the yin-yang of positive and negative forces.