(Note: This is a bit of a long one… and it's one I have debated with myself about posting. It's very personal, has nothing much to do with Turtles or comics or artwork, and thus will likely be of little interest to many of the readers of this blog. But… it means a lot to me, and who knows -- it might help someone else in a similar situation.)
"Close your sleepy eyes, my little buckaroo
While the light of the westerns skies
Is shining down on you
Don't you know it's time for bed
Another day is through
So go to sleep, my little buckaroo"
Back in high school, I bought my first record album (you know, one of
those big floppy vinyl things you scratched with a needle to get sound out of), and it was, I believe, the first one released by Michael Parks, then starring in the short-lived (one season) "Then Came Bronson" TV series on NBC. I loved that show, and I loved the theme song, "Long Lonesome Highway", which Parks sang. He had a nice voice, and though many repeated playings I wore out that album, and his next one as well. The songs on the albums were mostly old favorites -- a lot of country/western as I recall.
"Don't you realize, my little buckaroo
It was from a little acorn
That the oak tree grew
Just remember that your dad
Was once a kid like you
So go to sleep, my little buckaroo"
"Little Buckaroo" was, according to Wikipedia, written by M.K. Jerome and Jack Scholl. I can't recall which of Michael Parks' first two albums featured this tune, but it made a big impression on me, and even this many years later, I can still recall most of the lyrics.
Why am I mentioning this? Well, I've been searching around for a pithy phrase to sum up something that recently (about a week ago) happened to me (and in many ways is CONTINUING to happen to me), something that I believe has literally changed my life, for the better -- to say the least. And I kept coming back to those lines in the second verse:
It was from a little acorn
That the oak tree grew
Sometimes, big things spring unexpectedly from small beginnings, when you least expect them. So it was for me this past week, when I was about a month and a half into a project that I had been meaning to do for a number of years.
My wife Jeannine has, over the years since we got together (about twenty-eight so far), made some very nice photo albums covering our early years as a couple, and many from the days when our daughter was an infant, up until she was in high school. I'm glad she did, as -- at least in the pre-digital days -- I took very few photos. It's a wonderful memory archive to have, but for some time I have been thinking it would be a good idea -- and useful. to boot -- to make a digital archive of all of these photos by scanning each of them.
I'd held off for a long time, because I was reluctant to commit myself to the laborious, tedious process of scanning batches of photos at a time on my large flatbed scanner, then going through the hassle of extracting each individual photo from that group scan and saving it as an individual file. I knew it would be a great deal of boring grunt work.
About a year ago, I saw a small photo scanner in one of the many catalogs I get in the mail. It was the "Pandigital SCN02 PhotoLink One Touch Scanner". I was intrigued, because it seemed like it might provide an elegant solution to my problem -- it featured quick scanning of individual photos, each saved to an SD memory card slotted into the back of the scanner. It even purported to have software built in that would rotate the scans into perfect orientation.
However, I didn't buy it. I'm not sure why… I guess I just wasn't ready to start the project.
But a couple of months ago, I did finally buy one of those scanners -- I just really wanted to see what it could do. So I got it out of the box, hooked it up to a power source (no computer connection required), and tried it out. I was initially disappointed because it didn't work very well with most of the dozen or so photos that I had randomly selected for this test. Admittedly, the instructions DID warn that photos with lots of dark areas, especially near the edges, could confuse the scanner's software and cause errors. And that was exactly true -- the bad part being that MOST of the photos I was going to scan fell into that category.
So I started thinking. The scanner came with a sleeve with a clear front and a black background, into which you were supposed to slip the photo to be scanned. When inserted into the scanner, the sleeve would allegedly protect the photo and the black background would work with the software to allow it to rotate the finished scan into alignment. I wondered -- what would happen if the photo was set against a WHITE background instead? So I cut a piece of white index stock to the same size as that black background, set a photo on top of it, and ran it through the scanner.
