He was voted “least likely to succeed, ” by his Knights of the Round Table Club at Dartmouth College. Perhaps if he’d tried to imitate the life and voice of others, the prediction would have come true. After all, with a g.p.a. of 2.45, Theodore Seuss Geisel was not “making it” academically. Nor did he have a clear after-college path like his classmates: Harvard Law, banking, grad school in English to become a professor.
As it goes, however, Dr. Seuss—as he later became known—embraced his affection for fantastical cartoon creatures, and more than 200 million Suess books eventually sold world-wide. Least likely to succeed, he ended up with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, his image on a U.S. stamp, Oscars, Emmys, Caldecotts, honorary doctorates. Even the Laura Ingalls Wilder awards got involved.
As a manager and editor over the years, I’ve worked with countless people who hesitate to embrace their “fantastical creatures, ” following the voice and goals of others instead. Sometimes this results in success for people. I suppose that’s one reason we do it. (Goodness knows, I’ve occasionally done it myself; it can seem to be the easier road, at least until we realize what a toll it takes on our deepest self).
In any case, as part of the leadership here at Tweetspeak, I have other things in mind: let’s call it The Henrietta Agenda. (At times we’ve called this helping people become who they really are).
When Dr. Seuss was still just little Ted, his mother Henrietta often took him to visit the zoo. Ted brought the animal menagerie home with him in the form of cartoon creatures that played in his mind and—get this—his mother encouraged his habit of drawing these creatures on his bedroom walls and even elsewhere in the house.
Ted grew up, moved on, did not find his way to Harvard Law, banking, or academia. After a foray into political cartooning, a stint at Oxford, and some work in the advertising world, it was the childhood room that Suess effectively returned to, embracing the creatures of his early imagination and bringing them to the page.
Publication of And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street was the mark of this almost subversive return, as it tells an increasingly tall tale to a forbidding father. (And one wonders if a return to the most basic self is always, at some level, subversive). The return ended up being a kind of arrival—as one of the most successful children’s authors of all time.
Recently, I finished reading Theodore Seuss Geisel and found myself, inexplicably, in tears. It was not, as far as I know, anything to do with my morning apricot tea going cold as I turned the final pages. It was, rather, the appearance of a childhood stuffed animal—in this case, a dog named Theophrastus that Seuss had kept near his drawing table as a reminder of his mother’s early affirmations of his fantastical creatures. She had given him the dog when he was an infant, and here he was an old man ready to say goodbye—and the stuffed animal was still at his side.
Seuss urged his step-daughter Lea Grey to take the worn, brown creature. “You will take care of the dog, won’t you?” he asked.
I’m not much of a dog person myself, but I want to answer for Lea, “Yes.”
Photo by twoblueday, Creative Commons, via Flickr. Story by L.L. Barkat, author of The Novelist: A Novella.
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very cool post, sweetiepie
L. L. Barkat says
thank you, cherry pie 😉
it made me remember the days when my kids were filling the house with inventions and a whole lot of mess. Now, they mostly move within limited spaces, typing stories, creating websites.
I’m thinking on what little “creatures” might be mine yet to embrace, within.
Annie Barnett says
My parents let me paint characters of all kinds on the walls of my childhood bedroom. In my twenties I stopped painting for an entire decade. As I’ve started again, I’ve come back to those walls and the woods behind the house, the farm and the rows of corn where we’d get lost, the chlorine-wet hair on summer pillows – all those tangible childhood memories. This piece has breathed hope into a process I’m right in the middle of. Thank you.
L.L. Barkat says
Annie, I love that. I want to hear more about these woods, this farm and the summer pillows. Maybe I will hear them in your art? (Can art be heard? I’m thinking if we listen very closely, it can 🙂 )