On Being An Artist Extraordinaire (Pronounced “Ar-teest”)

Last evening, something pretty awesome happened in my subjective reality on this side of the proverbial wormhole of existence. Yes, I said “awesome.” What can I say? I am a child of the 80’s and back then, awesome was arguably the most used superlative (runners-up: Gnarly, rad (as in “radical”) and excellent). We–as in Nicole, Cara, Natalie and I–were fully engrossed in our nightly routine: In our PJs and “settled” with the Good Night Show on in the background. Nicole and Cara were playing tic-tac-toe, i.e. Cara’s new, favorite game. They were doing so on her new, Barbie Doodler when Natalie… the best way I can describe it is “toddled up.”

Picture this, if you will: Curly, crazy hair. chubby cheeks, a pair of “Heal the World” PJs and a bottle hanging out of her mouth. Always smiling, unless you take her last bottle away from her or try to put her to bed before she’s ready. I’d post a picture of her herein but I’m leery of plastering my kids’ faces all over the internet and always have been. Anywhos, she “toddles up” to Nicole and Cara, grabs the pencil that you draw on the doodler with in her right hand, holds it almost as well as I hold a pen, and starts… well, doodling.

It wasn’t anything too out of the ordinary: Just some scribbling, punctuated by the occasionally triumphant “anh!” or “Hodor!” Yes, I wrote Hodor. I swear that Natalie’s taken to saying that, recently. If you are a fan of either the Game of Thrones television series or books then you understand the significance. If not? Well, my wife thinks she’s trying to say “what’s that” and it comes out sounding like “Hodor” but me? Come on. The kid has a dragon named Smaug and saw the Lord of the Rings movies for the first time when she was two months old. Ya’ think I’m trying to instill my interests in her at an early age? Survey says: Undoubtedly.

But I was visibly shocked. I couldn’t believe it. We couldn’t even get Cara to hold a crayon pre-turning two and even then, she wasn’t really interested. But Natalie? Fourteen months young and counting and she’s already holding a “pencil” perfectly and understands what to do with it. I immediately went into the playroom which adjoins and generally overflows into our living room, got a crayon and a pad of paper, came back into the room, sat down on the floor with both, motioned Natalie over (she came), and handed her the crayon. What did she do? She sat down on the floor, the nipple of her bottle still clamped between her teeth, and started scribbling. Scribble. “Anh!” Scribble some more. “Hodor!”

I was so gul’darned proud. This went on for about five more minutes before she lost interest and started attempting to eat the crayon which I quickly stopped. Thereafter she went back to her “ba-ba” and Wibbly Pig and all returned to normal. But for just one singular moment in whatever passes for time ’round these parts, an entire future passed before my eyes. The too-be-told story of Natalie Marsh, Artist (pronounced phonetically as “Ar-teest”) Extraordinaire.

It’s no secret to anyone that knows me and knows Nicole that Cara almost immediately adopted her mother’s personality. She’s analytically inclined (as much as a four year old can be), well-spoken, can already count to 70 (with a little bit of help) and knows how to add and subtract using props, i.e. fingers or Cheerios. She knew how to spell her name shortly after she turned three and was able to write it by three and a half (though she’s still having difficulty with her “R’s.” Hey, “R’s” not an easy letter to master!). But numbers? Numbers are her passion. Much like my wife, who as you may or may not know is a pharmacist (sarcasm fully intended; if you don’t know that by now then you’re not reading the right “Random Musings”). I’m not bragging guys, i.e. my kid is smarter than your kid. I would never do that. I’m just stating the facts. “Just the facts, sir. Just the facts.”

But what about me? What about my characteristics? Save for a slightly twisted sense of humor–she’s fond of making a special trip to sit and “toot” on Daddy’s leg before laughing like a loon and walking away–an expansive imagination and a penchant for over-dramatics, she’s about 70% Nicole and 30% me. Which is fine. I will never complain. Nicole’s my wife and Cara’s my daughter, and I love her… love them implicitly.

But Natalie? It’s like she adopted her Daddy’s personality from day one. She’s stubborn, knows what she wants, gets emotional when she doesn’t get it, loves hugs, fancies a good drink (milk, in her case, Scotch in mine) and now? Now, she’s showing an early, artistic penchant. And this? To have a child that has the potential to not just be yours but to be like you? It’s the most awesome, gnarly, rad and excellent thing that can possibly happen to a parent.

