Sunday, July 29, 2012

You're a better person than I am, Donald Duck


   Early in your career, in fact while you were still an undergraduate, a faculty member threw you under the bus.  This was not the first time you’d been hung out to dry by a faculty or administration member, but these events were not what you’d call unprovoked; you were a bit of a handful.

The undergraduate situation was, however, the first time when you were more or less innocent of malevolent or mischievous intent, also the first time you were treated in this manner because of such issues as writing and reading.

The faculty member had an awe-inspiring reputation.  The daughter of a famed attorney, she’d made a name outshining her father, first as a reporter for the Hearts papers, then as a novelist, then as a screen writer.
She was Adela Rogers St. Johns.  At the time of which you write, she was adjunct faculty in the UCLA graduate school of journalism.  Your take on her reputation then was that the university was quite proud to have her on faculty.

UCLA was not the powerhouse it would become.  That status still belonged to the Berkeley campus.  But UCLA was coming.  You had two major players in your English Department studies, one of whom published regularly in The New Yorker, the other a major player in Melville, Whitman, and Twain scholarship.

Because of your position as editor of the campus humor magazine, you were included, much against your will, on a panel discussion relative to contemporary reading.  You were eager to hear other members of the panel, your eagerness extending to Ms. St. Johns.  Because of your low rank on the panel, you were the second speaker.  To your credit, you said what the audience surely felt.

You, too, wished to hear Ms. St. Johns, thus your intention to leave with the exhortation to the audience to read everything they could get their hands on, from the pulps to the works of Raymond Chandler, and the emerging greats in science fiction, to the comics as well as the canon of Western literature.  Thank you for your indulgence, Now your hope that the next speaker would be as brief so we could all hear Ms. St Johns.

The second speaker took the hint and was as brief as you.  Then came Ms. St. Johns and the tsunami.  She was sure you were a nice, sincere young man. But please, let’s hear no more about comic books or pulp magazines or science fiction.  Your time is too precious for that.  Read the classics.  Read literature.  Read works of reliable and known greatness.  Warming to her passions, she listed several such works, returning again and again to assure the audience how nice you must be (you weren’t as nice as she supposed). But reading was a serious business.

You twitched and suffered for the long two hours of the presentation. Ms. St. Johns could not let go.

Although you believed even then that she was dead wrong and believe so now in even greater intensity, you were at the age where such a focused berating left scar tissue.

You were made aware of that scar tissue yet again earlier today when, in a presentation, you returned once again to the comics for an important point which you made, noticing after you did so how many in the audience took note of your observation.

If you have trouble identifying your own narrative voice, you observed, you would do yourself the greater favor by hearing in your mind the narrative tone of Donald Duck than the voice of Mickey Mouse.  Mickey is too nice.  He is so nice, he squeaks.  Donald is—well, he is Donald.  He may have a few moments of serenity or amused tolerance, but in large measure Donald is pissed.  Pissed and doomed to become even more so to the point where he flies off and into the orbit of full tantrum.

Individuals say they prefer Mickey Mouse, but they are lying if they do.  In their deep, secret heart, they know Donald Duck speaks for them.  Donald Duck brings it.

Acknowledge your inner Donald Duck.  When he speaks for you, the Cosmos hears you.

Donald Duck explodes for you, he expiates your meekness, he rages for all of us who find it necessary to hold back.

You go, Donald.


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