It’s been a fairly productive week here in Lake World-be-gone, my new home. Our various tangential and/or unscheduled circuses have finally calmed down enough to give me concentrated time for work on my upcoming online illustrated serial, TWICE. I’ve been polishing and improving the manuscript and preparing for work on illustrations for the first 12 episodes. I will admit to you—and only you—that I have found more enjoyment and excitement in this work than anything else has brought me for some time now. Later this month, I may very well post a new preview ‘teaser’ on the WRITING page of this site. So watch for that!
Also, the new ‘March’ scene has been released for all you LIVING WORLDS APP users to enjoy. You should find that already waiting on your app, if you’ve not already viewed it there. Or you can read about it HERE!
My fabulously talented and uber-productive wife has also been busy, of course, writing—and publishing—things this week. You might want check out one of her latest MEDIUM.COM articles on WRITING THROUGH THE FEAR, or HOW I BECAME A FULLTIME FREELANCE COPY EDITOR. Or, if you’re looking for racier entertainment, there’s her latest article, I POSED FOR PLAYBOY. ... Yes. ... She did, in fact. Decades before we met. ... Is she still an alluring and seductive bombshell all these years later? ... OF COURSE SHE IS! (She could very well be reading this right now. I’m not an idiot. :] )
One warning though, you can read three articles each month on Medium.com for free. To read more than that before next month, you’ll need to subscribe. Well worth the cost, in my experience! And if you’re just interested in keeping up with what the more interesting member of our coupleness is doing in general, you can also subscribe to her semi-regular news letter, THURSDAY NOTES, for free!
Last Wednesday, I took a ferry to America to have all sorts of little holes gouged and burned into my arms and knees and face by a dermatologist. ... I’ll just leave that there for now. This coming Wednesday, I’ll be on another ferry to America to talk with that dentist about scheduling extractions and bone grafts and implant surgeries for the spring season. Having one’s recreational roster all worked out in advance makes all the difference in my experience.
And, of course, Shannon and I will be headed to sunny—er, no, scratch that; I mean rainy Los Angeles next weekend for Uncle Hanks funeral. Livin’ the dream, friends. Struggle with that envy. It’ll do you good.
I expect to be home in ample time on Sunday to post next week’s walk in the woods as usual, so—given the intensity of my ongoing love/hate affair with technology—I am not going to experiment—yet—with pre-scheduled auto-posts. But if, for some currently unimaginable reason, I fail to get home as promptly as expected next weekend, I’ll see you here on Monday instead—or as soon thereafter as I am released/repaired/located by the search party/conscious and-or sober again, etc.
As well as so many things are going these days—and many things are going very well—the sobering and somewhat pointed lesson amplified by so many recent illnesses and deaths among our circle of family and friends (many of them never yet mentioned here) has not been lost on me. All things end.
This topic has been an increasingly frequent one for Shannon and I—if only for logistical management reasons—as it becomes increasing clear that we’ve reached the age where more and more people we have always known, are going to die—more and more frequently. This feature of our landscape will have to be embraced—or at least permanently incorporated—in our ongoing routine now. Resistance, as the saying goes, is futile.
In fact, I, myself, am tired—a lot—these days. My once impressive mental functions seem far less agile than they was—er, we’re, I mean—WERE (sorry)—even a short time ago. My exceedingly glib mind hands me whatever word happens to be closest to hand these days—no matter how completely unrelated it may be to whatever I had meant to say. I found myself awake late last Monday night, wondering if all these ambitious art and writing projects I’m preparing to launch in the next few months aren’t just my slightly less mundane analogue to that proverbial ‘red sports car’ we all know so well—and smirk at so easily—earlier in life. Has my ‘use by’ date...come and gone, perhaps, while I was distracted?
Happily, two small but potent events helped boost me out of that rut just before last week’s post. I could find no ready way to fit them in beside last week’s subject matter, but I would still like to acknowledge them this week instead.
First, I opened Facebook last week to find two posts on friends’ pages about truly amazing works of artistic genius (HERE and HERE) that forcefully reminded me of how worthwhile such things are to attempt, no matter where or how those attempts may turn out. I cannot sufficiently thank the people in my awesome community who periodically yank my attention away from all the ‘spills in aisle nine’ I become so easily captive to!
Then, literally moments later, I received one of the most amazing letters I have been honored with in years, from a person I did not know, about how this current series of blog posts had encouraged him to think differently about some of his own personal and artistic ‘parts in motion.’
It felt as if the universe had paused whatever it was doing long enough to shout, “Hey—dummy! Yeah, I mean you. You’re not dead yet! So cut it out and get back to work.”
Thank you, Mr. Person-whose-privacy-prevents-me-from-naming you—in Germany!
That said, let’s get back to where I left you in those woods again, shall we?
