Saturday, May 21, 2011

Who Remembers Him?

Seems the older I get, the more pleased I am to reconnect with the feelings of my youth. You know, such as here, with this guy (here I am taking a break while helping my father do some work in the back yard):


I had to search pretty hard to find a picture of me that wasn't of me dressed in a tuxedo going off to the prom or something, the sort of normal, formal, reason for a parent to take a picture. This was just me having a moment with my Dad, which I think every boy appreciated having whenever he could.

By reconnecting with the feelings of youth, I primarily mean reconnecting with who we were and what our dreams were, a concept I'm not too sure that very many people in our society grasp. I tend to stress it every time I make a presentation to the kids at the school where I work, and I know they haven't the slightest idea of what I am talking about (which means that who they are hasn't been lost, yet), but I continue to stress it, anyway. For example, I encourage them to ask their parents to KEEP the things they write and bring home. "Do NOT let them throw these things away," I say. "Have them put them away in a file or someplace safe and then give them to you twenty, thirty, forty years later. Because believe me, you will get so caught up in the requirements of life that are imposed on you that you will FORGET who you are now and who you wanted to be. And who you are now will be of vital importance to reconnect with when you are much older."

I suppose not everybody forgets these things, not completely, anyway, but they do get put so far back on a back burner that they may as well not exist anymore at all, and they WON'T exist if they aren't brought back to the forefront, again.

It wasn't until about a year ago that I began to appreciate as one of my favorites the Stephen Sondheim song from Follies, "The Road You Didn't Take," some of the lyrics of which I have selected here:

"...
You take one road,
You try one door,
There isn't time for any more.
Ones life consists of either/or.
One has regrets,
Which one forgets,
As the years go on.
The road you didn't take
Hardly comes to mind,
Does it?
The door you didn't try,
Where could it have led?
The choice you didn't make
Never was defined.
Was it!
Dreams you didn't dare
Are dead.
Were they ever there?
Who said!
I don't remember,
I don't remember
At all.
...
You take your road,
The decades fly,
the yearnings fade, the longings die.
You learn to bid them all goodbye.
...
The Ben I'll never be,
Who remembers him?"

One really ought to hear this song sung (I couldn't find any version on YouTube that was worthy of linking to, here). Sung right, there is hardly a more tragic line in all of musical theater than that concluding one, "The Ben I'll never be, who remembers him?" If not you, then who...and the point is, it IS you (the most precious part of you). Which means that he is dead and unremembered and unmourned even while you are still alive, or pretending to be.

I myself have had the privilege of reconnecting with things that I had written in childhood (thank you letters to grandparents, and the like) and in my youth (things I wrote to parents and friends while I was in college), and all I can really say is that reading those things made me LOVE that guy who was me...but where is he? What can I do to bring him back and make him live, again?

One thing when I was young, I loved reading boys' adventure stories, and when I liked an author, I wanted to read every book he or she wrote. I would come home from the library with my arm filled with a tall stack of books, everything I could find written by a beloved author. It didn't matter if the adventures were in foreign lands, or in outer space, or at the bottom of the sea, or on other planets, or in lands that don't exist at all, I wanted to go there. And, true, as an adult, I have gone places, more than most, but there's still so much more that I could do. I just have to allow myself to do it, make myself do it. And then write about it, oh yes, especially that.

Lately, I have built my home library and a book (two books in one, actually) that I had come across on Amazon.com a couple of years ago and bought to read sometime soon and then had forgotten about, I pulled off the shelf to read last week. It was by an author I had never heard of before, Willard Price, who was Canadian, but who had in real life life travelled all over the world (to 77 different countries), lived a real life of adventure, and had written 14 adventure books for youth between the years of 1949 (one year after I was born) and 1980 (one decade after I graduated from college). He also wrote about as many adventure and travel books for adults, too.