Nicole’s taking the minions out to Target, today, to get Natalie her own crayons. “My First Crayola Washable Crayons” and if you have toddlers and haven’t tried them yet please: Try ’em. I’ll even link them for you HERE. Let me know what you think. And I’ll be sure to keep you abreast of Natalie’s burgeoning career as an artist (again, pronounced “ar-teest”) moving forward.

I could speculate on where Natalie might go from here. I could come up with a whole scenario involving her being an artistic prodigy: About her rising up through the ranks of that particular society and having her first gallery showing at age 10. I could. Heck, what parent doesn’t envision a successful life for their minions? I could even postulate about a collaboration with her dad one day in which she illustrates something that he wrote. I see a picture in my mind of me, older, grayer and hopefully thinner, standing next to her with her crazy, curly hair, each of us holding up a book that I wrote and she created the cover for. That, guys? That’s a pleasant vision.

I know I’m a dreamer. It’s who I am, who I was and who I’ll always be. I want the fantasy. You know, the one that I envisioned years ago after eating a really bad bowl of New England Clam Chowder, back when I lived somewhere between Indianapolis, Indiana and Abington, Pennsylvania and no one lived anyplace else. You don’t? Okay. I promise that one day in the near future I’ll tell you more about it. But this isn’t about my dream for me. It’s about my kids. And I’m allowed to dream about my kids and their lives 10, 20 years from now, aren’t I? Of course I am. It’s part of being a parent. I believe in supporting them in whatever they choose to do. After all, that was what my mother did for me regardless of her own, personal biases towards certain careers that I considered. Booyakasha, Mom-Mom Minnie: RESPECT.

But for me, this isn’t about Natalie’s burgeoning career as the next Salvador Dali. Heck, she might abandon her new crayons all together next week. It’s about one of my girls showing an inclination toward the type of person that I am, however briefly. Not that showing an inclination toward Nicole is or would be a bad thing. Quite the contrary: I think it’s great that Cara’s so much like her Mommy and if Natalie ends up being the same? Awesome, gnarly, rad and excellent. But I take a great deal of pride in even the remotest possibility that one day, Natalie might be an “ar-teest” extraordinaire like her Daddy is, or wants to be (whether I am or am not I leave for you to decide).

But I would caution her the same thing that people cautioned me for years. That path? It’s not lined with rubies and emeralds, i.e. it’s not always profitable or socially acceptable. It’s a struggle for a long time. Heck, it still is. Just because I published a book and it’s sold modestly well up until this point doesn’t mean that I’m a successful author. Heck, I haven’t even broken even yet though I’m pretty close. I’m closer to relevancy than I was before, when ENDWORLD – A Novel was little more than a file on my old HP 286 with the monochrome screen. But it’s not my career. Not yet, at least. But I’m one step closer to it being so than I was a couple of years ago and that? That is a comforting thought. For me and, I hope, for my wife and my minions.

Bring an artist? You have to work at it daily and when you’re tired of working at it? You have to work at it some more. That’s the only way it ever goes from being a hobby to a career. You’re not always going to be accepted. Quite the contrary: Career-types discount people that write, or draw, or sculpt because of the age-old stereotype of the starving artist. That’s understandable, and that is not, I repeat NOT a knock on people that chose a profession. I married one of those people. Some of my closest compadres are doctors, lawyers et al. I love them and admire them all the more for their accomplishments.

But the idea of the starving artist? It exists. It pervades our society. Some of the greatest “ar-teests” in history were. Van Gogh was a pauper who was never recognized until after he died. Dylan Thomas chose a life of poverty as a “minor artist” because it offered him a different way of living, albeit a way that inspired him. Henry Miller was a Bohemian. I could list other names but to do so would be counterproductive. There are a thousand and one, both known and unknown that meet the classification.

But what the white-collar, career-types despite my respect for them and what they have accomplished in their lives don’t always take into account is that starving artists? They worked and are working just as hard and at times harder than them. Art? It is their career, however un-fulfilling it is monetarily. And the rewards for the ones that stick it out and find eventual success? Relevancy? They are the dream, i.e. the rubies and the emeralds. Not many people can say that they’re living their dream existence on this, or any side of the wormhole but me? Well, I may not be living it now but I still believe that one day, I will. By the grace of a sometimes humorless universe, I still believe in the fantasy that was spawned by a bowl of Bad New England Clam Chowder so many moons ago. And I will continue to work toward it, ’cause it’s what I chose. It’s who I am. Not the whole “me,” but a gul’darned big part of it.

