On Process And Place - Letter #3 - The Finale (Mark to Julie)
A Substack Letters series between Mark Dykeman (How About This) and Julie Falatko (Do The Work) about childhood surroundings on creative work as an adult
Hard to believe it, but this is my final entry in the three part Substack Letters series between myself (Mark Dykeman) andof . Our series, On Process and Place, examines the impact of childhood experiences on the creative work that we do as adults, with a focus of the impact of living in smaller communities and their particular influences, also taking into account that we are both part of the Generation X cohort (born in the late 60s or 70s).
You can track the progress of this series here:
Set 3 (hometowns): Mark’s Letter 3 Julie’s Letter 3
Julie, like me, grew up in small towns, although she grew up in the US state of New Jersey (close to New York City) and is now a long time resident of Maine. On a global scale we are practically neighbors as Maine borders New Brunswick, my home province. Our cultures are very similar yet there are differences worth examining. We're also both members of Generation X so we were probably exposed to similar foundational experiences.
On Place and Process is a reflection on how our childhoods impacted our adulthoods. We're both creative individuals: Julie is an author of children's books and while my day job is project management I've written online for years and startedas the latest version of my online writing in mid 2022. But we both live outside urban areas and we wanted to explore how that has affected how we express ourselves today.
Our Letters series is divided into three sets of letters: I (Mark) will write the first letter in each set and Julie will reply to it while adding her own thoughts. We're going to dive into some really specific experiences in this Letters series. This is my entry under the following heading:
Set 3: the places where we lived
Hello again, Julie! Time flies when you’re combing through the depths of your memory trying to remember the details of mini-sips and choo choo burgers. Now I have to try to pull this letter series together in such a way that it makes sense, maybe even points to some bigger lesson.
Ironically, I’ve been procrastinating while watching an old favorite TV show - Space: 1999, which debuted in 1975 when I was six years old. I remember watching this show on black and white television back in the day when we had a maximum of four TV channels that our antenna could pick up. Maybe it was part of some insidious plan to imprint a love of science fiction and all things British, but seeing that show as a young kid certainly made an impression on me and possibly foreshadowed some of my creative interests going forward. Living on a Moon exploring outer space or being in any number of fantastic settings was preferable to boring, normal life.
I’ve made a number of references to living in the small town of Woodstock, New Brunswick but that’s not quite true. I spent most of my childhood living in a smaller community called Richmond Corner about 10 KM outside of Woodstock: basically long stretches of road, maybe about 200 people clustered in groupings of homes. Farming, logging and trucking were the major professions back in the day and to a certain extent they remain major industries in the area. My parents were teachers, bucking the local trend.
So while I could watch Switchback from the comfort of my own home it always took a trip into town to go to a place like Burger Junction, although there was a small country store about 1 KM from my house where I could get a mini sip if I really needed one. So I spent a lot of time playing with action figures and Lego at home.
Growing up I never quite appreciated what we had. I grew up with plenty of nearby woods and fields and walking trails, leaving lots of open land for snowshoeing or snowmobiling in the winter. We had a large backyard to play in and an above ground pool for a number of years. Lots of neighbor kids to hang out with or play sports with, too.
Julie, I was not a fan of being out of town or outdoors, especially as I got older. I had almost no interest in sports. I was a bookworm, I watched as much TV as I could, and when they became available I started playing console games and using early home computers like the Commodore VIC-20 and Commodore 64, which would barely qualify as adding machines these days.
Do you remember the Atari 2600, Julie? I spent so many hours on that console, playing games like Asteroids (never quite as good as the video arcade version of the game, something I spent a lot of quarters on back in the day), Space Invaders and more. Those black joysticks with the big red button: broke a few of those, the plastic ring on the inside was not terribly strong.
In short, I was pretty inwardly focused and less enthusiastic about the “real world”, though by the time I got to middle school and then high school I finally found some friends with common interests. Most of them lived in town, though, so it was always about trying to find rides back and forth. Getting a driver’s license was a must for a teenager.