The result was much better, though not perfect. The white background prevented the scanner software from rotating the scanned image into perfect alignment, so I would need to do that myself in Photoshop. BUT… practically all of the scans came out beautifully, dark areas near the edges or not. And I was very pleased with the resolution and color fidelity of the scans -- as far as I could see, they were about equal to what I could have gotten with my big scanner. And the speed was amazing -- about two or three seconds per photo.
So I'd picked a winner! Now all I needed to do was start taking all of the photos out of the old photo albums and then start running them through this cute little scanner. As I did so, I realized that the albums Jeannine had used contained what are somewhat laughingly called "magnetic" pages -- these are actually stiff paper coated with some kind of sticky waxy substance, with a clear plastic overlay on each side. This type of album page has it's advantages, chief among them being that you can orient your photos in any direction, and even overlap photos if desired. But one of the big downsides (apart from them often being a real pain to extract photos from, given the tendency of that sticky stuff to REALLY stick, especially after a long time has passed) is that they don't age well. About half of these pages had already yellowed or browned in an unsightly way.
I consulted with Jeannine and we decided to go with new, archival-quality plastic photo sleeve inserts to replace the "magnetic" pages. I found some through amazon.com which would fit nicely into the three-ring binders that Jeannine had originally used. The downside of these is that you are limited to the orientation of the individual pockets, but as it turned out, that didn't bother Jeannine (or me), so I decided to go with it.
I dove into the project, scanning on average one album per day. As I completed scanning an album, I would put the photos into the new pages, then spend some time rotating and cropping the scans in Photoshop. That takes a lot longer than the actual scanning -- in fact, I've only finished that work on about five of twelve albums.
So that's all the technical stuff. It's not really what this entry is all about.
I was expecting that I would feel some nostalgia as I looked at all these photos, and I would be looking at them a lot -- as I took them out of the old album pages, as I scanned them, as I put them into the new pages, and as I looked at them on the screen of my computer. After all, I'd be seeing scenes from the days of falling head-over-heels in love with Jeannine, the wedding photos from our back yard in Dover, scenes of friends and family, some sadly no longer with us, and many scenes of our daughter Emily as she grew up. I mean, come on -- how could I look at all that and NOT get nostalgic? I'd have to be a stone or something.
And I did get nostalgic.
But what COMPLETELY blindsided me -- what I've been calling my "epiphany" -- was the rush of feeling, of clarity, that hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks one night about two weeks into the project. I suddenly realized how emotionally blocked I had been for many years, especially the last five or six.
There are many reasons for this, as I have realized through further thinking and analysis. A great deal, perhaps the largest chunk of it, comes from the Turtle years. I have often said to Jeannine that through those years, I very often felt like a square peg in a round hole, at least as far as the business end of things. It wasn't so bad when it was just me and Kev putting together our little comics and self-publishing them out of our living rooms -- that I could handle without many problems. But when the major licensing stuff hit in 1987… that was a whole different story.
We went from being two guys having fun with our comics to those same two guys trying to hold onto the reins of a runaway licensing and merchandising success. Piles of contracts, meetings with lawyers, hiring new people to make our business work -- this was all new to us, and we were learning as we went. And in short order, we discovered the wonderful world of parasites.
It is a sad fact of life that money can make people do weird things. I will freely admit that it's made me do some not-terribly-well-advised things over the years. I think Kevin would probably say the same. That's bad enough, when YOU are doing something dumb with YOUR money. But when creeps and jerks start coming out of the woodwork wanting to do THEIR dumb things with YOUR money, the crap level goes up precipitously. From a local politician blithely saying publicly that we should just donate six million dollars to the local schools, to the total stranger asking me for two hundred and fifty thousand dollars so that he could buy a local general store… it got pretty weird and disconcerting.
It was weird and disconcerting enough that I started making moves to protect myself and my privacy. Some of the things I did were common sense -- unlisted phone numbers, not advertising Mirage's street address, things like that. And they made a difference… they helped. But the other stuff…
What was the other stuff? Well, in short, it amounted to me slowly but surely, bit by bit, tiny increment by tiny increment, starting to draw away from people close to me, and from enjoyment of life itself. It was not intentional -- or at least, if there was any intention on my part, it was instinctive and unconscious. Slowly I built up emotional walls around me, distancing myself from many of those closest to me. Now, I'm not going to say I wasn't still close to these people -- I was. But there was a thickening, protective skin coming between us. (I'm tempted, somewhat, to say "a shell", but that might be too corny… and I'm not feeling particularly corny right now.)
