What It’s Like to be an Expert on Things Nobody Cares About
Yes, “things,” in the plural. My life of passionate irrelevancies.
My life of passionate irrelevancies began in childhood.
From the ages of nine to twelve or so, I was inspired beyond reason by the Danny Dunn, Boy Scientist book series by Jay Williams and Raymond Abrashkin.
“The plots featured characters who were interested in science and mathematics.” — Wikipedia
Science nerd that I was, I idolized Danny Dunn the way other kids of the time worshiped Shaun Cassidy (or the cool kids, Robert Plant or Jimmy Page; this was the early ‘70s). I reveled in those “science and math adventures” with an intensity kids around me reserved for playing Led Zeppelin records backward in search of hidden messages.
I was such a Danny Dunn geek that, in my early thirties, when my first wife and I separated and I thought I was going to die from a broken heart, I retained sufficient memory of Danny’s world to compose this poem:
Danny Dunn and the Heartbreak Machine
Oh to be invisible
boy again — any boy, blissfully
unaware of the terrible grownup
trigonometry of love no homework
machine will ever decipher, the gradual
smallifying of a man
from lover, to husband, to unapproachable
stranger in a house grown
through years of studied inattention. He remembers
old Professor Bullfinch, lost
in thought again behind
those thick, round glasses, blind
to Mrs. Dunn, Danny’s mother,
loving him silently from the kitchen, absent-
mindedly profaning her tender
roasts, oven-fried chickens, steaming
cookies for the children, with little
more than a paternal chuckle, a slight,
myopic nod. Danny sees
his own marriage there, laid out
like some formulaic series
of disappointments. She’s really
gone, and Danny’s thinking fossil
cave, ocean floor — All the
antigravity paint in the world
won’t lift his freckled fat
from the depths he’s reaching now, no
universal glue will mend
the broken promise of a happy ending,
the shattered pieces of a heart, like
some half-built machine, littering the lab, another
disjointed contraption whose purpose
has quite suddenly and irretrievably escaped him.
Which is a pretty good poem, if you’re familiar with the ten book titles and character references it’s woven from.
Which, of course, you’re not. Because you’ve never heard of Danny Dunn.
Because Danny Dunn is irrelevant.
In my Junior year of high school, circa 1980, I fell head-over-heels for the bygone, flower-power, “give peace a chance” hippie Counterculture of the 1960s. I was especially taken with radical anarchist and cultural revolutionary Abbie Hoffman, whose “live-free” manifesto Steal This Book stole my heart.
Abbie was my hero. Inspired by his example, I vowed to singlehandedly radicalize my Reagan Era, Midwest small town school.
Here’s how that went (sigh), from my essay “Steal This Hero: How Abbie Hoffman Made Me a Social Justice Warrior”:
… “Freedom,” “Police State,” “Oppression,” “Revolution” were meaningless concepts to kids free to dance the night away in teen Discotheques that didn’t serve minors, but didn’t search purses or jacket pockets, either.
… I longed to change the world, but the world was suddenly quite satisfied with itself… The will to change requires dissatisfaction with present conditions, and it seemed a night of drunken boogie had become all the satisfaction anyone required. And they were getting that.
Discomania had conquered the Counterculture. Donna Summer had upstaged the Summer of Love.
I’d found my passion for “The Revolution” at the exact historical moment it became irrelevant.
I decided in the fifth grade that I would grow up to be a writer. From 1989 to 1993 I took that aspiration to the next level and enrolled in a college writing program. Writing became my true passion. I just knew I was destined for fame and fortune as a novelist.
“Watch out, New York Times Bestseller List! Here I come!”
Then, within a decade of graduation, the internet transformed the career of writing into the “gig” of “content creation.” Whatever I had to say, I’d better do it in 400 words. 200 is better.
“And don’t expect to get paid to write, silly. Exposure should be enough for you!”
And forget book deals. You’re free to schlep your own merch on Amazon (which I do), but forget book-signing tours sponsored by Simon & Schuster. Forget fat advances you could actually live on for a year while finishing a book. Forget promotion of any kind, even from the traditional publishers.
