Shell Shocked: So I make things up
Let’s hold it right there, folks. I’ve been writing this column for 31 years and some of my readers still aren’t aware that I make things up. I believe the term is literary license. Yes, I confess. I have a literary license.
I’m going to give you some examples of my literary license. If these can’t convince you that my imagination will never pass a lie detector test, then nothing ever will.
I once wrote a column suggesting that Sanibel could raise a lot of money if we installed a sun tax. It would be a graduated tax on sunbathers and would depend on how deep a tan they got. One irate reader stormed into the offices of the Islander and declared that there would be yet another new tax over his dead body. He was assured by the editors that I was engaging in a bit of whimsy and wasn’t serious about advocating a new tax. He seemed to get the message but was still shaking his head when he left.
Another column I wrote had to do with feeding birds on the beach. I was well aware of the statutes forbidding this act but once again I let my imagination run away with me, as I am prone to do, and painted a picture of thousands of birds gathering around me much like the scenes in the Hitchcock movie “The Birds.” Wouldn’t you know it? The Islander received angry letters demanding that I be arrested and stripped of my beach privileges. Once again, my stalwart supporters at the Islander rushed to my defense and pointed out for the umpteenth time that I write satire, whimsy, and not to be taken literally streams of consciousness.
I wrote a column once claiming that I had counted every tennis court in Sanibel. I said that there were 10, 120 tennis courts in Sanibel or almost one per capita. My numbers were disputed vigorously as they should have been considering that I was making the whole thing up.
I often write about talking alligators, geckos, egrets, sea turtles, manatees and Sanibel’s two dinosaurs. I even wrote about a Martian I ran into at Bailey’s. You the reader can either assume that I’m making all this up or that I’m seriously mentally impaired. I invite you to draw your own conclusions. But if you want to complain about my violations of truth and reality you shouldn’t complain to the Islander editors. You shouldn’t even complain to me.
You should blame Miss Schwartz, my third grade teacher. She liked the way I wrote but told me that I was too serious. She urged me to let my imagination run wild and create my own world. She encouraged me to invent situations and people. She told me that if I did so I would look at the world much differently.
As I got older the lesson that Miss Schwartz taught me really sunk in. The real world consisted of wars, terrorism, genocide, poverty and disease. Miss Schwartz taught me a valuable lesson. If you take the world too seriously then you’re in danger of succumbing to despair, fear and unhappiness. But if you create your own world of whimsy, humor, satire and imagination then you have a place to go to when all else is crumbling around you.
Yes, I was a slow learner and was 18-years-old when I was in the third grade. But Miss Schwartz didn’t single me out in any way even though I was a foot taller than the rest of my classmates. They all accepted me for what I was a very, very, very slow learner. But they kept inviting me to tell them stories and in doing so I opened my mind to inventiveness and exaggeration, characteristics of my 31 years of writing “Shell Shocked.”
So, if you want fast breaking news tune into CNN. If you want to read news about Sanibel read the Island Reporter. If you want gossip about public figures read the National Enquirer. But if you want to hear what a cat has to say when someone throws a ball of thread in its face then stay tuned right here.
-Art Stevens is a long-time columnist for The Islander. His tongue-in-cheek humor is always offered with a smile.