“Never give a sword to a man who can’t dance.” – Confucius
Believe it or not, I’ve actually been called a good dancer (no, not by the guy in the mirror), but I admit, I’m not someone you probably want to give a sword to . . . unless, you know, it’s time to wield it, time to slay the dragon or defend the kingdom. I’ll be all in, then, focused on my movements, on the intention. My body might even cooperate then.
To just carry around, though, probably not such a good idea.
Even though I grew up playing sports, you could say I was a wee bit klutzy as a boy. I’m a bit suspicious, though, that my little sister crept into my room one night while I was sleeping and adjusted the controls to my center of balance.
No, I can’t prove that. Yet. But here’s what I mean.
When I was about eight-years-old, my mom asked me to go to the store for some milk. Simple enough of a request, right?
The store, it should be noted, was a mere block-and-a-half away, other side of the street, on the way to my favorite hide-and-seek location, the cemetery.
This was back in the day of glass bottles and penny candy. It was the coolest store, and I have to find a way to get that store and the old man who owned it into one of my stories.
I rode my bike, because, you now, it was faster.
I had things to do, after all, like playing football or baseball in the street with my friends. Fortunately, my friends were all in their own houses at the time and were NOT waiting for me on my front stoop because THAT would have been mortifying, since, well, I sort of ran into a snag on the way home.
Flashback – when I was six months old, I weighed 25 pounds (that’s only about ten pounds more than the average). Yep! Butterball Wattles would have been an apt nickname. To this day, I’m convinced I was the prototype for those Weebles Wobble toys.
Only, somehow, I still managed to fall down. A lot!
By the time I was six, I was string-bean-skinny. Weeks spent in hospitals will do that to a kid.
The important thing has to do with the fact that MATH does come in handy in our everyday lives if we, you know, stop and actually apply it.
BEFORE the accident(s) that is.
For example, let’s say I was eight-years-old and that I weighed a hollow-boned forty-five pounds. If eight-year-old me buys two glass half-gallon containers of milk (that’s about 8-9 pounds, since the average gallon of milk comes in around 8.5 pounds and we’ve also got all that glass, don’t forget).
Walking would take longer, in theory, but would also provide more stable footing (though “stable footing” was never really an option for me).
Being on a bike, however, changes one’s center of gravity (i.e. it’s a dumb move for a scrawny klutzy kid).
I rode to the store. I got the milk and hurried home (two half gallon bottles secured to my dominant hand, meaning clutched in my feeble grip, my thin fingers wrapped around the sturdy red plastic handles that come attached to the bottles).
I sped down the sidewalk, tilted as I was, since I was suddenly holding about a fifth of my own weight in my right hand, which was clasped to the right handlebar, which you might guess had me leaning a bit to the . . . right.
I just pedaled faster.
Every kid knows spindly-legged velocity negates gravity.
This childish theory is, of course, based on the assumption that the faster you go, the less the pull of the earth will affect your clumsiness. You know, because it will have a hard time keeping up with your super-speed and, therefore, won’t be able to latch on and pull you down.
Let me just say, that is NOT A VALID THEORY!
Anyway, like I was saying, I flew, in a wobbly manner, down the sidewalk, cut across the street at a vicious angle, built up momentum, entered the driveway of a neighbor two houses down, turned the bike slightly to the right to straighten out on that sidewalk . . . only, here’s what I didn’t take into account – all that speed and momentum, plus shifting from one angle to another angle, changed the direction of my momentum, and, well, add in the extra weight on the right handlebar.
You can probably guess in which direction the world was pulling me.
Did I mention the old-school, humungous, wooden TELEPHONE POLE looming next to my neighbor’s driveway?!? The one that stood sequoia-tall!!!
About halfway between the sidewalk and the street (as in, a foot or so from the sidewalk, the very same sidewalk I was now barely on, struggling with my shoelace-thin arms against the pull to the right, tires hugging the edge of sidewalk and the yard, my entire body trembling sideways like you would if you were, say, rollerblading along the edge of a serrated knife).
The right handlebar snagged (as in COLLIDED with) the telephone pole . . . the bike flipped . . . the rider (yours truly) flew gracefully . . . okay, flailed wildly . . . through the air . . . those two precious white-filled bottles soaring like fat, cruel pigeons winking in the afternoon sunlight . . .
In other words, I crashed-landed on my neighbor’s incredibly hard driveway, my wonderful bike slamming down onto my tangled body, two glass bombs exploding near my head (KER-SPLASH KER-SPLASH), milk-soaked shards spraying everywhere.
Did I mention that my neighbor would be arriving home from work soon?
I had to scramble to our garage (meaning limp-drag my bloody-kneed-legs) to find a broom and something to sweep all the wet glass into. But I did. Then, I had to mention to my mom that the, um, streetlight reached out and grabbed me. Thank goodness for the imagination of youth. And kindhearted, forgiving parents.
Of course, I denied that there was any Math involved in the equation. But I did stagger-walk back to the store and get two new bottles of milk.
