Monday, November 1, 2010

Influences Part 1: The Early Years

Influences are the forces that help shape the person we are; they are integral in forming our personalities, guiding us, and molding us. Influences can come from all places, people, and even events, objects, and programs; the only requirement is that something was gleaned from it allowing for a transfer of inspiration or, at the very least, a reaction.
My early years can be traced to influences in the home at first, but ultimately driven by pop culture. Initially my strongest influences were the women in my life, my mother and her mother. My mother was a stay-at-home mom who was ever-present and involved. She nurtured me, rejoiced in my being a daughter (she had two wonderful boys first), and lavished me with all things feminine! She modeled what I deemed to be the ultimate role of being wife and mother and still shades my thoughts today, Her mother, my maternal grandmother, lived far away in Colorado but was still a strong and influential person in my life. When she and I had opportunities to meet (she visited NJ and we traveled to CO) I realized that I was not my mother's carbon copy about most things. I found I identified and connected with my grandmother on so many levels. It made me understand and not fear being a separate entity from my mother and gave me courage to venture out from my physical and metaphorical safe home. My grandmother's influences allowed me to broaden my horizons and opened me to a vast world of endless influences.
My mother with my daughter. My mother is now the grandmother influencing my children!

Among my earliest influences from outside the home came in the form of the Barbie doll. Presented to me on my third birthday, Malibu Barbie with her red bathing suit, long blonde hair, relaxed smile, and endless patience was my fast friend. She was fearless and confident and allowed me to live vicariously through her with the adventures I planned for her. As the years passed in my childhood I'd add more Barbies to the mix. One was a  Ballerina, another a Superstar, and yet another was a Western Dreams, but they all smiled gloriously at me and made me feel beautiful, fashionable, and oblivious to any rules that women had to follow. Barbie was beautiful in my eyes and was also intelligent. She was shown as a doctor, astronaut, teacher, business woman, yet was ultra-feminine in her ball gowns, holiday finery, and Studio-54 worthy disco ensembles! This plastic chick had it going on and urged me to keep "reaching for the stars". My love affair with the Barbie doll started at three and continues to this day. I am awaiting my own daughter's third birthday to introduce her to the wonders that are contained in the world of Barbie.
This year's birthday - 2 Barbie Dolls for me to add to my collection. Thanks to my niece! I'm pictured with my 2nd son.
My next influence came from a short-lived show in the 1970s called Wonder Woman starring Lynda Carter. When this show aired I was so very young, well under ten years old, but adored it and insisted on watching it each and every time it was on television. I was mesmerized by the immense beauty of Lynda Carter as the heroine; she was a brunette like me, she looked amazing in her costume, was feminine and strong at the same time, and was hugely patriotic. She embodied all things I wanted to be and did it with grace, humor, and great hair! To this day I cannot turn off a rare rerun of Wonder Woman or an interview with the still ravishing Lynda Carter (she still fits in her costume)!
Around the same time on television was a program called The Bionic Woman, a spin-off of the hugely popular Bionic Man. Lyndsay Wagner portrayed the title character and showed me yet another woman who was strong, intelligent, and radiant in her beauty at the same time. My impressions of what a woman could do were shaped by these programs and allowed me to consider a world where I, as a woman, was going to be a useful, productive, important, intelligent, strong, and beautiful addition to the society.
The movies Grease and later Xanadu were favorites of mine. The two things that tie these movies together into categories are musical and Olivia Newton John. I adored this Australian singer and actress and can safely admit that I obsessed over her. I begged my mother to take me to see Grease several times in the theater and my mother reluctantly (out of boredom I suspect) relented. I was tickled to have HBO when Xanadu made it to premium cable and was granted my wish by watching that movie ad nauseam. Again, absolutely beautiful, talented, and with quirky roles Olivia Newton John inspired a creative, musical side to me that has never been quieted. I owned several Olivia Newton John albums and played them for years!
Lastly, Judy Blume was the first author who ever resonated with me. I was introduced to her through her book SuperFudge. Though not her first work, nor even her first work in the series of Fudge books, it was my first taste of this talented and prolific author known widely as a children's author. My parents bought me the book while on vacation in Florida and they were pleased when I read it to myself. What should have lasted the entire vacation was finished within the first couple of days! I had found a new passion in the written word, the style of writing, and the characters. I spent the next decade reading all I could get my hands on by Judy Blume, sailed through puberty unscathed thanks to her guidance and such books as Deenie and Are You There God, It's Me Margaret?, and did not fear first encounters due to her book Forever, a copy a dear friend lent me which was frayed and well-loved and difficult to come by in those days. I expanded my reading lists exponentially after the influence of Judy Blume and would certainly credit her with some of the reasons I write today.
So these are the influences from my early years. Some are easily identifiable for most, a mother, a grandmother, but others may be harder for some to understand or relate. But these are the forces who helped shape the me I am today. Who are your influences from your early years? Who are the people, programs, pop culture items, and events that shaped the man or woman you are today? I'd love to read your responses. Tomorrow I'll explore the influences from the later years of my life. I hope you join me today and return tomorrow. I look forward to reading your list of who and what have influenced you.


  1. I was so hither and thither when I was growing up I am not too sure I can remember who the big influences really were, certainly my quite, but grumpy and stubborn Grandfather and loving Grandmother whom I saw once every couple of years, I remember being impressed by Jimi Hendrix not only for his wild music but also for being the only person to have ever delayed the 6 pm BBC TV news when his improvisation on the Lulu Show went over time, after that I was pretty much a loner, I'll have to think on this some more.

  2. My mother was my biggest influence and of course my father, but a baseball coach taught me a lot about teamwork and giving your best effort. He taught me to believe in my own abilities. He is a part of some of my fondest childhood memories. I saw him recently and got a chance to thank him, some 35 years later.

  3. Oh my gosh ! I still cant believe how much you and I think alike! I love wonder woman and I bought the series on DVD from the local Cracker Barrel (the store part) a couple months ago !!! I can't get enough of her invisible jet !!! I also.. have a collectors hardcover book of the History of Barbie (I'll have to show it to you one day) AND Judy Blume's "Are You there God it's Me Margaret" is my ALL TIME favorite book... that single book shaped my adolescent years. I felt like I could relate to someone out there regarding puberty!!! Thank you Judy, Barbie and Lynda!

  4. Art, I'm so glad your grandmother was a loving, wonderful part of your childhood - what's the deal with the "grumpy men" in your life?! Jimi Hendrix as an influence I love, especially for the reasons you give! He delayed the BBC news?! CLASSIC!

    Grumpa, I can tell you had terrific are terrific! This baseball coach of yours sounds like a fantastic guy! I'm so excited you were able to thank him! Those are the true bonuses for teachers/coaches!

    Foffie, we are finding out so much about one another! How is it our paths never crossed my freshmen year?! So glad they did now!!! I, too, have a few hard cover Barbie collector books! More high fives to you Sisterfriend!