One of the main ways I managed to get beyond the local culture of country music, heavy metal and AC/DC (to be honest, I do like AC/DC, but I digress) was my introduction to my childhood friend Scott, who introduced me to better comic books, science fiction novels and new wave music, among others. He also introduced me to amateur press associations and zine culture (Substack, blogs and other online writing can trace some of its ancestry to amateur press associations as well as Bulletin Board Systems and early Usenet newsgroups). If I couldn’t get to all of the cool stuff out there, at least I could read about it.
And oh, I read. I devoured Star Trek novels and other science fiction and fantasy of the day. I also read a lot of comic books. I was strongly drawn to teenage superheroes like the Teen Titans, the Legion of Super-Heroes and even the X-Men and their younger peers, the New Mutants.
I still have some of the comic books from the late 70s and early 80s: I can’t bear to get rid of the longboxes that I still have. For industrial arts, in junior high, I even made a wooden longbox for storing comic books: I still have it today!
While I never truly got into counter-culture I certainly had tastes for science fiction and fantasy that most kids my age did not have. I envy the world that my own children have grown up in where these interests are far more mainstream, thanks to advances in computer graphics and processing.
Dungeons and Dragons was a big part of my childhood, played regularly on weekends with high school friends. The game was another immersive escape from reality: all you needed was pencil and paper, some dice, and an active imagination. Imagine the hours we’d spend just getting ready for an adventure and then exploring. I loved being a magic-user, Julie. Let the other guys brandish their swords and fight melee style, I was the guy who could cast fireballs and lightning bolts. In game, at least.
I was bored and lonely a lot of the time out in the country but I found ways to escape and developed tastes that stuck with me for decades.
Surprisingly, perhaps, I was not much of a writer or artist back in those days. I did play music in school bands and took up guitar on my own but writing just didn’t work for me back then. I understood some of the mechanics of plot and the caricatures of characters but whenever I tried to write stories I would usually get stumped very easily. I had no confidence in what I was trying to create and I envied my friend Scott, who seemed to easily crank out stories by the week (sometimes the day). And so I had a collection of ideas and fragments but I just couldn’t seem to make it come together, other than the other bit of comedy, often influenced by Monty Python or the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. So I would return to comic books, TV and novels and remained very much a consumer of fiction.
Despite all of the writing that I’ve done for blogs and newsletters I still don’t write much fiction, although I’ve learned a lot more about story, especially during the past ten years. I really wish I could go back in time and help that young lad get some confidence in his writing, or at least help him to understand how hard it is to develop your writing chops when you’re scared of making mistakes and looking dumb. But we are all the product of our circumstances and our choices so it is what it is.
(I do have a NaNoWriMo attempt languishing in a Word document though, Julie. It feels like the first third of a novel, which in turn could be the first in a trilogy of novels. It needs a lot of work but maybe, maybe it could be something.)
I could ramble on and on about various bits and bobs, Julie, but I think I should try to tie this up. I don’t like thinking too much about my childhood days because I felt like a misfit for so long and while I consumed a lot back then, I never developed the courage to create (and publish) until I was an adult. But in many ways I’m grateful (now, at least) for much of the boredom and dissatisfaction with country life because it did lead me to seek out and enjoy things like Star Trek, Doctor Who, the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Superman and more which did shape my sensibilities and my morals.
To me, the ultimate role model is Clark Kent aka Superman, the man who could conquer the world with his great powers but instead devoted his life to fighting crime and protecting the helpless. It’s a pretty WASP vision, to be sure, but yet the moral compass and compassion was always there in that character.
As I’ve aged I do remember my childhood home and the open spaces surrounding it with fondness. I’ve just been remembering lately about how I used to love climbing trees. Did you climb trees as a kid, Julie? I don’t think kids generally get to do that as much any more. It was risky as hell, of course, but there was something uplifting about climbing up a tree trunk and being able to see the world from a higher vantage point. On the other hand, I have developed a bit of a fear of heights over the years so tree climbing is not on my bucket list these days. Plus, full disclosure here, I’m a lot heftier now that I was back in the day. Still, some nice memories.
I expect that I would have loved reading and writing no matter where I grew up, Julie, but I think that growing up bored in the country was an important part of how I became who I am today.
So that’s my installment of Set 3, Julie. I’m sure you’ll bring this home (no pun intended) in style!
Support a scrappy little newsletter from Atlantic Canada, eh?