The book that I had gotten was a recent republication of two of his books, South Sea Adventure and Volcano Adventure:


Most interesting to me, since I strongly believe in the meaning of "coincidence," I had been attempting to figure out where to go for my vacation this summer, and for some reason, the idea of going to Micronesia kept running through my head. I had been to, and thoroughly loved, Melanesia (the Yasawa Island Group of Fiji still remains the most beautiful place I have ever been) and Polynesia (if Moorea isn't a dream island come true, I don't know what is!), so I definitely wanted to experience less-known Micronesia and the island in Micronesia that most appealed to me was Ponape, which not only was a still-unspoiled tropical paradise, but also has on one of its satellite islands the mysterious lost stone city of Nan Madol that I thought would be fascinating to see (best toured by boat from Ponape):


So here I was trying to figure out how to arrange a trip to Ponape, when I discover that in this Willard Price book written in 1952, that the South Sea Adventure the boys go to takes place in Ponape! So, humm, yeah, maybe I really should go there! Well, and then after facing nearly every death-possibility available in the Pacific, the boys at the end finally reach safety in the lagoon of Truk, described so beautifully in the book that I now have to go there, as well, since Truk and Ponape are served by the same Continental Airlines "Melanesia Island Hopper" flight.

I truly enjoyed this book and couldn't wait for after work so that I could come home and read another few chapters. The plot is a boy's adventure come true. The two main characters are brothers, Hal (nineteen years old) and Roger (thirteen years old) Hunt (so their ages "bracket" the "teens"). Here is how Wikipedia describes them: "Hal is the typical hero: tall, handsome, muscular, possessing an almost limitless knowledge of natural history and a caring and trusting disposition. Roger, on the other hand, is an ardent practical-joker, often mischievous but just as resilient and resourceful as his older brother." But in this book, their father, who runs a global animal collecting enterprise from their farm on Long Island for zoos, circuses, and nature parks (sorry if all this sounds "politically incorrect" by today's standards), get this, sends the boys off to the South Pacific without him to charter a schooner and collect a series of amazing exotic sea creatures to be shipped back home, and while they are at it, they are given the responsibility by a professor to check up on an oyster pearl bed in a secret lagoon that the professor had seeded with oysters transferred from the famous pearl diving region of the Middle East (that I know to have been the main money-making enterprise of Dubai prior to Dubai's development from oil wealth).

That teenagers could actually run such an enterprise was not at all a surprising concept in the 1950s and earlier eras, and exemplar educator John Taylor Gatto is quite fond of pointing out how America's first great Admiral, Admiral Farragut, was eight years old when he captured a British warship and put its captain in irons in the hold of the ship which he commandeered into Baltimore Harbor, and that Thomas Edison had already earned a fortune writing, printing, and selling news about the Civil War on a cross-country train where he worked in the baggage compartment after he was thrown out of school for being "unable to learn" and that George Washington was earning the equivalent of a hundred thousand dollars a year as a teenager surveyor in Culpepper County, Virginia, and countless other examples of what youth could do and DID do in earlier eras. Now, instead, for most of them, they are locked up in the meaningless prison of high school with no greater future ahead of them than paper-pushing drudgery in "cubicle hell"...if they can be employed at all, nowadays.

I loved being with these two boys in this book, and while I loved Hal, my favorite was the mischievous Roger, who, while sometimes getting into trouble, also often made the most useful discoveries. It wasn't so much "older brother, younger brother", they were equal partners in this adventure, each one contributing different characteristics to the adventure's success. They were for sure the kind of boys I would have admired if I were their age, and would have wanted to be like. Both them were also very funny and I often laughed out loud while reading the book, which I thought was brilliantly written and also rather educational. I kept being surprised that the author had been born in 1887, he seemed to know more than I might have expected, but anyone who had lived in several foreign countries and had travelled to 77 of them couldn't fail to know a lot.