I doubt any of you remember a short-lived TV series called NANNY AND THE PROFESSOR, but my therapist—with her bouncy, blond ponytail, pretty face, and charming British accent—was the spitting image of Juliet Mills, who played ‘Nanny Phoebe Figalilly,’ a modern, more mysteriously nuanced ‘Mary Poppins.’ I couldn’t have know that then, of course, as the sit-com wouldn’t air for another seven years yet. But along with her fairy tale appearance, my therapist—just like ‘Nanny’—was friendlier than anyone I’d ever met, incredibly attentive to me, and magically wise. What can I say? Even boys like me get lucky sometimes. I had no idea what we were there in her office to accomplish twice each month, after school. All we did was talk—about everything and anything—while I played with toys she had, and enjoyed being paid attention to andliked at the same time! Not a combo I’d encountered much before.
Back at school, my second grade teacher, having noticed my discomfort on the playground during recesses, suggested to my father that it might help me develop better coordination if he and I played catch some at home. His response, I am told, was, “No one ever played catch with me, and I turned out just fine.’ To be fair, I doubt any such attempt would have produced more than an additional layer of awkwardness between us. My father, though an avid hunter, fearless small pane pilot, and very skilled mechanic and handyman, was not a sports fan, and had never been the ‘playing catch’ type. (Perhaps because no one had ever played catch with him?) ... Nonetheless, as I became more and more an object of contempt to the athletic set at school, hunting butterflies in the outfield clover instead of catching ‘flies’ during ball games, my father’s concern about his son’s sexual orientation did ratchet up a bit, or so I’m told. I was more and more an embarrassment to him.
I sure did like therapy though! By third grade I’d come to feel safer and more at home in ‘Nanny’s’ office than I’d ever felt anywhere. I wasn’t the least bit interested in her toys anymore. I just wanted to talk—about everything. And so magical were her listening skills that as I chattered each week about how things were going—at home, or school, or just within the confines of my head—I began to see, as if by magic, that my world and the people in it might be seen differently—rotated, turned upside down or inside out, and moved around to form different, better pictures than the ones I’d seen at first. With different meanings, and better results. I was not a stupid boy. Though I still had no names for any of it then, I had begun to figure out what she and I were there for.
Coincidentally, fourth grade went better. Our teacher was young, pregnant, and genuinely kind. She read The Hobbit to our class—a few pages every day for the entire year, except during her brief vacation to have a baby!—which launched my passionate interest in fantasy adventure stories. (The Hobbit, I mean. Not her baby.) Might I too someday be groomed by an itinerant wizard for some more exciting task in some larger, more magical world? ... It seemed unlikely. But I don’t think it had ever occurred to me before to imagine any other life for myself than the one I had. I began to read incessantly at home—whatever I could find on my parents’ voluminous bookshelves. Bulfinch’s Mythology (I still possess the very copy), the works of Charles Dickens, Edgar Allan Poe, and Rudyard Kipling. Weighty reading for a grade school boy. Stories of lives more adventurous, daring, and purposeful than any I—forbidden to do anything so dangerous as ride a bicycle or pick toadstools from wet lawns on my way home from winter catechism—could imagine living. And yet, I lived them all—avidly—from a rocking chair in my parents’ living room.
Before long, these tales began to mix with what I learned at church each week. God, Gandalf, and my therapist began to seem more and more alike—to me at least; I and Bilbo, more and more analogous. It was around this time that I began to think of God as a kind of alternative parent—with crucial distinctions. Not only did I believe ‘He’ liked me, but I was sure ‘He’ had greater ambitions for me than the sad, weary hope everyone else shared that I’d just manage, someday, somehow, to be as little trouble as possible. I had been raised to believe in God, of course. Everyone I knew believed in Him. (Or so I assumed.) But somewhere in the middle of my hopeless ‘de-grade school’ captivity, I became convinced that God believed inme—as no one else did—not in the real world, anyway—except my therapist.
Between my therapeutic sessions, my adventure stories, and what I was taught about Jesus and the saints, I came to understand the need for bravery, and honesty—first and foremost with yourself, and, of course, GOODNESS—whatever the cost. All my heroic models possessed these virtues. God and my therapist—(who were functioning for me as real father and mother, though it would be decades before I realized that either in any conscious way)—were there to help me find the same narrow, adventurous, meaningful path that Bilbo and Frodo had followed, and stick with it all the way to Mordor! I saw more clearly than ever that my pictures of people and experiences were often neither accurate, fair, nor helpful to anyone, including me—that I might be making a lot of my own trouble by ‘framing things’ (more words I did not own at the time) so incorrectly. It was comforting to discover that lots of things might not really be as bad and scary as I was making them seem to myself—that, if I were sufficiently brave and honest—first and foremost with myself—I could choose to solve my own problems just by adjusting my own thinking and changing me. It felt like ‘control’—another thing I’d had little if any experience of before, and, again, would never have thought to name that way yet either.
For clarity, perhaps another snapshot?
