An Anemic Superman for the Playful Mind

So, where is the quiet space when there is no quiet space?viciousfreizelogo

I think you have to create it from the inside out.

It isn’t “out there” somewhere.

Here’s how I learned (somewhat ass-backwards) to do that.

Ironically, it came not from being happy or feeling at peace. It was a reaction to chaos. When I wondered about its origins, a couple things came to mind.

First, when I was very young, before we moved out East in 1965 or ’66, I often hung around Ruby’s beauty parlor. Ruby was my maternal grandparents’ next-door neighbor. I don’t remember much about Ruby outside of her towering bouffant and raucous laughter.

How did I get there? Was Mom tired and she passed me off to grandma, who was also tired so she passed me off to Ruby’s? (Photo at left, me and Grandma, with Ruby’s home/parlor directly in the background.)

I don’t know. Whatever happened, Ruby would drop my young ass into one of her stylist’s chairs and there I’d sit.

All of life was at Ruby’s—conversations, jokes, gossip.

I soaked it all in.

Another origin tale, probably from the same time, includes watching children’s TV shows like Soupy Sales or Captain Kangaroo (Mr. Bunny particularly affected me), and cartoons such as Bugs Bunny, Road Runner and Coyote, and all the Looney Tunes I could lay my eyeballs on.

“The world is absurd,” they all said.

I was primed to believe it.

Later it came from watching Laugh-In, and all the comedians who took a poke at society or were just plain silly, such as Monty Python’s Flying Circus or Saturday Night Live.

As preteens, we’d riff on TV commercials we deemed idiotic. We were gleefully cynical—which came easily since the world promised nothing but consumer-culture conformity, unflinching nationalism, and the threat of global thermonuclear war.

vf1987All these moments shaped and colored my thinking—the kind of thinking that inspired the calendar sketches leading up to Vicious Frieze I (1987).

***

It was 1986, during the second Reagan administration.

We thought the first would kill us, but it wasn’t so.

At Lakewood College in the fall of 1980, roommate Dave LaGue urged me to “Run to Canada, Mikie!” when we heard Reagan had been elected.

We thought he’d start a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. Or even worse, we’d never score a job after graduation.

The fact is by 1986 I was making more money than ever before. But I was also spending a lot.

Over Labor Day weekend ’86 I bought a sporty new red Mitsubishi “Mighty Max” pickup truck. That October I took a week’s vacation from work and drove to Door County, Wis.clearing1986 There I’d volunteered to do fall cleanup at a resort called The Clearing, in Ellison Bay, Wis.

How I first learned of it is anyone’s guess, but the trip lasted from Sunday, Oct. 19 to Thursday, Oct. 23. I was joined by a dozen other volunteers and shared a cabin with two guys, John and Doug (me at left beside the schoolhouse piano).

The journal doesn’t reveal much about the trip, only that “I felt a little constrained writing completely about what happened, on the chance someone would thumb through this journal.” It was a week full of physical labor: putting up storm windows, chopping wood, raking leaves, and repainting out-buildings. But at night, in front of the main lodge fireplace, we enjoyed a good meal and wine and spectacular sunsets out a window overlooking the bay.

Then, when I got back to the Twin Cities, I stopped writing in the journal for over a month.

Yeah, I know. Wha—?

***

You see, I was back in the pressure cooker of corporate life. When I started writing again, in early December, I tried to face it head-on.

A Dec. 3, 1986, journal entry spills it:

“I come ‘home’ to this apartment after a hectic day of work to writing dread. It’s deep-in-the-bones dread and I find it annoying being that I’m (at day’s start) filled with energy to start work on all the ‘things’ (story bits, phrases, wordplays, images) my mind is brimming over with—and on top of that the events of my daily life boggle me. That is, I realize I haven’t revealed to this journal one solid account of a normal day of work at Fingerhut. …Not to mention the wonderful small bits of social debris: letters, postcards, phone calls, visits. Years from now I know I’ll miss the ‘record’ of those little things. But I guess I’ll have to refuse a sense of hopelessness. I’ve kicked through diaries before with whole splotches missing. If I could only wrest on paper that elusive bastard I call myself; that snake who insists on being his own person, but is willing to evade the work to show for it—I almost need to think of myself that way, derogatorily, that is, to get the verbal ball rolling down the ruled lines of paper. I know the vacuum created by this past last month. I’ll need to recover some of it because there’s the seat-of-my-pants feeling there’s something worth saving.

“I’d like to kick this ‘writer’ shit.”

That November I’d just turned 27.

***

I wish I could say this gets easier. Even after all those years, from 1986 to now.

Back then I had few fellow artists with whom I could share the struggle. Now seems less lonely and, with Web 3.0 on the horizon, it’s getting easier to “find your tribe.”

anemicsupermanWhen I drew “An anemic Superman demonstrates he can still show off for Lois” (at right, for Vicious Frieze I) I was probably amusing myself—that is, until coworkers drifted by my desk to see what I’d sketched.

It goes directly back to my origins—being receptive to everything coming at me: children’s shows, cartoons, ads, jingles, song lyrics, titles of books, jargon, weird words and phrases—all of it, from wherever, whomever, whatever. It was all up for grabs.

It was, and still is, inspiring.

However, the “success” of being a functioning member of young and upcoming middle-class American society in the mid-1980s put pressure on my inner artist. As the old calendar pages of ’86 ripped away and 1987 began, I wrote to high school friend Jeff Taylor in a letter dated Feb. 9:

“I’m making new plans and goals of a ‘Mental Life’ sort for 1987. I think for a long time I’d allowed work and school to dictate too much of my ‘mental time,’ especially when I consider the funny formulations I made just after high school, when I’d tempered that last nub of innocence against the first raw whetstone of factory hours cynicism and loneliness…”

Well, yeah, minus the purple prose, the sentiment was spot on. The transition from teenager to early adulthood hadn’t been easy. But I knew even then my “Mental Life” was the quiet place where I could feel playful and light again.

The letter continues:

“But you can always make things like that work. And work I did. I wrote like a yelping puppy needs to pee. I was caught between the perfect world that no one in ‘normal’ adulthood recognizes and the ‘tough breaks’ every cynic feels he’s been through.”

This probably needs clarification. At 27 I was aware the adult world laid down some pretty heavy requirements about what was needed to be a part of it—the cynicism came from my suspicion that it wasn’t real. Not in the least.

The letter concludes:

“…now it’s not so much that I need to hang out in a playground or find a 3rd shift factory job to return to the same ratio of hope and derangement, but to realize that I haven’t let go of the kid yet and he can still put his two cents in and make it be just as valid as the jaded twenty-seven year old fart. So, I’m writing again. And liking it.”

How would it all turn out? What would inspire me next? Would there be a Vicious Frieze 2.0? And what would that even look like?

I couldn’t imagine. But I could keep playing.

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~ by completelyinthedark on November 23, 2016.

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