As soon as I finished South Sea Adventure, I wanted to read another book in the series, but it was clear that this adventure led right into Underwater Adventure:

whereas Volcano Adventure, the second book included in the volume that I owned, was really the fourth book in the series. And, I hadn't read the first one, Amazon Adventure, just one book prior to the one that I had read, so today, true to my childhood self, I ordered from Amazon.com ALL of the books, coming from various used bookstores all around the country. I got them only from American suppliers (the most frequent source was the UK, but I didn't want to have the longer-distance shipping) and I got them in the best condition I could unless they were charging huge amounts for them (some of the good-condition hard-bound copies, which I did not buy, were costing several ten dollar bills, and the cheapest edition of the author's autobiography, which I wanted, but could not afford, was being sold for over $300). My Amazon.com order looks very peculiar, with some books costing one cent, and others being as much as just under $10. I spent over a hundred dollars getting these books and feel that I got a real bargain, but half of that hundred dollars is just the shipping costs, since, coming from separate used book stores, I could not take advantage of Amazon.com's free shipping.

I also bought every adult travel book written by Willard Price that I could find following the above-described rules, but there were only very few available, so I was only able to get about four of them, I think it was.

Concerning my idea of reconnecting with the dreams of my youth, it's awesome to not only read the stories of boys whose value system matched my own, but to have the time described match the era of my own childhood. Even the covers of the used books I ordered "say" something to me and remind me of the era of my past, such as these awesome ones:







Seeing these lined up like this, I notice that there is a kind of "Tarzan" feel to them. So, I wonder, does it mean something that right now I am living in Tarzana, the area of Los Angeles were Edgar Rice Burroughs had his estate and is named after him? Every detail of life tells a personal story, I believe, and one must use every sense to "braille" the story that these details tell. In fact, our very survival as a unique person depends upon it.

6 comments:

Andrew said...

When my sister was in her teens she wrote an essay to map out her future life. My mother recently found it and we did have a good laugh at my now 40 year old sister's expense. So yes, do keep those things.

Longboardjeff said...

When I first saw the picture of you and your father, I wondered who that really good looking guy was -- an actor, rock star???

I'm becoming increasingly aware of the feeling of reconnecting with my youth. OK OK, all things being relative, my "youth" might be my elementary school years. I honestly don't consider my college years as my youth, but I'm well aware that they will soon become years that hold some of the most golden memories of my youth. The mere fact that I will be 29 -- almost 30 -- in July scares me. I never imagined myself looking 30 right in the eye.

Mom has done a great job saving things from our childhood. I know she has a lot, and every once in a while she'll bring out some picture I drew, a report I wrote, or even a memorable birthday card I sent. Take this one for example. It's a birthday card that simply says "Happy Birthday". There's a caricature drawing of a little boy with his finger up his nose. Open the card and it says, "I picked it myself." I gave that to my dad when I was about 14. He howled at that. And there are the handmade cards for Mom and Dad. There are the letters from camp, and also the letters they sent to us. I've browsed through them all.

I've been hearing a lot about banning classic works of literature because of the words used in them. I think this is a crime, and it once again shows how we the people buckle under thin-skinned liberal pressures. Case and point, I just bought a leather bound version of Huckleberry Finn. I wanted a good copy before they are considered illegal to own. The objection is over the use of "nigger" in the book. Well, in those days, black people were called niggers. That's how it was, like it or not. But how is this book going to be rewritten? I don't know, but I read Huckleberry Finn several times in the past, and I refuse to give up the memories of how I used to lie in bed, reading Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, and imagining myself, a 12-year-old Jeffrey Sheehan, sailing on the Mississippi with his friend Tom Sawyer, and all the adventures. Yes, I got so engrossed in the books (Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn) that I felt the fear and the elation. I felt every emotion and every one of my senses sprang to life simply by reading those two books. I refuse to give up that part of my childhood, and the PC world will not take it away from me.