There was -- and still is -- a physical manifestation of this protective covering, and I name it "stuff". What is this "stuff"? It's all -- or at least most -- of the things the Turtle money allowed me to buy. Toys, books, magazines, motorcycles, Segways, gadgets, computers, and on and on. It makes no rational sense that this "stuff" would protect me from anything… but humans are not always rational beings, no matter how much we desire to be. I continued to pile up this stuff around me, often literally -- anyone who has seen the two rooms in our house which I have taken over for my use has seen the truth of this. (This must change -- in fact, IS changing… but that's getting a little ahead of myself.)
The thing that really nailed me to the floor with my "epiphany", the thing that has made me feel like a total heel, the thing that has reduced me to a sobbing wreck on more than one occasion in the last week, was the realization of just how much this walling off of myself emotionally had affected my relationship with my wife, Jeannine. It crushed me. I am starting to come to grips with it now, but… it is very difficult.
The especially aggravating, insidious aspect of this situation is that I didn't even realize it was happening… and it's been happening for at least the last five years, and probably even longer than that -- more like ten or twenty years, I'd say. In fact, if someone had asked me the day before I experienced my "epiphany" if I loved my wife, I would have said "Yes, of course!" And it would have been true -- I love my wife. I've loved her since long before she became my wife, in fact in a remarkably short time after we'd started dating. She is a beautiful, kind, generous, funny, creative person. (And she makes GREAT raspberry muffins.) Like any couple, we've had times over the course of our relationship which have not been as rosy as other times. But I can state unequivocally that I have always loved her.
The big problem is that, until this past week, I had no idea just how much of that protective barrier I had let grow between us, and how much that had dulled and reduced my ability to let her know how I felt about her. It galls me to see now exactly how much time has gone by with this barrier in place.
I have spent much of this last week talking with Jeannine and spending more time with her on a daily basis than I have in a long time, trying to let her know exactly what kind of change has occurred in me. And it is an enormous change. One sign of it -- and this is going to perhaps sound a little mundane to some of you -- is that for the last five days, we have gone to bed at the same time. Or, to be more precise, I have adjusted my sleep schedule to hers. This comes after many years of a staggered schedule, wherein Jeannine would go to bed around 9:30 or 10, and I would stay up until 2 or 3 in the morning. (For a few years, it was even more extreme -- I'd stay up until four or five AM.) Originally, it was a vital ingredient to my staying sane and getting my work done -- the quiet of that time at night helped defray the angst of those crazy Turtle days back in the late 1980's and 1990's. I could work without having to take phone calls about this deal or that.
But… for a long time, it
And yet, I stuck with it. I honestly could not, at this point, tell you exactly why I did -- except that perhaps it was a combination of ingrained habit, mixed with some of that unconscious self-protective impulse -- as if by having this time with no one around, no calls coming in, no demands on me, then nothing bad could happen. Perhaps at some time in the future I will fully comprehend why I did this and some other things.
At the moment, what matters to me is that I feel as if a great, previously- unknown (but still present and heavy) weight has been lifted off my shoulders. Just getting up at the same time as Jeannine this past week has given me a tantalizing glimpse of what I have been missing.
Things are changing.
This doesn't mean I'm going to start doing comics again, or finish Volume 4 of the TMNT series, or jump into any particular new art project any time soon. (Actually, I hope that last thing DOES happen, but I'll have to wait and see.) But the important thing to me is that -- to use the old Biblical phrase -- the scales have fallen from my eyes. I feel recommitted to my marriage, to Jeannine, in a way which I haven't consciously felt in a long time. The strength of these feelings is almost scary.
But I think I can deal with it.
Because for the first time in a long time, when I go to sleep at night, I am actually looking forward to the coming day. -- PL