The future is the past? I was seven years old and in the first grade when the image above was taken. There I am (the back of my head at least) on the far right.
The photo above was forwarded to me by my brother to whom it was forwarded by an old friend of ours who discovered it on an F-Book group entitled, Plymouth, Canton Mi Memories, run by Ken Garner, the guy who took the photo.
It’s amazing to me not because I hadn’t seen it before, nor that I had always remembered something (very vaguely) about this event, but because seeing it again after fifty years or so was, well, in personal mythology terms, affecting. How so? It seems incredibly apt, for one thing, being in the midst of my indie publishing adventure. There he is, it says, and still at it. Despite life getting in the way, as they say. And it re-arrives at a time when I find the legitimization very keenly necessary. And humbling.
For there I was, at seven years old, participating full-on within my vocation. With such innocence that it’s startling. Because I still recall finding it a curiously stiff and boring experience in which I felt quite out of place. I was escorted to the conference by a teacher’s assistant, I think, and we had lunch at a conference table and, hell, I’d rather have been playing baseball. Or something. Sports and goofing around and seemingly everything else besides writing is what mattered to me back then, and then for the following four decades, as it happened, I ran up and down stairs and climbed all the wrong ladders and scaled the incorrect walls and endured all manner of fiascos as if hounded by the devil himself to flee as hard and fast as I could from who I really was.
I simply never, ever considered writing, let alone my writing, as a vocation to be pursued. I read a hell of a lot of books, wrote a hell of a lot of papers and oftentimes wrote just for fun, at least while I was in elementary school. And I never once considered being or becoming an author. Why this happened I can’t say. After all, being guided like this, achieving this little certificate of merit, for instance, would not have been lost upon everyone like it was lost for so long upon me. What of those other kids in the photograph, all girls strangely enough – are any of them authors? Do any of them still write?
I remember this event as connected in some manner to a self-publishing project, of all things, instigated with much enthusiasm by a group of elementary school teachers. We first graders and probably older kids, too, (a couple of those girls in the photograph appear a bit older than us three kids on the end) were to spend time writing original stories, illustrating our tales and then making them into crazily rustic handmade books. I still have a foggy vision of a drawing I made, ostensibly to accompany something I wrote (oh, to see and read it now!), that featured my clumsy version of some sort of battle scene – men on the ground and airplanes in the air is how I see it. And then we fashioned thin, plywood boards – literal boards – with ring binder rings to hold it all together. I swear I used a soldering iron to burn the title onto the cover, but I might be misremembering that.
Anyway, there we were, indie publishing some fifty fucking years ago! And here I am indie publishing, again, now. What a crazy circle life can be. “Until you make the unconscious conscious,” suggested Carl Jung, “it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” This photograph proves it. For it feels like fate to me that I was an author then and I’m an author now.
And it seems to me a lesson for everyone who struggles with what to do in life and with being who they are, that indeed we too often manage to rationalize and essentially think our way out of our intuitive passions and talents. And the powers of our unconscious nevertheless do their best to fight for us – the real us.
In your time of need, what do you find yourself doing? Well, with me, it was writing. Always, in spite of myself, I found a way to keep writing. Even if, thinking back upon my misguided careerist days, it was merely me and my long emails. This journal I started twelve years ago, mired within the fallout of yet another failed career was the first time I ever committed to writing for its own sake, as a thing to do in vocational terms. The story is well documented elsewhere within this jillion-word monstrosity of a journal.
It is not often, and perhaps for some folks it never happens, that we are fortunate enough to be reintroduced to ourselves – a version of ourselves – that is the true version. Better late than never, as they say. And what could have been if I’d not so diligently and determinedly and stubbornly ignored myself all the years in between 1972 and 2010, and then had not wasted more years afterwards? Well, regret is a cursed thing, so while it’s certainly something I can’t help pondering, I try not to dwell upon it. The important thing is holding to the way forward.
And I can hear somebody out there perhaps wondering what the fuss is about regarding an old photograph. So what? – you wrote stuff then and you’re writing stuff now, who cares? Well, my journal entries have to do with personal mythology, being who you are and having the experience of being properly alive which, for some of us at least, pivots upon our vocational destiny. There are those of us who are our jobs. We define ourselves by our work, hence we need to identify with our so-called job – what we do is who we are – and if we cannot identify with our work in these deeply vocational terms then it is, within our context, somebody else’s work. It is somebody else’s path. Or it’s nothing but a hobby. Which I define as something that you’re not very good at but love doing anyway.
Meanwhile, some folks do well to know who they are early on; they answer the call, hang up the phone, get to work and never look back. They make it look easy that way. And I’m one who is perpetually fascinated by that type of indivisible, unassailable, single-mindedness of purpose. The others like me who were so easily and repeatedly allowing themselves to be thrown off course and only by way of some strange bio-psychological and personal mythological internal compass found themselves returning to themselves despite themselves? Baffling. But there is no blame, in the end. That’s the advice. That’s the wisdom. Take one-hundred percent responsibility for who and what you are all along the way, for the decisions you and you alone are making, for better or worse. Nobody can do it for us, whatever it is we are here to do. And nobody is to blame for not doing it besides ourselves. I write all this out in a journal post to help myself as much as anyone, I suppose, but I do hope that perhaps this story might help somebody in some small manner to get through their own predicament, let’s call it; to get by and get on with things. To get out of their own way and everybody else’s too.
Writing, then, is not my hobby. It is my vocation. Despite not making a damn dime doing it. It has been my vocation all along, calling to me even when I tried to shut my ears to it. I never intentionally stopped listening to the dictates of my heart; rather, I was always convinced that I was keenly paying attention to it – this is how turned around we can become. This is how we allow the world-of-action and its demands, the example of thou shalt and thou shalt not, just as J.C. describes it, to appropriate everything that is true, the most real and the most fundamentally authentic about us. This is how we diminish.
Everyone has a talent. Everyone can immerse themselves within it, and deliberately practice it with the aspiration of attaining mastery. Sure, there are the besieged and and imprisoned and exiled amongst us. But are you certain those bars are not just shadows? Are you certain that you are really and truly alone? No matter how desperate your situation, perhaps you can find a way.
Meanwhile, thanks to Rose and my brother for reconnecting me to that image, and Mrs. Palmer, I think it was – my first-grade teacher – and to whomever those other teachers were who encouraged us as indie authors to write and produce our own books at the age of seven or eight, and to whomever organized that odd little young authors conference and the bestowing of certificates of merit to children who fifty years later, as late-middle-aged adults, would find legitimization and encouragement in it to this day. Thanks to Ken Garner for taking the photograph so long ago and republishing it. I considered asking him for permission to use it here, but I can’t imagine he’d take offense. Ken, if you’re out there, just let me know.
Anyway, the future is the past. Write on!