Looking at the books you've read I can see how you could get engrossed in them. I'm starting to understand that I'm in the process of making memories of my youth. When I think of our first trip to Disney World, and how Caleb cried riding down the elevator to check out, I can see it, feel it and even smell it. I've kept a few souvenirs along the way, but not as many as Mom has. Thank goodness she saved all those things. It's fun to reconnect with what one day will be the good ol' days.

Great blog. Thanks!

Pitbullshark said...

Andrew, even if your sister's essay included so-called "impossible" things (she wanted to be a prima ballerina, she wanted to be the first female President, or whatever), I hope she has been (or is) able to incorporate some of the deep meaning of those desires into her current life (if not the actual expressions). All but the "rich and famous" bit that many fell into as a desire when they were young; forget that. If you have a healthy body and sleep well at night, nobody rich can hardly beat you in the pleasure of your life, and as far as fame is concerned, it seems that those who finally achieve it then spend all their efforts to get rid of it. The privacy to live your own life and to go about your business constantly unmolested is priceless. I think you sister was wise to have even written that essay, and your mother was wise to keep it. I wish them both, and you, continued success in living out the core of your dreams.

Pitbullshark said...

Dear Jeff, Your mother scores again as being a wise, thoughtful woman (no surprise there!). Wonderful stuff you got to read, letters from camp (classic!), cards you made, etc., these are all "wow". Yes, "youth" is relative, but thirty is nothing to fear (so sayeth one for whom 30 was an ancient memory!). Well, when my father died (I forget exactly how old he was, 92, I think it was), he was just about 30 years older than I was at the time, so I simply rounded it out to an even 30 and considered that that was approximately how many years I might have left (Ray Kurzweil notwithstanding). All of a sudden, that seemed like almost forever, because counting BACK 30 years, that took me to around 30 years old, which to me was actually only the BEGINNING of my productive adult life. Yes, I had been earning money commercially as early as 17, and I was self-supporting almost immediately after I graduated from college, but it wasn't until I was 30 that I was more or less "stable" with something that counted as a career. So, in my view, thirty years (from 30 onward) to the date of my father's death was virtually the entirety of my whole adult life, and I still had that much more left to go? It was a true eye-opener. Why do people in their 60s feel that they are over the hill, may as well retire, bring out the Canasta deck? They're really only HALF way through their adulthood. So, the time will come when you will see 30 as the beginning of the first half, not an ending of anything. And the more of "you" from the first 30 years that you can bring with you, the happier you will be.

I might have written this before, but I highly recommend that people read the C.S. Lewis speech that he gave to a graduating class, called "The Inner Ring" (one can find it for free on the Internet), the purpose of which is to avoid the key mistake in thinking and effort that graduates commonly make as they live their adult life (that I don't think you have made, but it is so good to understand what you are doing right as well as knowing how to avoid what is wrong); I think you would like his words, a lot.

I may not have been the hugest success in life by how society reckons it, but how I, myself, reckon it, I can be proud of one thing...for the most part, I remained as true to myself as I could to the extent that I knew myself. If I had remembered myself better, I would have done much better, but, "whatever doesn't kill us makes us stronger", so it's all good as long as one is flexible in the mind and willing to take necessary action, some of which will be corrective.

Regarding classical literature, we're almost going to have be like the secret "book-saving-by-memorizing" underground in Ray Bradbury's Farenheit 451 (and while we are at it, saving all the atlases such as in the movie "Soylent Green", which came from a novel called Make Room, Make Room).

(comment continued)

Pitbullshark said...

