1944 - BIRTH.
Four days after the attempt on Adolf Hitler's life, I am born on July 24 in Sharon, Connecticut. I am born to a world that is wildly optimistic because it is finally clear that the Allies and the US will win the war.1949 - MY FIRST CLEAR MEMORIES.
I am born to a severely dysfunctional family. My parents marriage five years earlier was essentially a war marriage: my mother needed to escape to the US before the war came on; my father needed to find a wife before he got too old. My father suffers all his life from post-traumatic stress syndrome (he was a prisoner in World War I); my Australian mother never quite understands her adopted country and after their divorce (her choice) can never let my father go. Instead legal wranglings drag on for 25 years. In addition I have a brother who is four years older than I. He is big and strong for his age and domineering; later I realized he is extremely jealous and mentally ill. Since he is so much older, my parents often leave him in charge of me. This is like having a cat guard a mouse. Somehow I learn to survive his irrational mood swings, the way a captive learns to understand the moods of his captor.
While all this is difficult, it means that I must to find a clear sense of myself as an individual in this family in order to remain healthy. Somehow I am able to (I don't really take credit for this; I was just born with a personality that could cope). A sense of who I am and where I am going guides me all of my life.
Although my family is dysfunctional, my parents are loving and nurturing. My father creates a wonderful room for me in his house on Cape Cod. It is a small room with a sloped ceiling that he covers in dark blue wall paper sprinkled with stars. He hangs a print of the Durer rabbit on the wall. Both parents play symphonies and concerts on the radio. Neither parent likes the TV and won't have one in the house. As a result I listen to radio drama, concerts on the radio, records, books, etc.
Although I remember bits and pieces as early as age 2, I have coherent memories from age 5 in 1949. At this time I live in Ft. Lauderdale Florida in a small shack directly across from the ocean.See my short story .
I also remember how it feels to be age 5 and how the world looks to me. (Baudelaire said something like "Genius is the ability to recall one's childhood at will.")See NOTE 1.
1950 - MY FIRST "BOOK".
My first grade teacher has her pupils make "books." My first book is about Abraham Lincoln. It is full of stuff I write, along with construction paper cut outs, all bound together with a silhouette of Lincoln on the cover. I am very proud of this.1951 - DRIVING NORTH FROM FLORIDA TO CONNECTICUT OVER 5 DAYS.
This is a magical trip that I can still recall. It is my first taste of the deep south: spanish moss, fried chicken, black people singing in the afternoon as we pass through their neighborhoods, and staying in small cabins which were the motels of the day. I love it.For a description that tried to conjure up the feeling,
1951 - 1958 - MY LIFE STABILIZES FOR A WHILE
In 1951 my father buys a house in Sandwich on Cape Cod Massachusetts and my mother moves back to Sharon Connecticut where she used to live and where I was born. For the next seven years I spend the fall, winter and spring with my mother and go to school in Connecticut. I spend the summers with my father on Cape Cod. It is almost idyllic and now that I accept my parent's divorce, I look forward to the move between their houses each year.
In 1959 this all breaks down because my mother takes my father to court and make him afraid to stay in the house in Sandwich for a number a years. This wrangling about their divorce situation continues until about 1977. My father wins all of the court cases, but my mother is still able to harass him by initiating civil suits.
1952 - WRITING MY FIRST POEM - AGE 7.
I still remember the poem today. It goes like this:
1952-1958 - MY MUSEUM.
Because my parents are divorced, my father sends me various artifacts that he finds in his travels. Over time I put together what I call my museum. I make a case with a glass cover. Later my mother adds an old glass covered book case. This museum consists of Roman coins, a replica of part of an Egyptian wall with hieroglyphics, petrified wood, a bison's tooth, and many other odd items. (I still have this collection today. I believe it gave me a perspective about the time line of human beings on this Earth and also a sense of the time period for civilization.)
1952-1958 - DRIFTING IN MY FATHER'S ROW BOAT - SUMMERS.
On Shawme Pond in Sandwich, Massachusetts on Cape Cod I row to the middle of the pond and then let the boat drift while I stare down into the eel grass and fish nests, watch the play of light on the water, feel the sudden gusts of wind. The fish nests are collections of shiny stones, broken glass and pottery that the fish gather. I spend hours/days/summers this way. (I believe now that I learned to meditate and concentrate by doing this. One well received short story I wrote at UNC-Chapel Hill was about this experience.)1954-1958 - MY FAVORITE TEACHER.
Mr. Copeland is a history teacher with a unique view of the world. It seems that I am his favorite student even though I do not get the best grade. Over the years he becomes my favorite teacher. He encourages his students to make "dirty books," books that have been marked-up with notes and underlines. His nickname for me is "professor." He apparently sees something in me that others do not. Once a year we make projects to illustrate something in history or science. Over four years at the school I make a model of the solar system out of wax and wire, a clay model of the great Buddha, a "cradle" that gold miners used to separate gold, and a model of the Wright Brother's first plane. Later in 1965 I think about these projects and start building mobiles based on my enjoyment of working with my hands and creating these projects. Mr Copeland commits suicide about 1962. (It seems that my life is full of wonderful people and moments along with deeply tragic events.)1954-1962 A STUDY OF THE PAST AND FUTURE
Much of my reading is about historical events. I devour the Landmark series of history books especially the two on The Wright Brothers and the iron clad ship, the Monitor. And I also read about the future: Jules Verne, The Tom Swift Series, Ray Bradbury, George Orwell, and numerous apocalyptic novels about the future such as On the Beach.1954-1962 - THE DANCES EVERY MONDAY NIGHT IN THE SUMMER.