Good writing is still good writing, I get that. But the business of writing, what it means to be a professional writer who earns a living putting words to paper, changed completely in just a few short years.
The writing industry my education prepared me for was gone. I was passionately devoted to a career path that no longer existed.
Before I’d even paid off my student loans, my education had been made irrelevant.
I’ll always be grateful for those college years, though, because they introduced me to my most enduring literary passion — poetry.
I suspect you’re already clicking away…
“He said poetry… RUN!”
You’re not alone. Like every other kid in America, high school English taught me to hate poetry. Stiff 19th Century verse read aloud by kids who’d rather be smoking weed in the parking lot — or who’d just stumbled, red-eyed, into class.
Three lines per kid, round and round the room. If somebody belched or dropped a pencil, everybody laughed.
My college Lit professors, in contrast, taught me how to read poetry, to recite poetry, to hear poetry, to feel spoken poetry resonating in my body.
To love poetry.
More than two decades later, I still read poetry every day. I listen to poetry podcasts and watch YouTube poetry videos. More than half my home library consists of poetry chapbooks and collections.
I write poetry:
I write about poetry:
I write about writing poetry:
More “How to not suck at writing poetry” Advicemedium.com
I have what I would label, referencing the irrelevant passion I’ll end this essay with, a religious relationship to poetry. Poetry is the language that most reliably enlivens my mind, heart, body, and soul. Poetry is my sacred scripture.
Which I’m sure will make perfect sense to the five other people on Planet Earth who feel the same. You know who you are.
For the remaining eight billion of you, sorry to prattle on.
I know it’s irrelevant.
So, finally, let’s talk about religion. And spirituality. And the paranormal, the supernatural, the psychic, the New Age, the occult — as well as psychology, neuroscience, and related fields exploring the secrets of consciousness. It all entrances me, and has since childhood.
Here’s me at 11 (yes, eleven), from “Autobiography of an Earthling: My Funky Spiritual Memoir”:
I went ahead and joined the [Methodist] church that year, but I also started meditating daily in imitation of Qui Chang Kane, David Carradine’s character on TV’s “Kung Fu.” I voraciously devoured every book I could get my hands on about Buddhism, and from there, Taoism and Shinto…
I began to view Christianity as one path among many toward communion with God, and to compare and contrast its teachings with what I was learning of other spiritual paths in the course of my continuing independent studies — which by the ages of 12 and 13 had significantly broadened to include serious philosophy, self-help pop-psychology, the occult and paranormal, and everything I could get my hands on regarding UFOs and extraterrestrial contact…
The First 25 Years, A.K.A. “The Long Strange Trip…”medium.com
Most of this time I was also reading Danny Dunn.
Because I was just a kid when my spiritual passion caught fire. It’s never stopped burning.
My English Lit Major in college was paired with a Comparative Religions minor.
Spirituality is what I write about most here on Medium. My top tags are #Spirituality, #Religion #Psychology #Philosophy #Selfawareness, and most recently #Dreams. I use #Myth and #Mythology a lot, too.
Quincy Larson analyzed the 252 most popular Medium stories of 2016, and found that the “money tags” here are:
Ludi Rehak crunched the numbers on 1,000 of Medium’s most popular stories from 2017 and concluded that the five most popular topics were:
Design, Personal Development, Programming, Politics and Cryptocurrency.
From now on I’m tagging all my stories #FML… :0(
Maybe spirituality still matters in the real world. I hope so, anyway…
But here on Medium?
I’d rather be passionate than popular, though, so I’ll keep posting my #Spirituality, #Religion, #Psychology #Philosophy #Selfawareness, #Dreams, #FML stories anyway. With the occasional #Poetry thrown in for good measure.
Because, for better or worse, I’m still in love with my passionate irrelevancies.
They make me who I am. Take me or leave me.
I wouldn’t trade them for all the #Cryptocurrency in the world!
Thanks for reading!