It is true that I am now only a month away from being 61. But this reflection is based on what happened to me while undergoing the year past. My fictional character, Valerie Clarke, took the selfie above of the two of us. She doesn’t have her own smartphone, after all, she’s a fictional character, so she used mine. It shows in the picture what she looked like at eleven and what I looked like at sixty years and eleven months, in other words, this morning.
So, what exactly does the picture reveal about us?
Well, for her, it is fairly obvious that she’s only an imaginary person. She was eleven in 1984, the year of the fictional snowstorm in Snow Babies. She’s a bright and vibrant young girl with hopes and dreams ahead of her. She’s also known tragedy, especially after her father’s suicide. But the fact that she’s fictional and based on more than one real person from my past does a lot to explain why this reflection is not about her.
For me, however, you get a look at a grumpy old man with a straw farmer’s hat, an author’s beard, and silvery Gandalf hair. More of my drawings are glimpsable on the wall behind me. I look like the kind of seedy old curmudgeon who yells at neighbor kids who walk on his lawn.
But I’m really not what I look like.
I am a writer. So I am full of experiences, ideas, and feelings. And I am also full of people. Valerie is only one of those. I create fictional people from the people I knew or knew about in my little Iowa town, Rowan, where I grew up. Kids that went to school with me. Their parents. Shopkeepers and business people and creepy old people that I sometimes encountered. Hot tempered people. Wise people. And stupid people who were often laughed at for good reason.
I can also draw on (and draw pictures of) all the people I knew as an educator. More than two thousand kids who passed through my classes in four different schools, some of whom I knew as well as I knew my own children, were available to pull details from to mix and match and make fictional characters from. Fellow teachers, some gifted with a natural way with students, some hopelessly lost in the wrong profession with the wrong sort of personality were also available to make characters from. Fools and idealists. Bullies and shrinking violets. Heroes that possible readers could look up to and love.
I am the kaleidoscope, the thing that you can look through to see the world and have it refracted and patterned to make it beautiful, even in its ugliness.
But all of this reflection is only that, the view in the mirror, the outward look of the man who is me. Mickey at sixty is many things, not all of them pretty, not all of them wise. But some of them are. And some even better than I think they are.