I just talked to Nicole a couple of moments ago. She, Cara and Natalie went to Target despite the torrential rain that has been pounding southeastern Pennsylvania since I woke up this AM. They didn’t have My First Crayola Washable Crayons so instead, Natalie got jumbo ones and Cara got markers to practice not only writing her name and playing tic-tac-toe, but drawing, as well (she actually does a really good face, and a few weeks ago, she drew a whale that I actually recognized as a whale). She–Cara–has taken an interest in drawing houses, lately, and I showed her the rudimentary way to do it: One square, a triangle on top… you know what I’m talking about. Maybe she’s got an artist in her, as well. Maybe Natalie will be the doctor. Maybe they both’ll be white-collar career types or maybe they’ll both be starving artists. Whatever they become in the next 10, 20 years I will love them implicitly, and I look forward to seeing them grow, and develop. And if, one day, my dream of collaborating on a book with one, or both of them comes true?

Well, guys? That would be pretty awesome, gnarly, rad and excellent, all at once.

All together now: “Hodor!”

My Own, Personal Samwise Gamgee

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“It’s like in the great stories… The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think… I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something…. That there’s some good in this world… and it’s worth fighting for.”

Eminent Sage of Wisdom, Literary Hero and Gardener, Samwise Gamgee (from The Two Towers)

Okay so admittedly? I would have preferred a non-Sean Astin portrait of Samwise “Sam” Gamgee but unfortunately, the only JPEGs of Sam on the internet are either pictures or memes like this one from The Lord of the Rings movies. But this one kinda’ resonates with the theme of this little blog entry.

I’d wager that most everyone has either read the books or seen Peter Jackson’s masterful movie trilogy at some point in the last decade plus. If you haven’t? Seriously, people. PRIORITIES. I’m not saying they’re Star Wars good but next to Star Wars it’s arguably the greatest trilogy in movie history (NOTE: I do not include Indiana Jones because of the travesty that was “Crystal Skulls”–even though it was the fourth movie and is not, technically a part of the “trilogy”–Back to the Future because of “Part Two” and The Godfather because of “Part Three” and Sofia Coppola). Read ’em, or see ’em at some point before you die and parents: Get your children to read them AND The Hobbit before they’re too old to appreciate them. You can avoid The Silmarillion if you’d like. There are days I wish I had.

Everyone has a favorite character or characters in the Lord of the Rings books or movies. My wife, Nicole? She loves Strider/Aragorn (not Viggo Mortensen, mind you, but the character he plays). My friend Caren (booyakasha, Caren: RESPECT)? She loves Gollum. There may even be one or two people out there reading this that like Frodo though I’ve got to tell you, I was never a big Frodo Baggins fan. Sure, he’s the ring bearer for 90% of the books/movies and that has to count for something but really? Save for the whole holding-the-evil-at-bay thing long enough for him to dispose of the One Ring in the fires of Mount Doom what does he really do? For sh*t’s sake, he technically doesn’t even keep the evil at bay long enough to dispose of the ring. Were it not for Gollum’s interference, he likely would have stayed invisible, walked past Sam, out of the cave, back down the slopes of Mount Doom, out of Mordor and into a dark hole somewhere to live out his years. Sauron would have won, The Shire would have started looking like a post-Industrial ruin ala Detroit and… well. I’m guessing you get my point.

But Sam, guys? For me, Sam has been and always will be the true hero of The Lord of the Rings, AND my favorite character. Don’t believe me? Re-reference the above meme and tell me I’m wrong. Please. One particular part of it sticks out in my mind, though:

“Even carries him [Frodo] up Mount Doom.”

Why? Because everyone, at some point in their life needs a Samwise Gamgee. When the going gets to be it’s toughest, everyone needs someone that is willing to pick them up in their weakness, throw them over their shoulder and carry them. We can’t do it on our own. No one is THAT strong.

