—From CB—

I think I do obsession pretty well. Not that I would recommend it over Vitamin C, but it can be helpful to keep you on track. At times it can squeeze the life out of life, but if carefully nurtured I can be convinced, however rational I pretend to  be, that life has actual meaning— its function being to nurture my obsessions.

The earliest I can recall was a get-rich scheme when I was about four years old. I lived with my mom in a two-room shack—outdoor privy, outdoor pump, coal stove but mostly heated by the rats—and I was pretty conscious that money, what with the cost of child care while she worked, was a rare commodity. I was an economics prodigy. I knew about dollars. We didn’t have any.

But Mama got me a box of sparklers for the Fourth of July, and I ran around enjoying my little minutes of sparks, waving them, tracing the air with loops of afterglow. You wound up with eight inches of sintered wire, maybe a dozen strands.

Thus proceeded my first attempt at art (unless you count coloring Jesus purple in a Sunday School coloring book): I would make jewelry. My mom had a couple of rings and bracelets, so I could copy them, twisting rings and bracelets from the leftover wire, sell them, and we’d be brimming with cash. Even then I knew cash was God.

In retrospect, it was truly creative thinking. I applied myself with vigor and wound up with a vintage collection—rings, bracelets and other squiggly wires you’d have to find someplace to stick, maybe lay on the windowsill—to be sold for a nickel each. My mom must have made me a sales sign, as I hadn’t learned to write.

Granted, I had done very little market research, and there wasn’t much high-end retail in our ratty little slum of a ratty Iowa town. But I sat on the sidewalk most of an afternoon with my designer collection. Cars went by, and maybe a couple of kids, I don’t remember, but they would have said, “What’s that?” and I’d have replied, “Stuff.” I hadn’t learned to fine-tune my message.

Nothing got sold, of course. It launched no entrepreneurial career. But I see now—yike, I haven’t thought of this for decades—that it may have been my first small spurt of obsession. I had an objective. I had a plan. I had a dozen wires. I discovered a hidden talent. Though it flopped.

Why didn’t that utter fiasco end it there? Instead, it went on through collecting stamps, collecting bugs, collecting Cub Scout and Boy Scout badges, finding the madness of theatre, the maelstrom of Elizabeth, the jump from secure academia to the weird zigzag journey of forty-seven years as itinerant artists of squiggly wirework.

And now, in my mid-70s, weaving those little artifacts of sintered wire, calling them novels, hoping someone might walk past and think, hey, what genius, it’s worth a nickel—though I still haven’t really done my market research.

But it keeps me sane and heaven-blest.

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