The Splendid Quill


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harryhausenheader.jpgIn the first grade, I remember thinking how big the second graders were. I looked up to them, we all did. I wanted to be one of them. I desperately wanted to wear Karl Kukta’s Mighty Mouse jean jacket, win at dodge ball and get Ashley Dillehay to talk to me.

But I couldn’t. I was only a little first grader.

I didn’t know how to do the big-kid things that they did. They got to write with little yellow pencils. We had to use fat, tall white ones. Interestingly, there was a fringe benefit other than color. With the introduction of the yellow pencil one would learn to write in cursive. And that was a big deal! My grandparents wrote in cursive. My teachers wrote in cursive. That was the language of the big people. Only first graders and kindee-gardeners wrote in that archaic, lesser, block-letter format. I looked forward to learning the secrets of cursive with the same enthusiasm I would later feel toward life itself. This was a defining life lesson filled with all my future potential personal transformation. And it could not come quickly enough.


These radical transformations of spirit and ability rarely happen. We want them to. We yearn for this kind of mental shift in perspective, but it’s not an easy road. Good, new, creative thought requires a change of habit and that can be sort of, you know, hard. Think about the millions of Americans that smoke, gamble and have one more drink when they don’t really want to. It’s a fairly basic process to have jump-starts that send us down the right path, but somewhere near Albuquerque, the personal process that puts us where we want to be from where we were requires a change of habit that just doesn’t get met. I find it a particularly teeth-grinding process.

But enough doom and gloom, we’re already dealt enough toxic soup on the news. It’s the beginning of a new year and this year, 2008, we get a whole extra, bright, shiny, normally-leapt-upon day to work with. Even though we’re in February, January is still fresh and it’s okay to hash out resolutions for the year. I may not be so great at changing habits, but the idea of a list to make me better is admirable enough. Hope springs eternal and the green leaves of the future are daring to peek out from behind the frozen tundra of another Christmas gone by. We get to think deep personal thoughts as we look forward. Personally, I cling to,

“Haven’t screwed up this year yet! Let’s make a go at the rest of the year!”

I’ve been at this life thing for a while now. Not enough to be an expert, nor am I new enough at life that my insights are limited to Cookie Monster’s credo, “me want cookie!” All in all, I’ve had a lot of resolutions fail and I’ve had a lot of them succeed. Scarier still, I’ve managed to pick up a few tasty crumbs that I dare to suggest may be inspirational. So it is with the spirit of adventure, enthusiasm and a leap-year that I offer a few impressions on life.

That project you’re working on? You need to love it. I don’t really care what it is because it doesn’t really matter. I share an office with a guy who lost his rocker and stopped being an engineer for no real reason. Now he just participates in radio controlled tank warfare. As much as I desperately want to laugh, point and perhaps understand, he’s got something most of us don’t. He loves those goofy little tanks and he won’t take an ounce of grief over it. That’s the beauty of loving the work. So if you scrapbook, eat rocky mountain oysters, or process TPS reports the paramount focus should be on loving it. Otherwise, leave it. No job, no hobby, no relationship is worth it without the love.

Your junk? You know, that unpleasant stuff in the past? You need to deal with it. The future is what you make of it. Whether it’s a post apocalyptic vision like Logan’s Run or a Wellian utopia, one can’t achieve their dreams when they are stuck in a personal nightmare. I really don’t think this is a cliché. I know, because I looked it up. I’m being original. You can tell because I referenced Costner. And who does that anymore? Anyway, there is a kernel of truth in all this jest, which will make me sound less jesterly while I make my grand gesture of morality. Hurt exists in a fallen world and it’s a fact that faces us all on a daily basis. The devious nature of hurt begs for us to spend time stuck in it. And in the event we can slog our way through it, the memory of it lingers like the scent of an ex-girlfriend, begging to be remembered and lamented to the point of agony. It’s time to drive a hunter’s stake in the heart of that hurt and walk away from it. There is strength to be had from hurt, but the strength isn’t the memory of the pain, it’s the confidence of walking away from it. And to use a cliché, “These boots were made for walkin’ and that’s just what they’ll do.”

All that action happening around you? Leave it. Be still. I’ll even spell it out. That’s how important this is.


I have a picture of Ray Harryhausen on my wall. He’s there to remind me to stop. His work is the apex of being still. He’s a stop-motion animator. In fact, he’s THE stop-motion animator. Clash of the Titans, Jason and the Argonauts, and The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad are his creations. He’s to stop-motion what Steve Jobs was to computers. Or maybe he’s to stop-motion what the iPod was to Steve Jobs. I’m not sure. Because I’m not being still. Too many thoughts are all happening at once.

I met Ray in 2002. I shook his hand and it felt like magic. He moved slowly and he moved with purpose. He knew what he was doing and he knew what he was there for. I didn’t understand at the time, but he explained to me that when you animate stop motion, every motion has to be considered in the context of the next few motions and the last few motions. No movement exists independent from the others. All the armatures on his stage needed to be like real people if the viewer were going to think of them as characters with depth. Therefore, they all had thoughts and reactions that he had to channel into his being before he could animate them. And at the end of an exhausting and emotionally draining day, he’d have added maybe 8 seconds of footage to his film. At this point I gave an audible silence of incomprehension. He smiled at me and his 82 year-old eyes twinkled.

“This is a slow art. This is an art that has taught me how to live through my characters. Each one of them is dear. Each one of them is a part of me. I learned how to be me by being deliberate about being them. They taught me how to be still and just feel. That’s where the magic of stop motion happens. Not on the screen, not in them, in me.”


These are radical transformations of spirit. Take out that little yellow pencil you haven’t touched in who knows how long. I’ve got mine in hand. It’s time to love what I do, deal with my crap and just be. Then I reckon I’ll start writing and figure out what to do with my bright, shiny new year.

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