In Sandwich, Massachusetts on Monday evening from 7 PM to 10 PM the police close off the end of the old Main Street and turn it into a place for dancing. Everyone turns out: locals, summer people (that means me), tourists, Catholics, Protestants, Italians, old Yankees, working families, well to do families, young and old. This community event in which all people come together to participate becomes a model for my idea of a community.1954-1957 - WATCHING THE MOBILE MY MOTHER GIVES ME.
My mother puts a simple but beautiful balsa mobile on the ceiling near my bed. I watch it for hours. It rotates even though there appears to be no movement of air. The way the mobile hangs seems impossible and yet it glides in perfect balance. It carves out a space around it that seems be a part of it. (Later, in my early 20s I made a series of mobiles and their creation became my first serious visual artistic creations.)1954-1958 - ACTORS.
My mother is a frustrated stage performer. I believe she wanted to dance or act. Sharon Connecticut has a summer theater. Our house is often filled with various actors who at the drop of a hat perform in our living room. Two in particular are part of our family: Helen Stout, a 60 year old director who has a very modern point of view; Atwood (Doc) Levensaler (stage name John Wardwell), actor and director (one of the first to direct Jane Alexander in summer stock). Doc is a laugh a minute and constant entertainment. A third actor Donald Buka (who made a number of important film-noirs in the early fifties) is the most successful but the most disappointed because his career falters. My mother considered marrying Donald. Bradford Dillman is also part of this group. Brad succeeds with movies such as Compulsion with Orson Welles in which he played a lead role. His career in movies and television spans four decades.
1955 - A SCIENCE(?) PROJECT.
My teacher, Mr. Hewitt, asks us to find things that are like other things, e.g. a large fluorescent light cover looks like an airplane wing. This is for a science project, but it is really an exercise in metaphor and imagining. This teacher is controversial and quits after a few years.1955 - MICROSCOPES AND TELESCOPES.
I become enthralled with the stars and get an inexpensive telescope. My mother gives me a microscope. This introduces me to optics and lenses and makes it easy for me to understand photography in my 20s. (My love of the stars is a life long passion and I am still adding to my knowledge of the constellations today.)
1956 - THE STRAIGHT ARROW INDIAN BOOK.
With every box of shredded wheat, you get a card from Straight Arrow the Indian, who instructs you in Indian lore and craft. After years of collecting these, Nabisco comes out with a complete book of all the cards. I miss the offer to send in two box tops with 25 cents but a friend of mine gets hold of a copy. I have to have this book. I trade him a flashlight and a pocket knife. He obviously gets a great deal, but I get the book and I still have it. It shows me how to do very simple things from an Indian point of view, such as make pottery with rolled clay or make a raft from small logs and vines.
1956 - CAPTAIN NEMO PLAYS BACH UNDER THE SEA.
In New York, my father takes me to see 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea at Radio City Music Hall. For me the highlight is when James Mason as Captain Nemo cranks up his ornate organ and plays the great J.S. Bach Toccata and Fugue while the submarine glides through the underwater world.1956 - LISTENING TO X MINUS ONE ON THE RADIO.
X Minus One is a series of science fiction stories presented weekly. Since the pictures and settings take place in your mind, the effect is very powerful. And since there are no expensive stage sets, the authors can create the most fantastic scenery in your brain. I still remember some of the stories today. The title came from the countdown of a rocket launch, i.e. x minus 10, x minus 9, etc. (I feel sorry for people who never have had the pleasure of becoming absorbed in radio drama.)1957 - WATCHING AFTERNOON LIVE DRAMA FROM NEW YORK ON TV DURING THE GOLDEN AGE OF TELEVISION.
My mother does not want a television in her home. However, for a brief period when a beau of hers is acting in a soap opera, she borrows a TV. I pretend that I am sick and go home early in the afternoon so that I can watch the live theater. We live on Sharon Mountain in Connecticut which is over a hundred miles from NY, but we can get fuzzy reception with a rabbit ear antenna because we live high up. One afternoon it comes in especially well. (I remember that the ground was covered in fresh snow outside.)1957 - EINSTEIN AND ALGEBRA.
I take a course in algebra and it feels very natural to me. I get an A in the course at the end of the year. The same year I study Einstein as explained by George Gamow. (I think that because I approached it so young, the concepts were not that hard to understand. My grasp of math and algebra has helped me greatly with photography and computers. My grasp of Einstein has helped me explain some of my current work in animation.)See my current work in animation
At the age of thirteen, I carefully wrote this notebook about the 4th dimension in an effort to grasp Einstein's concepts and his view of the world. I essentially copied images and text from a George Gamow book. Later in my life I would memorize famous poems and type out computer programs. The act of copying let me understand other people's work at a much deeper level.
1957-1958 I AM CO-EDITOR OF THE SCHOOL MAGAZINE.
My best friend, Bruce, and I are co-editors of the quarterly school magazine. I love writing, typing other people's stories, doing layout and hand painting the covers with water color. When I graduate in the spring of 1958, Bruce and I are each awarded a prize for our work.