Planning a Life
I decided to hike to Magnetic Rock on the Gunflint Trail in June. Although I thought I knew the way, I got a bit lost driving there. Not good planning on my part. My backpack only held a small water bottle, and it was a pretty warm day for the North Country. Soon I was really thirsty and hungry! Not good planning once again.
As I started hiking, I thought about planning. I have met some very interesting people in the last couple of years who seem to have life figured out. They live in beautiful places, still work and have time do the things they love. Barry and I never really planned our lives. We talked about what we wanted to do — if we retired. I wanted to go north and he wanted to go south; we never got beyond that big difference in how we saw our futures. Once frontotemporal dementia (FTD) set in, there was no chance we could ever plan anything. We lived day by day, and on this June day, that was how I was still living! As I hiked, I wondered how to plan my life now. I can plan a picture book! I have been doing that for more than 35 years. Is planning a picture book that much different than planning a life?
When I start a new book idea, I first figure out who my main character is going to be. Sometimes the character is Henry the mouse, who is learning new things each day. In planning my new life, the character is just me. Barry will not be a part of my future and that makes me feel really sad. It is me alone trying to figure out what to do.
Many problems to overcome
Next when writing a picture book, I think of a problem my character might have. For example, Henry the mouse has a problem with a mean kid in my book Henry and the Bully. In a picture book, there is typically just one problem to solve. But in planning my future life, I have lots of problems to overcome. There are money problems, a husband with FTD, my career to maintain at age 62 and all the other Barry things that I have to deal with and figure out.To develop my life plan, I will have to focus first on one problem. My money problems will always be with me because I see no way to resolve that. Barry will never survive FTD so that is a problem I can’t solve. As I hiked, I concluded that my primary focus must be on keeping my career going — a problem I can tackle!
The final important element in planning a picture book is the setting. Where is the best place to tell my story? In the Henry and the Bully, the setting is a school. Where is the setting for my future life? Do I want to be up north and can I solve my career problem up there? A picture book has only 32 pages in which to resolve the problem and end the story. What I love most about writing and illustrating picture books is the page limitation that forces me to tell a simple story. So what are my limitations in planning a life?
Well, money is the first and largest limitation for me. How do I live where I want to live, keep on writing and have a roof over my head? I am 62 years old and hope to have another 20 good, healthy years.
When I illustrate my stories within 32 pages, I can use spot art or a page-turn to show time passing. The simple act of turning the page can create a whole new day in the life of the character. When I resolve the problem in a book like Henry and the Bully, the characters learn to get along and the story ends quickly. Once the problem is figured out, the child reading the story wants to move on to another story.
I, on the other hand, want to slow down page-turns and the passage of time in my life. I wonder if my life itself still has another story to tell. As I hiked toward Magnetic Rock, I could not think how to resolve my problems or even begin planning anything right now. I was thirsty and thinking about food. So I decided to plan a new picture book in my head instead. That is something I know I can do.
By the way, it is an easy hike to the rock and well worth your time. Magnetic Rock is a huge piece of rock sticking out of the earth in the middle of nowhere. People say it is actually magnetic and if you had a compass, it would spin like crazy near the rock. But having a compass in my backpack would mean planning ahead so, of course, I did not have one with me! So I hiked back to my car and drove to the Gunflint Lodge for a beer and food. Now that was some good short-term planning!
It is September as I write this post and some things in my life are falling into place. I now make videos of my talks for schools to download so I can travel less. I am considering some new poster ideas and how to market my doodles so people can get them printed on select items. I also am working on new picture book ideas. Hopefully, all this will help resolve some of the problems in my life story. Then, maybe, I can begin planning a new setting for the story of my new life. If I had a compass, I think it would be pointing North!