All that ‘proxy fighting’ between me and my younger brother—mentioned in Post 7—had just grown steadily fiercer and more frequent over the years. My father had actually built a floor-to-ceiling plywood divider for the back seat of our car, just to keep my brother and me separate. (Yes, it always sounds like I’m kidding. But, sadly, I so rarely am.) An unfortunate two-inch gap between it and the ceiling, however, left us free to throw things at each other anyway. Not a month passed without a family gathering in our living room: Mom collapsed on the couch in tears as my father asked us why we were doing this to her, and handed us brochures about the military schools he would send us to if all this fighting didn’t stop. (Alas, still not kidding.) My parents were at their wits’ end—perhaps literally—about how to manage this endless fight—of theirs (though no one knew it then)—that we would not stop having while they went on so carefully not having it with each other. Directly, anyway.
As my father was a teacher with the whole summer off in those days, and my mother didn’t work—unless you count her relentless bondage at home (and who counts that really?)—our family went camping every summer, from California’s beaches to its high Sierras. The four of us—pressed together in a little camper on the back of Dad’s pickup—for weeks at a time. Don’t get me wrong: many—perhaps most—of my best childhood memories were made on those summer trips. They were the closest thing I had to true and full release then, and I am still deeply enriched by that legacy. But the fighting between my brother and me was ...um ...’especially distracting’ in such close quarters. Once, my parents even drove off without us, pretending to leave my brother and me in a park—in some other state. (Sorry. Still not kidding.) Only for a minute, of course. To make a point. And they came right back again. But...you see what a big profile this problem had...
Until, one day on just such a camping trip in the middle of my ‘enlightened transformation period,’ I began thinking hard about that narrow path to Mordor, and bravery, and honesty with one’s self, and everything else required of a hero in training, and decided it was time to train more seriously. For the remainder of that day, I refused to take the bait. No matter how much of it my younger brother chummed the water with, I just bit down and walked away. Reframe the picture. Solve the problem...by changing myself.
And that night, as we all lay inside our darkened camper, well after my parents clearly thought their children were asleep, they started whispering, very quietly, about what they’d seen me do—again and again—that day. Good God Almighty! They had noticed! I held very still and listened as they praised my self-discipline, surmising that I might be growing up at last. I heard my mother say she was proud of me. I heard my father agree—express approval—of me.
Yes people! All my new disciplines had just paid off spectacularly! I had changed the game, tangibly, just by changing me—and learned a lesson in the process that would stay with me for decades. That lesson? A simple willingness to lie down and swallow can win you love and respect! ...
Yes. ... You have permission to sigh and shake your head now. Briefly. Groan, even, if you must.
The harder I worked at these new lessons, the better things seemed to get, and the better I understood that life was hard and sometimes painful work—but not unjust. ‘Cruel but fair,’ as an old Monty Python punchline went. I awaited therapy appointments more eagerly than ever. I wanted to process everything! My therapist seemed as happy with the results as I was—which seemed to make my parents happy too. Go team! …Of course, I never bothered to explain exactly what lessons I was learning to the very person who was teaching them all to me. Surely she already knew, and we always had way more to talk about than there was time for. Which, perhaps, is why it would take almost three more years before we were both dismayed to discover, in a session during my first year of junior high school, that I had been deriving virtually the opposite meaning intended from what she’d been working to convey all that time and had thought my apparent evolving comfort based on.
The best laid plans...
Meanwhile, early in the fifth grade, I stood up in front of the whole class one morning to present an oral report on “major ocean currents of the world,” replete with carefully drawn and colored maps and charts ... and promptly wet my flare-bottom, corduroy pants. I heard someone joke about ‘warm currents’ as I raced from the room in tearful humiliation. (No. I am still not kidding. At all. I will tell you when I’m kidding.) I neither had then, nor have now, any theories about how that happened, or why. I just remember that it was recess when my father came to take me home—which everyone had decided was best—and I had to walk down the long double flight of playground stairs beside my father, through a silent gauntlet of my classmates, all staring as I passed in my sodden corduroys, gazing straight ahead, wondering how this could be ‘re-framed’ to some better end.
Because, you see, what I had been learning most in therapy, and from The Hobbit, and at church, and school—and wherever else I encountered people and their stories—was to do what all humans learn so early and so well to do: forge a story of one’s own to LIVE in. And to keep forging and refining and repairing it—no matter what may come—as if our lives depend on it. Snails secrete shells to live in. Birds build nests; bees make hives. They are formatted—somehow—to do it, as we are formatted—somehow—to build stories—to navigate by, take shelter in, and thrust out like a shield against whatever threatens our survival. I was already doing it as a child. I am doing it now. No matter who you are, or how your life has unfolded, I believe that you too have been spinning stories to live in, from the start, and will still be doing it the day you die. To be human is to be a storyteller—whether or not you have ever thought of writing a novel. Whether or not you are even literate. Every one of us is, from the cradle, a storyteller.
My story that dreadful morning in fifth grade was struggling just to stay afloat, which only made spinning it all the more important.
I’ll have more to say about that as I continue spinning next week, cyber friends. Until then, I wish you well and happy.