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Of Wookies and Wheaties.

When you're little the tiniest transgressive act can seem wholly disruptive, revolutionary, perverse, alien or magical.

Me to my best friend when I was 5: "Why are you making Chewbacca fly, Chewie can't fly. I think we should play with colorforms instead"

Stuff like that.

Chewbacca isn't real, but to me the act of lifting his action figure off the ground to fly at my Buck Rogers action figure (which was an entirely different scale, btw) was so patently offensive to the social contract implicit in pulling Star Wars action figures out of my toy box that it involved a complete shut down of the current imaginary scenario playing out on my green shag carpet. No we can't continue like this, this is a lie. Never mind Chewbacca And Buck Rogers had no businesss carousing together on any carpet, green shag or otherwise, I mean Chewbacca is from a long time ago in a galaxy far away and Buck Rogers is from earth 500 years from now. Never mind that Chewbacca who is taller than a human was dwarfed by my ludicrously dollish Buck Rogers. Never mind that perhaps Chewbacca had mastered unknown Force powers and was simply using his new Jedi style trick to enhance his naturally superior jumping skills. Never mind that it was all make-believe and that i was 5 and that anything should have been possible. No, flying was a bridge to far. It broke the rules, and in this instance that was heinous.

Conversely at that same age when I was playing at a young girls house who had a back yard that abutted a defunct rail-road that was on the opposite side of a creek which had a rope swing and a small bridge and teenagers in very little clothes jumping and playing and smoking cigarettes that didn't smell like my step dads cigarettes, the idea of breaking the rules, the conventions my mother had set down for me in no uncertain terms, was exciting. Had I been a scant 10 years older the thought of sneaking down to reefer river with a leggy blonde reprobate who didn't care for societies guidelines would have had a whole other kind of excitement. Even at 5 I knew it was naughty but I loved the idea of it because she and I were going to be naughty together and get away with it. Except we didn't get away with it at all, we walked through the tall grass in her back yard onto the defunct rail road where, and this is more or less telling of my entire career with women, I stepped on an enormous rusty spike that had a piece of wood attached to it. The spike erupted through the top of my foot and the wood was suddenly the new sole of my shoe.

The details after that are sketchy, I know somehow my Brother rescued me, he did that a lot, from embarrassing situations involving metal things, zippers come to mind...

My point is that as a child, I was, and I think most children are, aware of the rules of society and all the substrata thereof, and make choices of which rules to follow and which rules to obey. They often learn from the results, and just as often they do not. They also see people around them and take stock of their adherence to societal norms and make decisions about life based on the people they loathe and the people they admire.

For instance, this kid I went to school with was kind of a bully. He was mean, not to me so much, but to other kids and to the sweetest first grade teacher you could ever know. He came to school almost every day with the excess strap of his belt dangling down like some kind of 2 dimensional wang attached to his pants. To me this behaviour became synonymous with being a colossal douche. To this day my belt is always, ALWAYS, tightly tucked away into another belt loop and if that isn't possible it is delicately tucked under the belt itself. No 2 dimensional belt wang will ever hang from my pants, lest People think I’m somehow like that kid.

I'm willing to accept that perhaps I was a more judgemental child than some, but somehow I doubt it, I think I’m just painfully introspective and therefore aware of it and not really ashamed to say it. I think most people, especially children, are as judgemental as I am, but society says being judgemental is bad, ipso fact...

So it was when I first realized my grandfather was some sort of cross between Che Guevara, H.D. Thoreau, and Yoda. I realized this when he ate breakfast...

At 9 oclock at night.

Watching him take down his Bakelite yellow bowl and his box of cornflakes, pour the milk of his own cows from a glass bottle all over them, sprinkle a teaspoon of sugar on top and sit down to his enameled metal table to eat them was like listening to Barack Obama's 2004 address to the democratic National convention. It doesn't have to be this way, we can change it if we want to. I don't have to follow your rules, I like to eat cereal at 9 oclock at night. FTW.

