Monday, January 13, 2014

Iowa trip

What a week.

It started with hernia surgery last Wednesday, which I was not looking forward to, and which exceeded my expectations for pain. I could barely move all day Thursday, and God forbid I should cough or sneeze.

Stupidly, I'd planned a trip for Friday morning. I don't know, I guess I figured I'd be fully recovered by then.

I hobbled onto the company Learjet to Des Moines with another employee. We were joined by a mom and her five-year-old son, who has cancer. They were from Iowa and had spent the week receiving treatment at Sloan-Kettering.

That was the last time I complained about my hernia surgery.

I spent Friday afternoon at the office in Des Moines, then drove the two hours to Iowa City and met my brother and nephew for the Iowa/Okie State wrestling dual that evening. I couldn't even complain about my two-hour drive, since they'd just driven 17 hours from Colorado. Damn.

We watched a great match (great = Iowa won), had a bite to eat, then they drove back to Colorado and I checked into the Heartland Inn. Seriously, it was called the Heartland Inn.

Saturday morning I was the guest of honor at Iowa City Public Library's Family Storytime. Kathy, the librarian, was gracious enough to read "How About a Kiss for Me?" and "Ten Tiny Toes." I read the manuscript of "Beep, Beep, Go to Sleep," which will be published next year. There were probably 20 little kids there.

Kathy shares my love of babies and toddlers, and it was nice to meet a kindred spirit. Carl Sandburg said that a baby is God's opinion that the world should go on, and that is the way I feel about it as well.

I couldn't take photos of the kids, but here is a playhouse made of books in the children's section:

The library is at the end of a walking mall, where all the college bars are located--or at least were located when I went to school at Iowa 20+ years ago. Funny, I never knew there was a library there.

The most popular bar when I went to school was The Field House. It's now vacant. I still had library babies on my mind as I passed by, and for a second I thought, "You know, I probably hit on the grandma of one of those little babies back in 1987." I know, gross.

This is the "Heff House," named for one of the eight wrestlers, including me, who lived here in 1987-88. At the time it seemed ready to fall over in a gust of high wind, but miraculously it's still standing. It actually looks better than it did then.

This is the side entrance to Carver-Hawkeye Arena--the doors we entered for morning runs and afternoon wrestling practices. All my memories of Iowa are pleasant 25 years later, but at the time...I do recall occasionally approaching these steps on cold winter mornings physically and mentally exhausted, filled with trepidation and self-doubt. Now...just a sore hernia scar.

This is Jen's and my first apartment together, in 1990. As I pulled into the parking place, it strangely felt like home for a few seconds.

This is the Iowa Book Store in downtown Iowa City. I took this picture just to show that you can't throw a rock in Iowa City without hitting something black and gold. I'm not suggesting that you throw a rock in downtown Iowa City.

On Sunday I watched the Iowa/Indiana dual, then said goodbye to Iowa City and headed back to Des Moines. There were three--count 'em, three--conservative talk radio stations on the AM dial. To be fair, there was also NPR. Enough. I punched FM and listened to classic rock.

When I got to Des Moines it was only 6:30, so I saw "Saving Mr. Banks" at the suburban 16-plex. I know it was a highly fictionalized story, but it was emotionally touching for me for several reasons.

First, I really admire what Walt Disney accomplished. I try not to idolize people, because that's a fast way to be disappointed, but I do idolize the things that people do. I admire the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright and the movies of Steven Spielberg and the creativity of Jim Henson and Dr. Seuss and Walt Disney.

Walt got it. He got the importance of bringing joy into the world, of celebrating happiness. You can't magically wish away the evil of the world, but you can align yourself with joy. You can foster it and share it and make it meaningful. That's what Walt was about, and I'm on the side of that.

Second, I'd just spent the weekend in Iowa City seeing all the places that I'd experienced when I was 25 and my greatest fear was settling for a life of mediocrity. I wanted an extraordinary life. I wanted a life filled with passion and intensity and creativity and adventure. I didn't want to go quietly into the night. Going to Iowa to wrestle was my attempt to find a path in life that had meaning for me, a road less traveled.

"Saving Mr. Banks" was about the trade-offs between doing what we all have to do--like being an unfulfilled banker (P.L. Travers' dad) or delivering newspapers at 6 in the morning as a kid (Walt Disney)--and doing the things that make us feel alive and magical--flying a kite, riding in a spinning teacup, shaking hands with a princess. The euphoric sting of a mat burn in the shower after winning a wrestling tournament. Seeing your child smile.

I am blessed to write children's books. It's not Disneyland, and it's not Fallingwater, and it's not even The Muppets, but I'm proud of it. It makes me feel like my life is a teeny bit extraordinary. I am blessed to have a family that I love, and that loves me. I am blessed that Samuel and Ethan don't have cancer and don't have to fly across the country for treatment. I am blessed to be married to the beautiful woman I met 25 years ago at the University of Iowa.

Everything else I can deal with.

It was a good weekend.

1 comment:

  1. How lovely, Neph. Can you tell I've been traveling like, forever, but am finally home catching up on your blog?
    I got the new Jim Henson biography for Xmas and have been thrilling to it. Just a driven creative genius who was also a sweetheart (and comes from a background similar to ours, including a forebear in the OK land rush...didn't manage to stake a claim). He certainly knew how to turn his relentless dedication to work into fun. I'll have to see the P.L. Travers movie now. Had to save your book playhouse photo - brilliant! Love you -