Writer’s Week #7

Playing with a Frisbee on Gilbert Court in Iowa City.

It isn’t clear when it began yet I’ve reached a stopping point in writing my autobiography. I had intended to breeze through my undergraduate education at the University of Iowa — touching key points only — so I could focus on my trip to Europe, military experience, and the time leading up to our wedding and the birth of our only child. I’m inside those years in Iowa City pretty deep and the dive has only begun.

As I wrote about my early and K-12 years in Davenport, it was easier to paint with a broad brush. The narrative I sought to reduce to paper had been forming for a long time, comprised of specific memories and a small set of people, places and things. I had never thought of my years from birth to high school graduation in a structured manner before. I’m learning about those times in a way I hadn’t considered. It was easy to avoid complexities as moving away from home, and what I became at university, gained more narrative importance. I have had to stop and take stock. That’s where I remain for the time being, likely for the rest of summer.

My last year of university was transformational and I’m just beginning to understand how much so.

Senior year, when I lived in a shared home on Gilbert Court, was the time when Oscar Mayer & Company offered me a job as a plant foreman. I appreciate the offer. They didn’t have to make it. Yet when they funded most of my education in the form of a grant from the Mayer family after the death of my father at the Davenport plant, it seemed appropriate. I recall the first summer I worked at the meat packing plant. One of the millwrights I was helping offered to take me to see the elevator which collapsed and killed Father. I had no interest in reliving that history then, or on a daily basis while working there. I declined the offer.

I had not developed any strong relationships with women by the time 1974 arrived. It seemed unlikely I would be ready to do so for a while. During summer gatherings with male high school classmates, they were often ready for sexual action. I was not and those nights we departed company so they could pursue their desires. I developed relationships with women at university, yet wanted to be friends. I couldn’t bear the possibility of a romantic breakup forcing us to separate. Lack of a “girlfriend” was a background tension I dealt with by living a full life in other ways.

The most important transformation may be coming to terms with the desire to be creative. After graduation I spent years considering what that meant. A group of poets and artists gathered at our house from time to time. Some are better known than others yet it was David Morice, Darrel Gray, Alan and Cinda Kornblum, Jim Mulac, and others who stopped by. I was enamored of Actualists, perhaps. In any case, I learned from them that a conventional approach to poetry, fiction writing and book making wasn’t necessary for success. I didn’t know any of them well, yet hanging with them in the living room helped me grow creatively.

I was taking art and art history classes to complete my degree in English. I dabbled in ceramics, tie dye, music, photography and other media. I realized there was no clear path to success as an artist, let alone the multi-media creator I vaguely wanted to become. I gave up a conventional career in the meat packing plant, in favor of a speculative future. It was unlike what I expected in high school and held a sketchy future at best. The desire to pursue this idea drove much of what I did throughout the rest of my life yet especially the following eight years.

The autobiography will be better for all this new understanding. Yet I have to get back at it. Currently, there is much work to get the garden planted. Once that’s done perhaps the muse will visit again.

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