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School Days, School Days...

Cartoon sketch of a man in glasses holding one side of his face while he reads a book and looks up and to the left; a version of him wearing a cape and flying off the page surrounded by clouds emerges from his imagination. Sketch by Earle Levenstein.

To be honest, from kindergarten on, I was not—by any stretch of the imagination—a serious student, listening to every word, happy to be there, never missing a day. In fact, I'd be surprised if my absentee record wasn't still on the books, and when I actually was in school, I was, most of the time, doodling and checking my Mickey Mouse watch to make sure it was working.

Now, don't worry—I'm not going to drag you through the heart-rending tale of my childhood again; although, frankly, it really was impressive, guaranteed to evoke your sympathy.

No. None of that.

I mean, while those Family Dynamics did, of course, play a role—a significant role, I'd have to say; I'd be lying if I claimed otherwise—in all honesty, I know, looking back at me, sitting there with all my cute little classmates, I wasn't there at all.

Basically, I was, in a major sense, elsewhere.

I was born—blessed or cursed, depending upon the character of the moment, the situation, and my emotional investment—with what I can only describe as an equal opportunity presence: two for the price of one.

I'm here and we're talking and at the same time—no rudeness intended—I have, more to say, to see, to feel, to amplify.

Not a second unrelated track, but an amplification, adding depth and breadth, not infrequently, with accompanying scenes.

Now, when I describe that it really gives me the creeps.

I mean; am I nuts? Hearing voices? Having visions?

Well, that's the point at which I back off a step or two and reframe, and I do it—not a big deal, more of a get-a-grip moment—in order to remind myself that all this is a verbal description of a viscerally experienced added attraction, the creative imagination, the component that accompanies me, that completes me—that is a major contributor to me; the who I am.

The simple question, "Where do you get those ideas?" is really a recognition of the strangeness and inexplicability of creative expression: a cartoon, a novel, a play, a song, an improvisation; and I'm certain that just about every creator has been asked that question.

The experience of just sitting down to write or draw with only a vague idea and then looking up and seeing that it's two or three hours later and that there on the table or easel or in the computer or on the wall can be a delightful surprise—combined with incredible satisfaction—to the individual who created it.

My general response, when I'm asked, "Where did you get that idea?" is either, "I'm afraid I just don't have any idea," which sounds rude, dismissive, and generally unkind.

On the other hand, I could go through my Family Dynamics, and my Mickey Mouse watch, and the images flying around in my head, which can sound extremely pretentious and/or simply weird.

Might as well just shrug and smile and point at the work and say, "It is pretty good, isn't it?"


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