The Myth I've Made of My Life
[All drawings by Dan Zimmerman, except final drawing by Bruce Walker; photographs by Malachi Matcho.]
I would like to thank my esteemed friend David Robinson for the opportunity to present the following brief tale. If it seems rather dramatic in its sweep, please humor me. I'll admit. I've made a myth of my life… so I won't lose hope.
My wife recently drew my attention to this stirring passage in May Sarton's "Plant Dreaming Deep":
Let me tell you the story of my life as a child. Perhaps you'll be able to relate…
When you're small, you're short. I was, too. I spent my time on the ground, playing in the dirt, making roads, or on the floor with my toys. But, of course, I also looked up a lot, at my loving parents, and the bustling adult world. I was surrounded by grown-ups… large people. Generally, they were kind to me. But I began to notice a disconnect.
Adults seemed heavy, weighed down by life's concerns. Often, if I spoke to them they would not respond, being preoccupied with their responsibilities. I wondered what was going on… felt a vague sadness.
Now I would relate at some length an event which changed my life.
When I was five, I saw the movie "Peter Pan". This vision of flying, and the idea of never growing up…these things had an immense impact on me, especially the flying scenes, the children taking off from their room, soaring out to the stars beyond.
Peter Pan said that if you came away with him, you would never grow up. Why did this touch me so deeply? I was only five! Perhaps I could still remember a very different sort of existence.
Wordsworth writes "Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting." In the dark theater I think I remembered a freedom I was beginning to forget. Is it possible to forget these things? Wordsworth says "not in entire forgetfulness." Nevertheless, to my heart at the time, all I knew was… I wanted to fly. And if growing up made you heavy and oblivious to these wonders, I didn't want to grow up.
After this, I began to fly in dreams. I remember at first I was on the ground, held down by my weight, slight as it was. Then, I would just lift up, and take off over the trees, houses and hills.
There was no doubt in my heart about this. It was absolutely real. Gravity was no longer an encumbrance. You just took off... over the world and its encroaching necessity... over everything that seemed inextricably linked with growing up.
For a number of years I continued to have flying dreams. Gradually, however, they became infrequent.
But this yearning, the intense desire to experience freedom while still in my body, never left. Again, if growing up meant you didn't fly anymore, I most definitely did not want to grow up.
That dreaded thing, however, kept happening to me. I was getting bigger by the day. But, I must confess to being very fortunate. Early on I learned something indispensable, something that would help me navigate this world. I started to draw. Rapt, I scratched out lines onto a piece of blank paper…watched…and responded. New things emerged. Suddenly, I no longer felt helpless or captive to the relentless march of life. I was beginning to participate in the way it disclosed itself moment by moment, beginning to feel like I was a part of the emerging picture.
Drawing and writing (and later, playing music) were almost like flying. Almost. They were a means of transcendence. But you were awake. And you didn't need to leave your body. Your body was a vehicle, a means of conveyance. And the physical world was no longer a hindrance. It became an ally, yielding itself to you as you thread your way through it, or shot across its glittering surface like the face of a great wave. Life was suddenly full of possibility.
As the frequency of flying dreams tapered off, I turned more and more to creative pursuits…
Perhaps… just maybe… growing up wasn't all that bad… if I could do it like this.
As I got bigger I met other children as well, each unique and interesting in their own way. But the kindred, as I call them, have always been those with whom I shared a passionate interest in the creative process.
My first such creative friend had a writer's heart. His father owned a printing shop in old L.A., and provided his son with great reams of white typing paper. He also gave him a typewriter. I loved to watch him peck excitedly at the keys. Most of the time we wrote our stories out by hand. Our illustrations were rough and wonderful, scrawled directly onto the page. We were exhilarated in both our work and our play, not knowing the difference between the two, churning out tales of mystery and adventure. His main character was a quick-witted detective.
My hero was a hard-ridin,' gunslingin' cowboy. We were transported.
Through the years, I have continued to court this. For me it has always been a co-creative experience, a place of exchange, like when I used to sit around with my buddy, excitedly making things, sorting them out together, making something new of the moment, transforming whatever might trouble me. It's a way of prayer, actually, a conversation I need to have with the realm of possibility. If I had life all figured out, perhaps I wouldn't feel the need to do this.
In the sixties, I started to write songs. Song writing became a way of life, and periodically I would record a collection of them. As of this date, I've recorded twelve "albums" (including "Dreams of Earth," my latest effort, subject of the current Indiegogo.com campaign. See the link below).
I do think the work of the artist is a service to the world. The artist's work is embodied… that it might become revelatory, source material for others to draw on, that they might be lifted above things.
Actually, I don't even like to call it art. As E. H. Gombrich says, "There is no such thing as art. There are only artists." As I said before, it's where you go. It's in you. It's just what you do.
This way of life has become a habit. When I wake up every day, I still believe the kindness in the room is eager to find out what I'm going to do. When the spirit stirs the waters I try to respond.
It's a pity the artist is not supported. He labors to give something valuable to others. As Vincent Van Gogh said to his brother, Theo, saddened that no one bought his paintings, "I work as hard as I can and do not spare myself, so I deserve my bread. Don't I deserve my bread if I work hard?"
Fast forward to the present, and the recording of my latest collection of songs on Sounds Familyre Records. For the fundraiser we made a movie: Dan Zimmerman, Space Pilgrim, a little sci-fi myth that presents the drama of the artist, exploring the universe, seeking support for his work.
I'm in the midst of recording this exhilarating new record, Dreams of Earth.
These dreams are, among others (and I've tried to present some of them in this piece)...the dream of freedom while yet in our bodies... the dream that heaven may be here now and not some vague place down the road... the dream that life might be an ally and not an encumbrance.
The dream that we might fly again.
Want to join me?
To see the film, learn about the campaign, and participate materially in the adventure... click on the following link:
To contribute after Jan 31st, 2013, contact Dan Zimmerman at email@example.com. Enter the words "PFO Reader's Contribution" as the subject of your e-mail. Dan will correspond with you.