I’ve encountered many people over the course of my almost 38 year existence on this side of the proverbial wormhole of existence that claim to be that strong but I have never met anyone… EVER… that didn’t need to be carried every so often. Whether carried by someone else or carried by God like in the poem “Footprints” (also a personal “fave,” and I’m not an overly religious person), I consider myself a very strong soul. But there are times in MY life where I’ve needed to rely on my own, personal Samwise Gamgee to cook me a “brace of conies,” or talk me down from doing something stupid like handing the One Ring over to the Nazgul. And oft times I, too, have put a proverbial sword point to that noble person’s neck because I didn’t WANT to keep going. I wanted to give up.

Those people? Top to bottom, from my wife to my mother and my sister to my co-workers to my friends of a couple of months to my friends of a couple of decades… to all of them, I owe an eternal debt of gratitude. As Ed Wilkinson says in ENDWORLD – A Novel, “Wus.” I have no idea what it means. I Googled it and came up with “a derivative of the terms ‘wuss’ and ‘p*ssy'” but my OWN friend, Ed, used to say that too me all the time. I think it’s an Eastern term of endearment. If he’s reading this, maybe he can chime in. And Ed? if you ARE reading this and you really WERE calling me a cross between a wuss and a p*ssy, f-you, buddy. And “wus” right back at you.

But even that is not enough, sometimes. Sometimes, something more is required and that something? My own, personal Samwise Gamgee? That which this blog entry would be dedicated to if it had a dedication page? I’ll give you three guesses and the first two don’t count.

One…

Two…

Three.

Give up? You make me sad. WRITING, ladies and gents. WRITING. When things start to go cuckoo, I always turn to writing. There have been times when I’ve told myself that I wouldn’t: That I’d put it on hold until such time as I… for lack of a better phrase “sort my sh*t out.” But that’s about as realistic as the idea of Gandalf and the Balrog falling through Middle Earth and popping out on the other side to do battle, Gandalf with his sword and staff and the Balrog with his fire… sword, whip, WHATEVER (I’m sure it could morph into a spoon if Bal-lee Baby wanted it to; the perks of being an “ancient evil”).

Last week, I wrote that I was at a crossroads with Children of Endworld. A dark place that I really don’t want to go. But I’ve determined something in the last few days, ladies and gents. I’ve determined that I NEED to keep going for a couple of reasons. First and foremost because people are counting on me to finish it in a reasonable amount of time and not 19 years from now when I’m almost as old as Gandalf (okay, maybe not THAT old; he’s, like, thousands of years old, and I’m a pup by comparison). Those people? The ones that enjoyed ENDWORLD – A Novel and want to read more? Well, I guess I just don’t want to let you down. So either tonight or tomorrow, I’m going to resume what I started and see what happens. Amy Veitz (my editor) be forewarned: Parts One and Two are going to be popping up in your email within a few moments of when I complete this. By virtue of being the person who volunteered to reign in my oft times “tough language” a couple of years ago you get first dibs on William’s continuance. I look forward to hearing back from you. Booyakasha: RESPECT. Winky emoticon. Smiley face.

The second reason? Because writing has always been, for me, my most important Samwise Gamgee. That in no way, shape or form discounts any others from my beloved wife, Nicole, to my friend and brother Matt who once upon a time took me out to Denny’s every night to help me put my life into perspective, and lately has been doing the same. Not Denny’s. We’re too old for a Grand Slam breakfast, nowadays (clogged arteries and all that). Booyakasha to YOU sir. Once again: RESPECT.

But writing? Writing has been the lone constant for me for as long as I can remember. It has carried most of my equipment (or, if you’d prefer, “baggage”). It has never defeated a gigantic spider but it HAS helped me get passed my nightmares. It ALWAYS puts up with my whining (and by God, I do a LOT of whining, you just don’t “hear” it on here). It never saved me single-handedly from an Orc tower but it DID rescue me from a lot. From the loss of my adopted father many moons ago to the saga that was me, and the Feminine Bane of My Early Existence back when we all lived in “Oz” and no one lived anyplace else. It has oft times carried me up the slopes of Mount Doom.

Do I give it enough credit? Probably. Does it deserve more? Again, probably. I owe it to my own, personal Samwise Gamgee to… as Sean Astin historically ad-libbed during the shooting of “Return of the King,” “be rid of it once and for all!

“Come on, Mr. Frodo! I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you!”

Admit it, guys: You teared up. I still do, every time I see it.

And I always will.