It’s a Small World After All

“So, what’re you gonna do out there in the big, wide world?”SmallWorld_1

No record of who—if anyone—actually said that, but it’s likely I heard it from one of my parents’ friends on the eve of my high school graduation.

It squares with everything I’ve ever been told by teachers to church pastors, friends’ parents to employers—adults. You know, in the big, wide world, made by adults for adults.

From an early age it was abundantly clear: it’s not your place to create things in this world. Here you must get used to being only a small part of bigger and more important things: governments, multinational corporations, income taxes, life insurance, real estate, marriage and family, Wall Street investments and the lives of impossibly gorgeous pop stars.

So… know your place, you pip-squeak.

However, I’ve never believed that. That is, not in my heart of hearts.

It’s only from the small things that anything worthwhile is ever achieved.


Sometime in the winter of 1968–69, Dad headed to the basement of our Maryland home with Grandpa Adams in tow. The grandparents were likely visiting for the holidays and the two, apparently, had conspired on some mysterious project.

They locked the door at the top of the basement stairs, not letting me or baby brother in there or the outside cellar door. We whined and banged on the door; they ignored us. The suspense was almost too much to bear.

When the door was at last flung open, we beheld a model railroad setup, complete with electric racecars and a tiny village (above right, bottom right). They had built for us a mini play-world. I was so excited I nearly imploded.

SmallWorld_2I recall this now because that’s the kind of world I always wanted to live in: one I could design and build for myself. For example, in April 1973, inspired by a documentary on Thor Heyerdahl’s 1947 Kon-Tiki expedition, I created “Aztec,” a model raft made of balsawood and dowel rods (photo at left). After drawing up plans and tallying the cost of materials, I started building it. I even installed a battery-operated bow light. That spring Aztec first set sail from our rickety dock on Casco Point.

Going from daydreaming (always an easy thing for me), to planning, then construction, and finally seeing that daydream actually floating on the water, its tiny light aglow, jazzed me no end. Furthermore, you’ll recall it was only four months earlier that I’d started keeping the diary, in January 1973. Every day, each entry—another small step. Another little thing I was able to build myself.

Soon I saw that others didn’t dream as I did, but co-opted dreams produced by Hollywood and Madison Avenue. In a sense there’s nothing so wrong with that. After all I co-opted Thor Heyerdahl’s dream, even though it was next to nothing on the risk scale.

Big world, small dreamers? I’m not so sure that’s true.

In fact, I’d wager there is no big anything, because big is unsustainable. This hit home to me in September 2011, witnessing events unfolding in New York’s Zuccotti Park. Occupy Wall Street—with its direct-democracy encampment, “human microphone,” People’s Library—astounded me. Never in my life had I seen such a public admission of the Failure of the Big. It was time for “the small” to take a risk—an enormous one, ironically—and claim its stake in the presence of “The Big.”

For me, OWS recreated a sense of a mini play-world. What if we built it differently? What if the train jumped tracks, the tiny speedway was rerouted, and the plastic village turned into mud huts and cardboard boxes?SmallWorld2

It seemed too improbable. I was raised to be forever reminded about what I couldn’t do, what I wasn’t allowed to do—shamed as only Midwestern Americans can do it—just to keep me in thrall to an illusory “big, wide world.”

I don’t buy that bullshit anymore.

There are only small things: one cell, one minute, one breath, one life.

A lovely, lovely, small world. But one, I believe, that holds big dreams for those who fight to make them real.

~ by completelyinthedark on February 16, 2013.

One Response to “It’s a Small World After All”

  1. Reblogged this on Completely in the Dark and commented:

    Since I just got back from the BIG Apple, thought returning to “the small world” again required reposting this. All-new post up by next Friday. All the best, Mike


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