I am exceptionally happy to be sitting here typing my post for today. Why you may ask? Because the very existence of this post is the living embodiment of my promise to continue allowing writing and creating to be a continuing feature of my life. Read or follow my blog for any length of time and you will not fail to find a reference to My Personal Dark Ages. It was a singularly dismal and hopeless period of my life. I worked, I ate, I slept and I drank (heavily). That comprised the sum total of my existence and, at that time, I was okay with that. I harbored no dreams, no ambitions, no goals. That can be a very empowering state to exist in. Of he who has no expectations provided to him, nothing is expected. It is, in retrospect, an unhealthy life view but a comfortable one. It is, almost literally, impossible to disappoint someone who ultimately had no faith in your ability to perform successfully anyway. As I have said, it was a comfortable but singularly uninspiring time in my life.
It was a life view that my stepmother would have heartily disapproved of. I have not shared with my readers an aspect of my life that might make it more possible for them to either understand or disapprove of me. I will rectify that situation today. My birth mother died when I was barely three months old. I will wave a flag of truce to those feminist writers who opine that we men can not possibly hope to understand the syndrome known as post-partum depression. I readily acknowledge that we are simply not wired to make sense of it.
To most men, the birth of a child is a cause for celebration, cigars and alcoholic toasts. It is the women, the mothers, who experience those first fearful gut-wrenching moments of feeling totally unworthy of the task of caring for a tiny life and of making that life important and vital. I can claim to understand it clinically but not factually. I can readily acknowledge that it overwhelmed my mother and led her to take her own life to escape her fears. Post-partum depression was not generally acknowledged to have existed at the time she gave birth to me. I can accept that and have made my peace with her actions. Something bigger and badder than her was driving the train on that particular given day. I hope that in death she found the solace she could not achieve in life.
The single guiding, driving source of maternal wisdom throughout my life was always my stepmother. She was always just Mom to me and, in my memories, will always be Mom. She was a singularly unremarkable woman in almost all aspects. She had limited intellect, minimal education and precious little life experience outside of being a wife and mother. She graduated from high school the same year that I was born. She was scarcely an independent adult herself when my sister began to grow in her womb and she married my father and thus inherited my older brother and myself. If you want to speak to feelings of inadequacy I can find no greater example than she. But she rose above her fears and grew to be the most supportive and nurturing presence that I have ever known in my half century of life. She wore the hats of mother, caregiver, confidante and teacher of life with grace and aplomb. Okay, there was a LOT of yelling and threatening and cajoling but her efforts were always sufficient unto the day. And at the end of the day, she WAS and always will be...Mom.
It was she and no one else, who launched me down a path that perhaps only she understood that I was destined to tread. To say that my mother was literate is not in question. To say that she derived any pleasure from literature is also not in question. While my mother could, certainly, read and write neither activity was a source of pleasure for her. It was a case of simple functionality. It is because of that state and her ability to see beyond it that I owe her so much that I can never repay.
Some of my earliest and most treasured memories are of my mother reading to me. While money was a rare and seldom-seen commodity in our overstuffed home life, Mom always made sure that we had the things that mattered the most. For a young child tube socks and toothbrushes are not matters of particular concern but they were to Mom. She managed the household finances and did so in such a way that David Copperfield stood no chance of explaining the magic behind it all. And what she always made sure that I had was books. I have never understood why it never took with my older brother, but I was actively reading simple books before the age of four. The first book that I owned and read was the wondrous Where The Wild Things Are. To this day, it remains my favorite book of all the millions of such that I have read. I progressed from there to the point of reading on a sixth grade level in the second grade and becoming the youngest contributor to write an article for our grade school newspaper. (I wrote an informational article regarding swordfish.)
At this point in a blog post I should be at the point of making a point of the randomness and so here it comes. My mother instilled in me a love of fantastic and speculative tales. It was, as if, having no creative outlet of her own she was determined that her literary son never have need of creativity and find none in the well. As I became an adult, we shared a love of movies of magic and make believe. One of our favorite movies was the wonderfully story book movie Willow. If you have never watched it, consider this a shameless plug for such.
In the early portion of the movie, Willow, a simple farmer craves to become an apprentice of the village's mage. To do so he must pass a test. He stands in a row with the other would-be students as the old man troops the line. Of each he asks the same question, "The power to control the universe resides in which finger?" Each makes their pick to include Willow. When his turn comes he pauses and briefly glances at his own hand before picking one of the old man's fingers. Sadly, the old man announces that there will be no apprentice that year.
He takes Willow aside and chides him for not following his instincts. The proper answer, it turned out, was that the power to control the universe resided in one's OWN finger. My mother understood this concept in a way I was truly amazed to discover. She understood that by empowering my fingers to follow text across a page...by conditioning my fingers to the act of turning the pages of a book, she was gifting me the power to control the universe. Learning, knowledge, and education were the Holy Trinity that would some day magically transport me beyond my humble circumstances and convey me to a world more wondrous than any that I could ever imagine. To this day it is the most precious and enduring gift that I have ever been given...the power to change the world with just my own otherwise unremarkable finger. Thanks Mom!