I’ve become quite nostalgic in recent years. But my interest in the past extends far beyond my own. I’m also fascinated by the pasts of other people – for example, I really enjoy seeing all those “Throwback Thursday” photos on Facebook each week. And in particular, I am deeply intrigued by glimpses into the mysterious pasts of artists whom I admire.
When did their gifts first surface? What inspirations awakened the artist inside the child? Did they always plan to become an artist, or fall into the life by accident?
In my case, I never expected to become a writer. A cowboy, yes. A movie stuntman, definitely. A milkman, briefly (long story). But a writer? Not so much.
It wasn’t until I turned 40 that I started getting serious about writing, making me one of many “late bloomers” in the writing game. But in examining my own past, I uncovered a few hints that maybe, just maybe, I had been destined to become a writer all along.
I was a poet and didn’t know it
Although I’ve long since lost the original work, I still remember a poem I wrote for an elementary school English class, at the ripe old age of seven or eight. It was an epic poem about a family of imaginary creatures called Grimble Bimbles, which were three-eyed monsters with very sharp teeth. I illustrated the poem myself, armed with a purple crayon and my own not inconsiderable sketching skills. Picture a three-eyed purple Pac-Man with stick-figure arms and legs, and you’re in the ballpark visually.
I have no idea why I can still remember this poem verbatim so many years later, but I can. And without patting myself on the back too hard, I think it’s safe to say that the poem shows traces of what would become my own hallmark style. (More on the whole “hallmark” thing in a moment…)
Submitted for your approval:
The Eleven Grimble Bimbles, by a very young Keith Cronin
There were eleven Grimbles.
Their last name was Bimble.
Once a Grimble yawned,
and saw through his eyes three
that in his mouth was flying
a giant bumblebee.
Now the Grimble’s dead.
The bee stung him in the head.
He’ll never budge again,
and now there’s only ten.
I’ll admit, I’m pretty proud of that closing line, mixing poetry with math – an indication of the truly groundbreaking literary potential lurking deep inside me. Really, really, really deep inside.
Mightier than the sword, but not the drumstick
With the idea of surpassing this poem’s greatness a nearly incomprehensible thing to ponder, I put down my pen (okay, my crayon), and devoted the next two decades of my life to a new master, having answered the siren call of Nesmith, Jones, Dolenz and Tork. No, it’s not a top-tier law firm. I’m talking about The Monkees, who captured my soul when their music took over the radio and TV airwaves in the late ’60s.
[pullquote]Yes, I’m deep.[/pullquote]
Yes, I’m deep. Other musicians usually tell how they were inspired by Beethoven, Duke Ellington, the Beatles or Jimi Hendrix. Me, I was inspired to become a professional drummer by four actors pretending to be musicians. Hey, whatever works.
While some might consider this silly, I can tell you it was a dream come true to actually get a chance to perform a couple of concerts with Davy Jones, who was also one of the most gracious stars I’ve ever met. I let him know that the Monkees were the reason I became a musician, which seemed to delight him to hear. My heart broke more than a little on the day he died.
Another hint at the writer I’d become
After what literary historians might one day refer to as my “Grimble period,” it was approximately 20 years before I next got the urge to capture my thoughts in writing. At this point in my life (the late ’80s), I was touring fulltime with rock bands. This can leave a person with way too much free time, spending most of each day sitting in a bus, airplane or motel, waiting for the hour or two of real work that would begin when the house lights came down and the band was led onto the stage.
So how did I direct these pent-up creative energies? Drafting a great American novel? A screenplay? A lurid rock ‘n’ roll tell-all? No, instead I chose to apply my literary “gift” to a very narrow niche: the off-color Christmas card.
Each year I would compose a new one, type it up (this was WAY before “desktop publishing” was a thing) and make photocopies, which I would then cut, fold, and mail to my friends and family. The cards, which explored different tangents each year, shared one common trait: they were always in incredibly poor taste. I did this for several years, culminating in what many considered to be my finest work, which I will now share with you. (Yes, it *is* safe for work, but just barely.)
Here is the outside of the card:
And here’s what readers would find on the inside of the card:
This card evoked some powerful reactions from the folks on my Christmas-card list (some older readers will remember when sending actual physical cards was a thing). People wrote back to me from all across the country, mostly amused, a few offended (sorry, Mom). And then there were two platonic female friends of mine who suddenly seemed far more interested in me than they’d ever been before, perhaps due to some deep-seated yuletide fantasies my card had somehow awakened. To be safe, I tapered off my correspondence with those two, although years later both of them found me and “friended” me on Facebook.
Instinctively realizing that this card represented a moment (but definitely not a Hallmark® moment) that would be hard to top, I closed my typewriter case, and with it, closed the door on any further writing efforts for the next decade. I suspect the literary world breathed easier upon this new development. I know my mom did.
Okay, I showed you mine – now you show me yours!
How about you? Do you remember when you first put pencil, pen or crayon to paper? Do you still have any evidence? Now’s your chance to share your own moments of budding genius, either by briefly describing your nascent literary efforts, or ideally by posting an actual sample. You can post your work directly in your comment, or point us to links where we can bask in the glow of your youthful inspirations. Bring it on, and share the glory of the Grimble!
Image licensed from iStockphoto.com