That’s just one of many I’m-no-ballerina just-a-little-lopsided moments from my childhood.
“You mean, there are others?” you ask. I know, it is pretty surprising. But, yes. (Not coincidentally, Xero is a tad bit less than graceful).
BROKEN BONES & CONCUSSED NOGGINS
When my sister was eight-years-old she broke her collarbone. I’m not sure how exactly. Probably doing the sort of sinister, diabolical, mischievous things kid sisters do. Chances are I got blamed for it, though (you know, given the sinister diabolical mischief of kid sisters).
The important thing here is that she was in this funky brace that sort of wrapped around her chest and shoulders and neck.
I’m not talking like the kind they have today that you can barely even tell is there. No neoprene, no nice snug slings, no sleek shoulder pads. I’m talking this big, clunky metal and plastic thing that resembled one of those ancient contraptions (like from Little House on the Prairie days), like an ox yoke, the kind of thing you hook around work horses when you connect them to a plow.
So, yeah, it was pretty cool. For me. For my sis, it was pure H. E. Lousy Luck!
About a week or so after she broke her collarbone, I broke my right hand. Playing Wiffle Baseball. Oh, it’s true. For some reason my parents seemed to think I was trying to steal her thunder. I wasn’t. Turns out that was just the beginning of a doubly clumsy story (the first part being about how I actually broke the hand and the second part being about how I ended up with a concussion . . . a few days later . . . here’s a hint – that same bicycle was involved in the second part).
In order to keep this post from being five-million words long, I’ll tell you more about all that bone-breaking head-thumping fun in an upcoming post . . .
SHATTERED: OR WRONG PLACE, WRONG TIME, WRONG BODY
My dad has passed on several words of wisdom to me over the years, brief statements that have truly shaped who I am – like emphasizing the importance of listening (not just hearing, but listening), of being a good listener rather than being all caught up in talking.
(I paraphrase rather loosely for the purpose of this post).
He talked to me one day about integrity and about being forthright. If I did something wrong, if I made a mistake or accidentally messed up, if I came to him and told him the truth, he’d stand behind me. He used the example of “let’s say you accidentally break a window . . .”
You’re picturing how I messed up, aren’t you?
Perhaps it was the power of suggestion. I’m going to blame it on that, on my subconscious-self latching onto the idea of breaking windows . . . Otherwise, what you have is a ridiculous amount of evidence that I was beyond “accident-prone” (an adult euphemism for dangerously, chronically, stay-out-of-his-way klutzy).
Words like awkward don’t quite measure up. Maybe maladroit, which sounds menacing and contrary enough. The opposite of adroit. The opposite of skillful and precise and, you know, coordinated. NOT SPY-LIKE.
I’ll tell you more about the window situations (that’s right, it’s plural) in an upcoming post . . .
THE LAND OF UP & SO MUCH FALLING
One of the aspects of my childhood directly influencing my writing of Xero’s story is his love for UP. That’s his favorite direction. As he says, it allows him to see the same world everyone else sees in different ways from everyone else. I loved that. I loved being in trees. Climbing. Spending hours on branches.
Getting down? Well, that was another story. One I’ll save for an upcoming post . . .
Related for my love of climbing and to the first novel about Xero is my propensity to climb my elementary school building and hide on the roof (or sit on the ledge or other precarious spots). More to come on that also.
ROOFTOPS & HURRICANES
In New York State, we seldom have to worry about mudslides or forest fires, hurricanes or tornadoes. Sure, every now and then we might have some twisters.
We get snow and ice storms and lightning, but as far as natural disasters go we don’t grow up getting used to seismic activity unless it comes from the roar of fans at a sporting event or the sounds of drivers letting you know they’re in a hurry with a little horn music (or the screams of little sisters).
One of the childhood experiences that has impacted my life, and that influences several of my stories, has to do with a hurricane and a flood. Hurricane Agnes and the Flood of ’72 to be exact.
And that will also require it’s own space, it’s own detailed telling in a future post.
You could say that I had many childhood moments when I was, more or less, a Natural Disaster. And that flood, well, that was one actual, authentic, on a national-scale Natural Disaster that in many ways also played a big part in my becoming who I am, and in my focusing on the things I do in my writing. Themes like being different and fitting in and all that.
Not in a bad way, for the record, but in an eye-opening way.
In one of his poems, Bob Hicok writes the lines “I like the idea of different/theres and elsewheres . . .” and I like that idea too. In some ways, that’s at the back of everything I write.
Next week, I’m happy to say, will feature a guest post by the talented poet and short fiction writer (and wonderful man) Philip Deaver. I hope you check it out.
Thanks for reading. Keep after it, y’all!
Flood Photo Above used via Creative Commons License on Flickr – Rescue Work – Dayton (Bain News Service, Publisher) from Library of Congress Collection on Flickr (Prints and Photographs Division; Call Number: LC-B2- 2576-2)