Friday, June 21, 2013

Opening Neverland

My daughter just participated in a production of Peter Pan.  She played the traditional dual roles of Mrs. Darling and Tiger Lily.  Last night after the play I stood on the driveway looking at the moon and thought about some things.  I thought about how we all have personal Neverlands.  These are the places we go, where we feel our best and feel like children again. Sometimes we are selfish and private about our Neverland, whatever it might be.  Sometimes we aren’t.  Last night I thought about a couple of times when I chose to open my own private Neverlands.

There are times in people’s lives when they are open or they are closed.  I was very open when I was young, but became very closed as I got older and more and more focused on my career.  I think my family got very frustrated in the fact that I would listen but never talk about what was going on in my world or about how I felt about things.  I got in the habit of talking at people; not talking with them.  That’s not a good habit, and one that I was able to break (although I fall back sometimes).  My wife says that over time I may have overcompensated.

My wife is an extremely tolerant woman, who has always known how much I need to have time alone, because in the days of my corporate world, I was never alone. She has always understood that I need time, and a place where I can go to think and then begin to write or do art. She once told one of the children who wanted to be with me, “Leave your dad alone.”  The child said “He’s just looking at the rain.”  She said, “No, he’s working, and it’s at these times when he does best work.”  She once as a gift booked me into a local hotel and said, “Go fish, walk, think and look around.  Go pretend you are the writer and artist that I know you wish you could be, and will be someday. Be alone for a day or two.”....Best gift ever.

I have been blessed that wherever we have lived I have had a space, a room to call my own, where I can go and be alone and read, write, or just mess around a little bit.  In our current house I am doubly blessed because I have two spots. I have half a garage that is my art studio, where I can do my art, and I have my office room upstairs, where there is quiet. It  is a place I can go to work and write.

Most of the time when I was working as a marketing executive I was a very closed person. My spaces in this house were off limits to everyone.  I don’t know why but I became very private.   I didn’t really share anything about my life.  I still kept doing art and writing but I didn’t share it with anyone.  No one was allowed to touch anything in my corner of the garage; no one was even allowed to go into my office room, including my wife, although I knew she probably did.  (Nobody tells my wife what she can and can’t do. ) I always kept the door of the office closed and sometimes locked so nobody would go in there and mess with my Neverland.

My wife and I used to try to do date nights on Fridays.  We didn’t always go out.  Sometimes I would just make her a nice meal and we would rent a movie.  One night we got one with Johnny Depp called “Finding Neverland.”  It is the story of the experiences of James M. Barrie and how he wrote “Peter Pan.”  There is a scene in the movie where Barrie has an argument with his estranged wife and she says to him something to the effect of “I never knew you. You never invited me into your Neverland.” 

My wife said “That is such a poignant line.”  I asked her why she thought so. She replied “You have never shared with me your Neverland.  You never share anything.  You never talk about your work, what you are writing, and your art. I don’t know what you are feeling; what’s important to you.  I feel like I don’t even know you anymore.”

 After we finished watching the movie my wife went up to bed to read before sleep and I went outside to look at the moon.  I thought for awhile and then I went back inside.  I went up to our bedroom and I said to her, “Honey, come with me.”  She looked concerned and asked if I was alright.  I told her I was fine, but that I just wanted her to come with me.  I took her hand and led her down the hall to my office room.  I opened the door and said, “Welcome to my Neverland.” 

I explained to her about the objects I kept there:  the gavels, the African bowls, the autographed baseballs, the strange statues, the tribal masks, and the pictures. I told her why I kept certain books on special shelves, and why I had so many clocks.  At that time I had kind of a day bed in the office. We laid there for awhile and talked about things that were, and still are, important to both of us.  We talked about the children. I talked about what I was doing, what I was writing, and she told me about what she was doing, what she was reading, and about where she wanted to go in her life.  It was a nice night.

After that I opened up a lot more. I allowed people to come into my spaces.  I started sharing more.  The office room became an open space with an open door.  Over time we built on the corner of my garage, added a bunch of furniture, and turned it into a place where everyone could come, feel comfortable, make things, and share whatever they wanted to.  Not long ago my daughter said, “This has always been an older boys and girls place.  They’re gone now, can I come in?”  I told her that of course she could.  She sat on one of the wobbly old bar stools, played her ukulele, and sang to me while I worked on a project.  When she had as much as she needed, she kissed me, and said, “Thank you, Tom,” and went back in the house.  She and a few friends having been coming out into the studio lately and playing around. I like that. They, like everyone, are always welcome to do so.

I guess what I learned from these experiences is that it is perfectly fine to have your own private Neverlands. There are things that you want to keep to yourself.  That being said, I don’t think anyone should be afraid to open up and share their Neverlands with other people they trust and care about.  There are times that you may want and need to be alone to do your own thing, think, and get things done that you want to do.  I think you have be careful though.

If you dig in and get stuck in your Neverland, and you don’t let anyone else in, or share, you run the risk of ending up just being very isolated and lonely.  Nobody wants to be like that, do they?