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I’m out herding cattle on the north range

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I feel I can honestly say that creativity and madness are linked. I just know it is true….because I’ve lived it and am not afraid to say I’m both creative and exhibit measured levels of madness! There are millions of articles about this topic, but it’s dry material to read, let alone to remember, and doesn’t matter anyhow because I’ll still be carrying on with writing, painting, gardening, cooking and costumes on the pine- covered hillside in Soudan.

The majority of us born before 1965 or so, had the opportunity to develop our imaginations at great length beginning when we were small children. I’m grateful my dad monopolized the one RCA Victor black and white television we had in the house I grew up in back in Hoyt Lakes. Needing something to occupy us, we’d retreat to our bedrooms or to the basement to play.  My younger brother, Kurt, and I enjoyed Western movies and TV shows so we brought them into our basement playtime. By combining our Lionel train set with clever ranch houses made of Legos and using marbles for the characters, we  recreated John Wayne stories like the classic “McLintock.” The smaller marbles were the women and children and the big marbles were used for characters like “The Duke” (John Wayne)!  We passed many cold winter Saturdays merging our creative minds like this.

In the more temperate months, we took our love of Westerns outside. While bike riding one day, we made a discovery. Just north of our house, on the road that led past the cemetery, we came across an area in the woods that we decided we’d use for our imaginary “Big Valley” house. Perhaps you remember that show from the 1960’s. The wooded area had smaller trees with natural clearings that we used for the parlor and ballroom.  On a hillside was a rock formation that became the Barkleys’ wide staircase leading to the second floor. For this larger cast we added a few neighbor kids into the mix. I always played the part of Nick Barkley. I liked his shiny black hair, leather vest and quick temper. The female characters wore those tight dresses in gaudy colors and didn’t interest me. They didn’t share in the camaraderie that the Barkley brothers had. Over the hill from this location and across the paved road was the cemetery, but to us it became the sweeping vastness of the Barkleys’ north range. It was where we’d herd cattle, confront outlaws, work up a sweat, then eat peanut butter sandwiches and drink Tang (orange drink) we’d brought from home. 

In addition, we also enjoyed writing funny scripts and doing mock radio shows in my bedroom, which served as our recording studio. Kurt and I portrayed various characters, recording ourselves on a reel-to-reel tape recorder. We utilized sound effects made from random household objects and had a record player on stand-by to add in a variety of music when needed. We’d get so silly sometimes and lose our breath in raucous laughter when we’d go back and listen to our theatrical creations. We were often, “children who were not seen…but undoubtedly heard!”

Imaginative beginnings brought about involvement with the competition Speech Team and various theater productions in school. It was easy for me to portray characters because I’d learned which avenues of my imagination to travel down. I won many awards at speech contests and one-act play contests, too. By the time I graduated from high school I had a nice collection of competition medals and better yet, little high school “Oscars” from winning Best Actress at Theater competitions! My bookends, my brothers called them. 

My high school boyfriend was also active in speech and drama. He loved playing the part of the ladies man, on and off stage. He’d dance with the girls, “dip” them, then gaze romantically into their eyes. What an idiot. I recall my dad looking at my photo album and commenting, “Geez, every time I see that guy he’s on top of somebody.”  Such behavior was part of the 1970’s, something you’d get suspended from school for if it happened today.  

Indeed, a girl’s life allows lots of room for drama…..like when you’re a sophomore and your boyfriend dumps you for the senior with the missile-cup bra.  Yes, same guy, and you are crushed inside but blurt out, “I could care less about you, farm boy…..with your nerdy white socks and Montgomery Ward blue jeans!” “Take back your (now airborne) stupid gum-ball-machine ring, too!” I can still see it sailing towards his feet, a plastic pyramid-shaped thing set in stacked layers of red, white and blue with that cheap shiny round gold metal band….that turned my finger green. “Get it right, loser, a girl wants a jewel that somewhat resembles an engagement ring instead of a Fourth of July pyramid!” Such a long life, so many opportunities for drama! 

It’s very fun to role play, at any age, because you can only improve. Plus it busts up the routine of washing out the Cuddle Duds in this long cold winter on the Soudan hillside. “Oh I am rich beyond words, as I now own two pairs of Cuddle Duds!”

So anyway…I started a whole new creative scenario upstairs at the “House of Stone”, where there are hardwood floors and two plaster-wall bedrooms with angled ceilings. The hall with a bathroom at the end features my hippie-era wood beads hanging in the doorway. There is also a standard door on the bathroom…for optional use. 

In this house, in this chapter of my creative and moderately-mad life…I decided my husband and I should each have a room, our own space, when we elect to have it. Why not? Frankly, there are nights when hydraulic-snoring or mixing sugary treats with vegetables disturbs the peaceful flow of evening air. It is most restful at these times for all involved to each take one’s own space. Just as true, however, there are other evenings when a short jaunt across the hall in the wee hours is very invigorating and communal. 

It has occurred to us we’ve created a sitcom! We are living in a co-ed dorm back in the late 1970’s. One day, on a shelf in the basement, Bill found a black vinyl number “four” and brought it upstairs and hung it above my dorm room door. He started referring to me as the “cool chick in room four.” One evening we sat in his small room on the bed. (My dorm room is larger.) The door was open and we were drinking cocktails with only the hall light on, listening to Django Reinhardt. I told him we were violating campus policy— however, I knew the “Hall Monitor” had a night class. I added that getting caught out of our rooms after hours would mean getting the boot from the dorm. As we sat visiting, I could visualize a student walking past the door with a backpack slumped over his shoulder, his long hair in his face, jeans frayed and grungy. In that moment, I was nineteen again. We hung out for awhile, then I told Bill (the cute guy in room three) I had a paper to write and needed to get outta his room before the Hall Monitor returned. He said he had a pop quiz first hour. 

This is very, very fun stuff to bring into the days of 2018….in the winter and presidency of our discontent! Our lives are made of memories that we model into creative treasures to carry us, or our memories are chosen to be the tools that drive us over the edge into dark depression and madness. It is all a choice. Do we cope or what? I colorfully cope.

The cemetery across  from the Big Valley house, the one my brother and I called the north range, is now where he lies. Kurt died at age forty, after fighting a fifteen-year battle with HIV and protease inhibitor antiviral drugs he took to help keep him alive. The day I learned of his illness, the “tragedy on ice” as we called it, part of me died too. We knew he would not live a full life and we’d have to watch him deteriorate. Creativity and imagination helped build my resilience, as they do for so many. In time I chose to be grateful for the imaginative, silly, and slightly crazy years I had my brother in my life.

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