Daily Dojo

The Great Pumpkin, The Football That Won’t Hold Still, The Kite That Won’t Fly, The Red Baron & Other Wonderful Unrealized Aspirations

This is both going to be a little bit about Rapping on Writing and mostly Personal Sh*t.

Bear with me.

Charles Schulz is on my mind, muchly, as of late.

Partly because I’m in the midst of reading Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography by David Michaelis.

Partly because PBS just aired a wonderful profile of Schulz for their American Masters Series that I watched.

Partly because on my bookshelf I have four volumes which cover the first eight years of PEANUTS, which I constantly bring down to read.

Partly because it’s Halloween, and few Halloweens go by without catching glimpse of IT’S THE GREAT PUMPKIN, CHARLIE BROWN on television.

But the main reason I’m thinking so much about him is, now that I’m a father, I’ve been thinking A LOT about my own childhood, my life and my work.

They don’t tell ya that shit happens with a birthin’, but believe me, it do, it do.

One thing I realized, just this week, was how much my work and my life was influenced by Charles M. Schulz.

I already knew most of the stuff they showed on the program about Schulz, who was born in Minnesota, which is very close to Iowa. I knew because I’d read up on him for a long time.

In fact, as a child growing up, it was my dream for the longest time to be a cartoonist. I drew and drew every day, I wrote strips and used India Ink and pens just like he did. And I had cartoons published before I turned fifteen, if I remember right.

And then I got a part in a class musical, got into theatre and unfortunately decided to try being an actor, heh-heh.

But for a long time, as a boy, I was a cartoonist.

There’s a chest somewhere (I think in my old man’s barn) with many drawings of stuff I used to do.

And I was pretty good, back then.

I don’t think I can do it now (I never draw anymore, and lettering was never my strong suit) and I like to think that whatever creative urge I had that sparked me as a cartoonist is what fuels me as a writer now. It’s why I couldn’t stay an actor.

It wasn’t enough. Neither was cartooning, or I would have come back to it.

But growing up, my brother and I read a lot of comic books and a LOT of comic strips.

We would go up to the library in our small town and check out all the comic strip compilation books, and PEANUTS had more of those than any other, since by that time Schulz had been doing his strip for over twenty-five years by them.

We read lots of comics strips, Wizard of Id, Beetle Bailey, Dennis the Menace, Garfield, but our favorite for a long time (up until Far Side and Bloom County came to life) was PEANUTS.

PEANUTS was probably one of the greatest comic strips ever written, it was simple on its surface, little kids doing little kid things . . . but the emotions and the ideas presented were, when you look at them, when you really, really look at them, are incredibly complex.

You have to put it into perspective, how different PEANUTS was from everything else.

I mean, it looked like a cartoon, just like Dennis or Garfield, but when the kids opened their mouths and spoke (like the classic Sunday strip where they’re all playing baseball and realize it’s Mother’s Day and bemoan the fact that they’re on a baseball field instead of cooking breakfast in bed for her, scream about how terrible they are and throw everything at Charlie Brown) it was far smarter and more interesting than anything else ever seen - I mean, really. Look at Family Circus and look at Peanuts.

Peanuts connected.

And if you were a kid who wasn’t enjoying childhood (as many of us, unfortunately, could testify to) it felt REAL.

That’s right, I said it. It felt real.

Because mean kids picked on weaker kids and were never punished.

Just like in real life.

Your older sibling hit you and didn’t get in trouble.

You didn’t get a valentine and got teased savagely for it.

Adults ignored you.

Because whatever it was you wanted, you never got.

Just. Like. In. Real. Life. For Children.

That’s the hook that drew us all in with Peanuts. Think about it.

Because most of the time, in Peanuts, the characters faced bitter, bitter disappointment.

Just like in real life.

I think that’s the true brilliance in PEANUTS, and here’s where we get to the the writer angle of this post.

Just about EVERY major character in PEANUTS has a dream and fails miserably at achieving it.

Every single one.

Linus, the smart one handy with his blanket, never got to see The Great Pumpkin.

Lucy, the bully who ran her own shrink stand, loved a musician who didn’t love her back.

Schoeder, who idolized Bethoven, forgot his idol’s birthday.

Snoopy, dog of a thousand faces and resources, never shot down the Red Baron.

Charlie Brown.

Good Ole’ Charlie Brown.

Never flew a kite.
Never told the cute red-haired girl how he felt.
Never won the baseball game.
Never got valentines.
Never kicked a football.

And we loved him for it.

Like the characters in Beckett’s WAITING FOR GODOT, Charlie Brown and company kept talking about all their hopes and dreams and kept being let down by life.

A pro screenwriter, John Turman, gave this great piece of advice in an online forum that really rang my bell . . . he said audiences watch movies more because of what the characters ENDURE than for what they DO.

That’s important, that’s really important.

It’s more for what they endure than what they achieve. That matters to us.

Charlie Brown had to endure a lot.

But he never stopped trying to kick that football. Never.

And we loved him for it.

Especially if you’re a kid and things ain’t going that well, you can look at Charlie Brown and company and realize that it’s that way for everyone, everyone has something that disappoints them, everyone has to keep trying.

As a kid, you recognized THE TRUTH when you hear it, and Schulz, with all the absurdity of his strip, told THE TRUTH.

And behind that, something even better.

As a child where every emotion has a heightened end of the world quality to it, you realized that losing a ball game or a fight or being made fun of didn’t kill Charlie Brown, so it wouldn’t kill you.

That’s great stuff.

I can see how hard it would be to get a strip like that going these days, these days you get fluff like OVER THE HEDGE, nothing that disappoints and, other than Doonesbury, nothing with an edge.

Everyone wants a happy ending, which is why so many movies end that way. But the ones that really reverberate with us are the ones (like Schulz’s favorite, CITIZEN KANE) leave things unresolved and probably really dark, too.

It wasn’t perfect, it was a work that evolved (I never got into the surreal Spike years) from a realistic child’s strip to one that became both absurd and real and reverberated around the world, and he wrote it for very nearly fifty years and he died the day before the final strip was published.

I remember that day, the day he passed, I was at work and I had to go to the bathroom to collect myself.

Watching the PBS special, a couple days ago, which showed clips from real strips, I started crying, I ain’t afraid to admit it, I teared up. The shit brought me back to the day.

Because I realized how much I’ve been inspired by his work, his questioning of existence (which is consistent throughout the years) and most of all, because Charlie Brown never stopped trying to kick that fucking football, I survived my childhood, I lived and made it to where I am and I’m still kicking at it myself, I am.

Every day.

All the swings and misses bring us up to who we are, they define us.

That’s the truth.

We succeed only because we know that failure and disppointment won’t kill us, it can only make us smarter and wiser.
Or not.

That’s the truth.

And someday, when we’re ready, the kite will fly.

The football will soar.

That game you wanted to win?

You will.

That girl you like?

You know.

But it won’t be easy.

That’s the truth.

And that’s cool, man.

Because if it was, we wouldn’t appreciate it.

Schulz set the example through his own life and he worked at it every day.

He made it look easy, but we know it wasn’t.

We can see it through his characters.

And that may be the greatest gift he gave us.

The truth.

And let’s all take a moment, on the day of The Great Pumpkin, to remember and honor him for it.

Good Ole’ Charles “Sparky” Schulz.
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One Response to “ The Great Pumpkin, The Football That Won’t Hold Still, The Kite That Won’t Fly, The Red Baron & Other Wonderful Unrealized Aspirations”

  1. Stacy Says:

    Nice post.
    Takes me back, too. Lately the local papers have been running the really old strips, and I enjoy reliving the old memories tied with them.

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