This is Part 5 of “Lead with Your Heart,” a week-long series about letting go and moving forward.
Yesterday, I wrote about emergence, transformation, and the cathartic aspect of writing. Today, I will expand a little more on the latter of those three important subjects and how its presence is deeply woven into the storyline of my upcoming book, “Part-Time Superheroes, Full-Time Friends.”
Initially, “Part-Time Superheroes…” was to be a detailed account of a source to sea descent of the Mississippi River that I undertook with my best mate and muse, Scott McFarlane, in the summer of 2001. The manuscript was revised several times before I handed it off to a writer friend for critique. He came back with two simple comments that would change the whole storyline of the book, in good way.
“I want to know more about Scott,” he said. “And try pointing your pen at the story. If you haven’t figured it out already, this ‘story’ is about you and Scott. Focus on that. Write about that.”
“But I’m sick of writing about Scott,” I replied. “I don’t even like the guy. He irritates the hell out of me.”
“Well, you better get used to him,” said my friend,” because he’s going to be with you for the rest of your life.”
He was right. And I hated admitting it.
Dredging up teenage memories fraught with drunken angst and questionable resentments was incredibly painful. I discovered that I had disliked Scott for as long as I’d known him, and those angry feelings had been carried forward into my adult years. The deeper I waded into this cesspool of animosity, the more curious I became. I needed to know how this burden had manifested itself, and what steps were needed to purge it from my life.
This cathartic quest stretched on for years. I became obsessed with the concept, devoting hundreds of hours to its analytic dissection. I viewed it as an unwanted cancer, a blight upon my conscience. Bloody hands clawed at its blackened mass. Shredded flesh hung limp from the gaping wound. I reached deep inside, desperate in my attempts to extract its gnawing malignancy.
Days turned dark and nights turned endless. My anger raged. Keyboards were smashed. Plans were dashed. Mental collapse was imminent. (Yes, it was that intense.)
And then, a new idea emerged. A light-hearted approach to the milieu revealed itself. I grasped its good intention and flew in a new direction, a simultaneous duality that perfectly complimented the book’s storyline.
An excerpt from “Part-Time Superheroes, Full-Time Friends”:
“Lastly, there remained one very important detail to see to. If I was going to spend three months travelling the entire length of the Mississippi River with Scott McFarlane, and remain sane enough to write about it when finished, then I would need to do one significant thing: create an alternate personality—a personality that could not only tolerate the intense volume of physical and mental stress I would encounter and create along the way, but also a personality that could tolerate Scott’s enormously voracious ego which, once engaged, would stop at nothing to get the job done. Lucky for me, creating such a personality would not prove to be a difficult task. The difficult part would be staying in character.”
And so emerged Action Man and Jim—two alter-ego superhero personalities not unlike Batman and Robin, minus the costumes, gadgets, and Gotham City skyline. Designed as exaggerations of our already over-inflated egos, Scott became the larger-than-life, muscle-bound Action Man, while I became his trusty (if somewhat reluctant) sidekick, Jim.
For the first time in years, I laughed while I wrote. I allowed myself to mock my friendship with Scott, to poke fun at the absurdity of its dark side, and to cast new light on my acceptance of its presence in my life. I struck a balance between fiction and non-, and was happy to walk the blurry line between the two. Laughter, as they say, is indeed the best medicine. Through perseverance, I found a way to heal, to move forward, to let go. And in the process, I found me.
“For two full days, the Duo scoured the shelves of hardware stores and big box retailers for pieces to complete their pontoon puzzle. Each night they dragged themselves back to Watergate Marina and tiredly pitched their tents behind the dry-docked Little Brown Misfit. Their pile of supplies grew as they readied themselves for the boat’s transformation. With only a few key purchases left to procure, they were directed by marina staff to the outdoorsmen’s Mecca of the Mid-West: Fleet Farm.
Action Man sped maniacally through the aisles, plucking items from the Fleet Farm shelves and flinging them into his over-sized Action Cart.
“And we’ll need one of these!” shouted Action Man.
“What is it, Action Man?” asked Jim.
“It’s a duckbill attachment!” shouted Action Man. “A truly glorious wonder of the boating world!”
Action Man removed the duckbill slowly from the shelf and cradled it gently in his powerful hands. He carefully squeezed the ends of its springy jaws together. A crazy grin formed upon his leathery face. Suddenly, the green metal duckbill emitted a radiant, comforting, prophetic glow that penetrated the Duo’s very core. Action Man spoke in a hushed tone.
“If by chance, Jim, our luck takes a turn for the worst—which it won’t, of course—but if it should, and we find ourselves stuck in muddy shallows unable to use our mighty Evinrude to free us from the mucky grip of the river, this blessedly divine piece of practicality, this miraculous invention, when attached to a generous length of PVC pipe, will act as a rod of God, enabling us to pole our way out of any dire predicament we may find ourselves in. Do you understand the incredible significance of this otherworldly device, Jim? Do you understand its prominent and necessary place in our boating equipment arsenal? Do you understand what this duckbill represents to us, Jim?”
Action Man clutched the duckbill and thrust it heavenward.
“It represents release! It represents unlimited freedom of the utmost kind! A freedom bound only by our imagination! This duckbill, Jim, represents a divine assurance that we shall, against any obstacles viewed insurmountable by others, purposefully persevere and achieve our incredible goal of reaching the Gulf of Mexico! With this duckbill in our possession, nothing can stop us!!”
Action Man brought the duckbill back down to eye level and rotated it in his hands. There, on its backside was a price sticker.
“Whoa!” he exclaimed. “They’re not cheap!”
Illustration by Jeremy Bruneel, one of 26 illustrations featured in Part-Time Superheroes, Full-Time Friends (available mid-June through Crow Books).