Let me just apologize in advance here, this is kind of the long way around, and when we get where I’m going it may be a serious head/desk moment for you, or it may be that you are totally picking up what I’m putting down.

But this Idea that a wonderful, learned, kind, wise, and all together kick ass old man just kind of ate cereal whenever the hell he felt like, marketing and mothers be damned, was one of the most eye opening moments of my life and made me want to be just like him. I wanted to be that daring, that revolutionary, that wise, and that kind. Not because I wanted to eat cereal at 9 pm, but because he is all together amazing and he eats breakfast cereal at 9 pm.

We would go on walks, for hours, talking about all manner of things. About why I wanted to believe that magic was real, about why cowboys shot at Indians, about why my father left me for cigarettes, about why my step father left me for liquor, about why my grandmother never really liked me. She loved me, but she didn't really want to hang out with me, I knew that even as a young child, and my grand pop knew I knew it, and it angered him. I could tell. I found out Why you really shouldn't eat sunfish and why daredevils aren't very good lures, and why if you hunt for a deer and you get a deer you should thank it, and use as much of it as you can. About trees and birds and snakes and how you snap off an apple tree or willow stick and you can use it for dowsing, well he couldn't but his grandfather could. And about why sometimes old men are prejudiced, and young men shouldn't be because it's wrong, and that young men need to learn from the follies of old men. About why he wasn't perfect, and that I shouldn't think adults are perfect because they aren't. And about why he couldn't cool off an atomic fireball for me. Hours and hours of honest conversation and walking. He would sometimes retell me louis l'amour stories, but there would be a lot of quiet too.

We were both blessed to live in quiet, very rural, very beautiful landscapes, so our walks were truly spectacular. The early morning ones were my favourite, especially by his house. The rolling hills and mountains and meadows of central Maine are a thing of exquisite, Zen-like, beauty; the mist settling into the valleys, the rises sticking out like islands in a grey sea. One morning his nieces horse got loose of its corral and was galloping up one of the hills across a meadow, the horses haunches being brushed by tall gold grass, the mist parting in front of him as if the clouds were lowering his chestnut body to the earth. My granddad course corrected our walk over to that particular meadow, walked past an apple tree, picked an old crab apple not fit for human consumption and stood, directing me to stand outside the fence line, and we waited. My grand dad made clicking noises once in a while. Apparently this is how old back woods wizards cast spells. Moments later, the horse came over, took the apple from my grand dad, my grand dad hopped on him, and rode him home.

Yeah, wizards eat breakfast cereal.

So you see, and this might be the head/desk moment for you, but for me its an utterly profound truth, my grandfathers habits are habits I want to emulate. So when I sit in my kitchen in the morning before going to work, eating a bowl of wheaties or cheerios' I'm not thinking about how much fiber I'm getting or how many calories or how much sugar I'm consuming, I’m thinking that wizards and revolutionaries eat breakfast cereal. That, even if there is nothing intrinsic in flakes of grain that make you an incredible man, incredible men eat them. I want to be an incredible man, so therefore I am going to eat breakfast cereal.

My new direction, that I’ve discussed before, is about rules, but it's about rules to create habits, because habits are things that seem to most profoundly define your life. You are the clay, and habits are the sculptor, they are what mold and shape you. With every repetition they more clearly define your frontiers and your dimensions. I'm trying desperately to find the good habits of people I admire and carbon copy them onto my life.

Its probably just eating a bowl of cereal, and one can give these things too much weight, but to me it's one habit that will eventually reshape me. My clay has already been thrown on the wheel, but with enough revolutions a single touch can define me in a whole new way.

And if nothing else it's a moment where I sit and think of my Grandfather, who is not, by the way, a blood relative, and who I call by his first name with no paternalistic title attached. He is a man who became a part of a family, who loved and shared and celebrated and mourned with us. Who didn't let a little thing like the death of my grandmother, his wife, take his whole new family away. I try to be a little like him every day.

I want to be an incredible man, like my grand dad, and I'm starting with a bowl of cereal.




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