I was recommending to a teacher last week, who wants to read the (speaking of C.S. Lewis) Narnia books, and I was telling him (what I fervently believe) that he HAS to read them in the order that C.S. Lewis wrote them, NOT the current despicable reordering that publishers are now doing, now that Lewis's insane nephew controls them (making them in "chronological order" instead of "adventure/suspense/revelation" order), like they are some stupid boring history book instead of fascinating and meaningful adventure stories. Those who "like" this have ample arguments in their favor that they trot out, all of which are utterly invalid to a person like me who READ THEM AS THEY WERE COMING OUT and loved them and read them over and over. Upon reading comments on Amazon.com about that subject, I was horrified to learn that some publishers are now republishing classical works but making the m"politically correct" ("updating them"), so that, for example, one may think they are buying Mark Twain's original work, only to see that the "nigger" word was taken out and replaced with, what, "African American"? I am not saying that they have done this surreptitious evil on any Mark Twain book, but I wouldn't put it past them. (I read a book a couple of weeks ago written by one of America's greatest architects who happens to be black, whose career occurred prior to Civil Rights, and he kept writing the same phrase over and over, "Because I am a Negro," and I kept thinking "Uh oh, somebody is going to be upset over this book!") But many classic books do come out in a "children's" version, which, to me, is a clue that some kind of indoctrination is going on and an intelligent person will avoid this like the plague. I was reading full adult versions of books when I was in elementary school and it is well within the ability of a child to read any adult book, which is what they should do with classical literature. Modern-day adult books may not be worth the while of any child, although some of them can be good, but ALL classical works are good (there's a reason they stood the test of time!).

I am now nearly finished with the second Willard Price book that was in the same volume that I bought, Volcano Adventure, and I am enjoying it immensely and LEARNING so much! (Honestly, I never knew the first thing about volcanoes, how did I let that subject slip by me?) I keep being amazed about how much that author knew, and to realize that all this knowledge was freely available to any young boy or girl who got into reading those books. I also started reading one of his adult books (about Polynesia) and every paragraph is loaded with wisdom that I had no clue about before...things like "what is the difference for the original inhabitants between being a colony of England and being a colony of France?" (the British wanted to turn them into Englishmen, whereas the French were willing to let them continue their original culture, which is why France still has most of her colonies...or, at least, still has Polynesia...because the people, being free to be themselves, see no reason to rebel) or "what was unique in all the world about Samoan housing" (they have no walls, only roofs, which make sense in a hot, tropical climate, and the families within them completely live their lives unperturbed about having no privacy whatsoever, because they have no shame in what they do and people do not get into other people's business). Probably few people would want to read a "travel" book that was written 60 years ago, they only want to get the latest edition of "Fodors" to see what hotels and restaurants there are, but if you really want to KNOW a country (not just be a tourist there), the modern guide is comparatively nearly useless.

(to be continued again)

Pitbullshark said...

comment conclusion:

Your description of Huckleberry Finn was wonderful. Mark Twain, himself, was truly a fantastic human being, one of the greatest Americans ever, in my opinion. It might interest you to know what was HIS favorite book of all that he wrote...it was his book about Joan of Arc. I bought it, but haven't read it yet, but from the description of it, the Joan of Arc story is one that I absolutely MUST understand, especially since Mark Twain thought so. It's about one of the world's most remarkable human beings in all of global history. But Huckleberry Finn, I learned in a college literature course, that that book, more than any other before for since, was THE PERFECT METAPHOR of the United States of America. So, it's even more than a great adventure story, but it is what our country is supposed to be all about. Our professor wanted us to truly "grok" what it must mean to be someone like the rebellious Huckleberry, a child (in our modern view), risking his life to take an escaped slave down the river in search of freedom; that's the true HEART of America, not the fact of the existence of slavery, itself, which the "PC crowd" want to forevermore use to damn America (or the South, anyway, even it was the NORTH who brought the slaves IN). Yes, America had slavery, but it also got rid of it in the 1800s. Slavery still exists, today, IN AFRICA, so if they want to worry about it, worry about that.

Thank you for your brilliant (as always) comment...and thanks for the complement of the "actor, rock star"! One of my sisters used to describe me as "Disney child star," although I'm not sure WHO or WHICH ONE that represents. Someone on the "Mickey Mouse Club," probably (yeah, one of about three TV shows that were actually on at the time!), although I am going to think "Spin and Marty", but that's more because I admired them when I was young and watching their stories on TV and less that I actually measured up to them by any standard!