The notion of not sinning anymore proved to be rather difficult. The problem was not bad actions, but bad thoughts. God could see inside your head. This idea produced, in me, an almost unbearable self-consiousness bordering on obsessive-compulsive disorder. After all, if you could sin by thought, and thoughts appeared in my mind without my conscious intention, there was no way around it. It seemed unfair and obtrusive.
I read most of the Old Testament. I enjoyed the Hebrews kicking ass on the inhabitants of the land they wanted. It was exciting but not very conducive to religious belief. It didn't make too much sense, because these were God's chosen people, but they kept messing up every time. Once God saved them again and they were righteous for a time, they would just screw things up for themselves again.
When we moved to Davis my obsession shifted from history to mythology. I liked to read about classical myths, and knew all 12 of the Olympian gods. That was my intellectual life for a few years, from 9-11 or so. I read Of Human Bondage, my first adult book. I became a reader of fictions. By about now I had given up religion. I tried to believe in it very hard, but I couldn't. I guess the idea of belief being a voluntary act is difficult for me to understand. For example, I couldn't believe that Michigan St. where I live now in Lawrence KS, is East of Mississippi St, since it is actually West of it. No matter how hard I try, I cannot force myself to believe that the streets are differently arranged than they are. Now I might not know where streets are arranged in some other town. I can believe that your are telling me the truth about streets in your town, but I can't believe something that I don't really believe, just by willing a belief in it.
Anyway, religion made me smarter because I had to reason all this out myself. I was incapable of belief in that sense, so I had to make do with the cognitive dissonance. Now I realize most kids just tune it out or believe in a kind of minimalist way without worrying too much about it. My mistake was taking it seriously.
I did ok in elementary school, without being excited about it. Our 5th grade teacher read The Hobbit to us out loud. I read it myself, then the complete LOTR. It was of a piece with my mythological imagination. Tolkien, after all, created his own mythology.
One day in sixth grade we were to write poems. I decided I would be a poet. All the energy that had gone first to history and then to mythology went to poetry. At one of my Grandmother's house there was a book of Poe's. I thought it strange that Poe was poet without the t, and that he had two poems for Helen and Lenore, who happened also to be the names of my aunts who were also writers. I had Babette Deutsche's Poet's Handbook, learning about forms like villanelles and sestinas.