Read Me, Love Me (Part 2)

[Last of a two-part post.]

A year later, our 8th grade apprentice is still at it, but something new is creeping into his writing: an interest in science, human behavior and philosophy. While the first stories glossed over motivations and events with a quick adverb or heavy-handed adjective, Mike was learning that just building simple sentences within a scene was more effective. And he learned to break transitions with a space, rather than have all the scenes run together willy-nilly.

Teachers started to ask if they could read his work. On January 16, Mike states that he “let” the speech teacher read a story he’d written the night before. Later that May, he reports that the English teacher, Mr. Evans, recommended him for a staff position on the school paper in his final year at the junior high school.

From movies such as Silent Running, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Planet of the Apes, and books by Michael Crichton, Ray Bradbury and Robert Heinlein, science fiction themes creep into Mike’s stories. From a Elton John-inspired piece titled “Rocket Man” to an untitled exploration of praise and shame (“Jacob Long”), the young writer appears to be branching out.

But then Mike’s father gets into the act. He agrees to take Mike’s handwritten stories to work and have his secretary type them up, so Mike can submit them to contests. One such story, “I Remember America,”—in which the protagonist muses about his dystopian society—written in January 1974, is returned to the author, cleanly typewritten, but with added text. Mike is horrified to read that his father has twice amended “government” to read “world government.” Son angrily confronts father, who claims it made more sense to him with the extra word. Much later, he learns his father sent the story off to then state Sen. Hubert H. Humphrey, who graciously replies by letter directly to Mike.

On Monday, January 28, 1974, young writer and his brother are home from school on a district-wide conference holiday. At 2:00 that afternoon, his mother comes through the door with news their father has suffered a heart attack, and is recovering at a local hospital. They immediately pack into the family’s 1973 Dodge Dart to visit him.

The following day, Mike’s mother visits her husband in the hospital while the boys are back in school. On Wednesday she arrives at Mike’s junior high school, asking if he wants to join her in another hospital visit to his father. In his diary he admits, “I didn’t want to.” No further elaboration.

That Thursday, Mike’s mother again shows up at the junior high bearing a note for the school secretary: “Mike would like permission to leave at 2:00 p.m. today to visit his father in the hospital.” Our young writer states in his diary the same evening: “I didn’t have to go to English today. I had to see Dad in the hospital.” He concludes the entry: “I started writing the story ‘The Alchemist.’ I hope to finish it.”

I hope he does, too.

At this point, let’s bring the two Mikes together: the young writer craving the attention of his peers—and his father, it seems—and me, still trying to do the same thing. As mentioned earlier, Dad and I had divergent temperaments: he was results-oriented, I was all about the process, the “asking questions” part, the journey, not the destination. But we were never able to talk about creativity, about being free to forget constraints and expectations. He was in his track, and was just laying down mine, so I was feeling all the more sensitive for it.

But now that Dad’s gone, even though I don’t understand his motivations any better, I see that I probably didn’t help matters by being churlish and withdrawn. Perhaps I needed a mentor, someone to encourage the process and give me advice on negotiating that fine border where art and creativity meet an indifferent world.

~ by completelyinthedark on April 23, 2011.

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