Because her mother has moved to the area, that baby (my Brother’s Granddaughter) from a previous post (here/) visited my home last weekend. She’s nine months old already, and she says “BAP-fff!” with specific emphasis.
The legends about the members of my tribe have something in common. If you look at the life stories of those in my extended family as if they were plays, there’s a similar arc of development. We all have chaotic first acts. In the second act, we go through some sort of difficult transition or transformation that elevates us as we adapt, survive and learn what’s important in life. In the third act, we finally get it together.
Overall, my family members are a bunch of high-potential low-achievers. We are highly verbal, so at first we get by on charm and don’t develop much self-discipline. None of us have a great deal of money, but usually enough to live simply and pay the bills. In three generations now living who are of majority age most of us, by a wide margin, have endured a divorce. We tend to marry young, and choose first partners unwisely. But we do better with practice. Our later relationships are more successful and lasting.
Early success can be hard to handle. Look at all the child stars that have difficult lives as they grow up. I’m very fond of the work of Orson Welles, but I wouldn’t want a life like his. He grew up believing he could do anything he imagined, and that his talents were unlimited. He became an international star on stage and a published authority on Shakespeare while still in his teens. He was a Broadway actor-director and radio writer-star at 20. He was given more artistic freedom and control in directing his first feature film, Citizen Kane, than was ever granted by a studio before or since. Though no 25 year-olds have equaled this cinematic achievement up to now, it was also the peak of his career. He was never again given that level of autonomy, and he died 45 years later, still trying to earn money for grand, unrealized projects by performing cameos and narrating TV commercials.
My dear wife had great success during her second act. She won many awards as a television news writer. She had a robust income, and earned a company pension from a TV network. Not many people outside of government have those. But she has had difficulty slowing down since injury hastened her retirement. She was addicted to the adrenaline. I know the ending of her play will be great, but it’s her third act that is the transitional one. Now she’s learning to define herself more by who she is than by what she did for a living.
I’ve had the luckiest kind of character arc. Things began terribly, like in Oliver Twist or David Copperfield. Gradually all the rewards of life have been given to me. I got to overcome obstacles slowly, and grow from a supporting character into the hero of my own play. I have learned to finish what I start. More importantly, I know how to make better choices of what to start. Taking the lead in the third act has given me a perspective I wouldn’t otherwise have, and a trust that my life will finish with some kind of standing ovation.
So now it’s all about doing less while doing it better. I’m writing, just to practice. I’m thinking, just to practice. I contemplate my actions, trying to simplify, to use less, live on less, and produce less waste. I have been taking great pleasure in going to the county recycling center, only three miles away. For 1/10th the cost I used to pay for trash pickup I can deposit an entire month’s worth of household garbage. I sort the recyclables in the shed behind the carport, and those are accepted free. And I found a solution to my distress over the mass destruction of the trees next door. I got 10 little ones, the right kind for this soil and climate, from the Arbor Day Foundation. I planted them all along the border of our property, facing the McMansion under construction. I might be providing a snack for the deer. Or I might become FATHER to the FOREST! I’m not always sure if this play is ultimately a comedy or a drama. Maybe I’ll find out in the next scene.