A woman selling tickets at the movie theatre stared at me the other day and by the look on her face I decided she was trying to ascertain my age.
I coughed dramatically and said “I feel old enough,” and she gave me the senior discount.
For a long time I have been trying to convince people that my life has been much more difficult than it really was, in hopes perhaps, that it will somehow pay off. So far the senior discounts are about all I’ve gotten out of it.
Having a “difficult life” however, does answers the nagging question of why I look so bad at such a young age.
It strikes me in looking back at these 60 years that a great deal of my difficulties stemmed from a lack of communication.
Psychiatrists and writers of TV shows in the 60’s often said something similar----everything was blamed on a lack of communication. And in many ways we all have difficulty communicating. But I was special.
In my formative years my parents realized I was profoundly deaf. I was in the second grade. In the1950s you were doing especially well if your parents recognized a deficiency in you by the time you turned 45. My parents discovered my condition early.
I had training in lip reading and a good deal of speech therapy, and I was given a hearing aid that caused headaches but did nothing else. But mostly I just learned to compensate as best I could.
As I got older it was increasingly obvious to me that communication was not going to be easy.
Understanding and being understood were equally frustrating.
Not being able to hear I began to invent imaginary conversations that involved mythical creatures and strange events.
Once my aunt said, “I’m going to cut the eyes and livers out of the gardenias.”
Paranoia crept in and soon my parents were “plotting to overthrow my spatulas and devour splendidly my sister and brother on guts.”
My inner world was thus greatly expanded.
Peter Pan could not only fly but he said he “swallowed the spears” and “catnapped in bacon.”
People began to talk in code in which every third or fourth word was “slycktt” or “gradrick“ or something similar. It took me years to figure out that “dwint of radherth” was “drink of water”
Also my own speech was not decipherable to a good number of people.
I can’t remember the first time it happened but often I would go to a restaurant and order a number three. I would then receive three number twos.
When someone is not only unsure of what is spoken but unsure that he/she will be understood, the inherent fuzziness of life predominates.
I have learned to not only appreciate that fuzziness but to relish it.
To this day my world consists of a diverse cross section of overlapping realities.
One possibility is always the mundane reality that most people experience. But I find it quite easy to choose an entirely different interpretation.
Words are not only symbols for the objects we find around us, but they also comprise the structure or fabric of the ideas and viewpoints we use to make sense of the world.
Here is an example of the breakdown of that word structure that I think is probably related to “magical thinking”:
I was young, right out of college…… I had an art degree, and I was traveling around the country doing menial labor.
I ended up in a small town in Oregon doing yard maintenance and I started to think that I might want to do more with my life than just mow lawns. “I need to find a job that has something to do with art or sculpture,” I thought to myself.
Then, almost instantaneously, I began to see ads in the local paper that said, “Sell Brass Sculptures, 541 312 7690. “
‘Wow, ” I thought, “selling brass sculptures….I have an art degree….. that sounds like something I could possibly do……and its in the arts”
But something didn’t seem quite right.
“Brass sculptures? Why are they selling brass sculptures in this tiny town?” I thought.
However the more I continued mowing lawns, and the more often I saw those ads, the more I craved a better life for myself.
At last I got up my nerve and called the number, and a woman came on the phone.
“Is this the place that is looking for a salesman?” I asked.
I was greeted by silence.
I asked again.
Finally the woman came on the line and said, “Yes, but we are looking for women”
It was then that I looked at the classified section of the paper again and the words began to waver and change….
“Sell Sculptured Bras, 541 312 7690,“ the ad now said.
Undoubtedly my basic confusion in social interactions initially pushed me into the visual art arena…. it has also helped me to clarify the nature of communication.
In order to survive psychically as well as physically it was necessary to at times de-fuzz the fuzziness.
As my artwork developed I began more and more to ask that basic question “what is it I’m trying to say?”
William Faulkner was once asked what he was thinking when he wrote an obscure passage and his reply was “money.”
Lately I have been having similar thoughts.
Money not only preoccupies my artwork but if someone asks me the directions to the zoo I immediately think “$36,000.”
I have had thoughts other than money in the past however, and other things I was trying to say (trying to say and saying are two different things).
My early attempt at poetry can be summed up as the following:
Man expresses the inexpressible by stating just how difficult it is to express that which is inexpressible.
I have found being unable to express the inexpressible is particularly helpful when declaring undying love to some woman …..especially if they don’t know you very well.
Women are usually impressed with stuff like that.
And I was pretty good at coming up with it.
After a while though, it gets old.
You feel as if you are stuck in a rut as there are only so many ways you can say you don’t have words to say something.
Clarity of thought and honesty however are rarely called for in such situations with women.
If one says,
“I give you my undying love but I may have a terminal condition,” a woman may reply with something snide.
Love and death though are only two of the things artists are supposed to wrestle with. The deeper things like rainbows and kittens also need to be communicated. Thoughts about dogs are also good fodder for artists.
My wife has finally come to terms with the realization that she married someone who is more apt to communicate with her dog rather than with her. It’s a sad but common phenomenon.
Men are at heart non-communicative. At least this is what my wife tells me.
My dog says no such thing and that is one of the reasons I think I can relate to her so well. That and the fact she has a “wrottle” and she can “glouft”
I do hope I can convince you that my life was particularly hard and that I was extraordinarily special. If I don’t I really have very little to say.