Nothing beats getting rid of a bout of self-pity better than seeking out others who are worse off than yourself. You never have to look long because the world is full of them. And if you want to be so bold as to include the WHOLE world, they are the majority. We started out by hiring on as a cook and chief engineer on a Swedish mercy ship that was being refitted for a special mission. It was to be used to ferry Jewish refugee families from the Russian port of Odessa, to Israel’s Haifa. When we arrived, the old WW II troop transport had just been towed into Seattle from the "Mothball Fleet" and wasn’t anywhere near special, yet. It still even had ghosts.
I could write a book about that experience all by itself, but this is not the place. Suffice it to say it was one of the most pivotal points in my entire life. For it was there – in a microcosm of the perfect world (there is nothing that illustrates this better than shipboard life) – I began to truly learn about people. All kinds. From all walks of life. From many countries. Though my duties got me up before five to have breakfast ready for a crew that fluctuated between thirty and fifty, I had wonderful hours in late afternoons. Before having to get dinner ready, I was always pounding away at an old typewriter I found in one of the supply lockers, with the salt air wafting in through a brass porthole of my stateroom.
After that, we bought a camper for our truck and toured the entire U.S. Since we started from our home in Alaska, that included parts of Canada. Then – lonesome for the sea – we moved aboard another sailboat and explored every nook and cranny of Washington’s Puget Sound. Everywhere we went, we met children who wanted to join us. A few times, we gave into staying someplace long enough to start a school before moving on, again. We took miles of video documenting our teaching methods, as well as hour upon hour of wildlife and the "great outdoors." Pretty soon patterns began to emerge.
I discovered I loved the study of human nature. It had its forces and laws in the same way that the natural world did, and – if one took the time to learn them – was not only identifiable, but predictable. It was also the same in any country in any language. Suddenly, I wanted to illustrate these most universal traits of all mankind. Not so much the big stuff as the little stuff. The stuff that we could see in ourselves no matter who we were. The stuff that could make a person laugh or cry with empathy because I painted it – in the words of Hemingway – "… so true that’s the way it happens."
I also wanted to answer some of Life’s more pressing questions in a more gentle, roundabout way that didn’t blast people in the psyche or make them feel worthless. That’s because in all these travels and experiences, I found that I absolutely, positively, LOVED people. I even found myself wanting to tell them that there was a place for everybody, no matter who you were or where you came from: a truly wonderful place if only they looked long enough to find it. So many seemed to stop – disappointed -- in the middle of life and never go on.
During these adventures I never stopped writing. I couldn’t. In spite of a strict speech to all of my "alter egos" before leaving, they simply picked up their bags and followed me. However, I did discover my own voice in the midst of all these things and stopped writing in flavors. I now knew what I wanted to say and how I wanted to say it. I even felt I had enough energy to get back into the marketplace, again.
But it was like Rip Van Winkle waking up from his nap in the woods only to discover that twenty long years had gone by. What a shock to find out that during the seven years (yes, another seven!) we had been "…wandering to and fro over the earth and walking up and down in it…" that everything had changed. Not just in the publishing world…
But the world, itself.
What’s happening on the farm today: Pops is involved with other things, so I have to handle the farm chores, again. Morning AND evening. I must calculate very carefully, as this coincides with quitting time in my study. Which is not a problem at other times of the year. In the short days of winter, however… the night creatures are already up and on the prowl. And neither opossums, coons, or skunks, are very cute when they are cornered unexpectedly in a barn.
Value status: Day 2 (the days are getting longer again, but only because I’m being chased by the necessities of the real ones. This, too, shall pass…)