b Papa Dog's Blog: Making Myths, Telling Stories (Baby Dog's Fourteenth Birthday Present)

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Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Making Myths, Telling Stories (Baby Dog's Fourteenth Birthday Present)

I suppose I’m blowing the surprise if she happens to read this between now and then, but I figured out last night what I’m going to give Baby Dog for her fourteenth birthday. Well, we can always give her something else in addition, whatever’s popular for teenaged girls in the year 2018. Brain chip implants of boy band videos*. Rub-on piercings. One of those new hover-Segways. Whatever. What I’m going to give her is the poker chip that she selected at her Doljabee. I have thirteen years to make it more interesting than a gold-coloured clay chip. Maybe we can turn it into a piece of jewellery or something. More than enough time to figure that out.

I settled on the age of fourteen as the right time to give this particular gift partly because it’s two sevens, which is auspicious, but mostly because it’s right around the age where kids are expected to start thinking seriously about what they’re going to do with their lives, or at least become acquainted with the notion of doing so. It will be meant as a reminder that she has already confronted this question, though she wasn’t conscious of it at the time. A few weeks back, I told Mama Dog that I fully expected Baby Dog to abide for the rest of her life by whatever decision she made in the Doljabee, and that I would sternly insist on her following through. I was kidding. I don’t want Baby Dog to grow up to be a card sharp or an art swindler or whatever interpretation we might like to put on her curious selection of objects. I want her to grow up to be whatever she wants to be. But I really believe, in my half-assedly superstitious way, that the poker chip will play some part in helping her know what that is.

At the risk of lapsing into an utterly uncharacteristic strain of new-ageyness, what I think is, we are engaged all our lives in the business of constructing our own personal mythologies. Some people are more conscious of this than others, but we all do it, either as a way to understand ourselves or as a way to remain blind to our failings. My preference, for myself and for Baby Dog, is the former. I think anybody who engages in a creative discipline is particularly conscious of this process, and of those, writers are more conscious of it than anyone. For a writer, a symbol is only as useful as the narrative that gives it context. We need a story to hang our icons on. Because – at least in my mythology of self – I’ve always been a very inwardly directed person, it didn’t occur to me until very recently that these building blocks of myth don’t spring wholly from our innate selves. We have help arriving at them, and the first people who help us are our parents, our families. How often have I come back in this faversham to the importance The Clancy Brothers have had in my life? Would I know a damn thing about them if my parents hadn’t watched the Ed Sullivan Show? No. So Baby Dog likes ducks, and maybe ducks will be an important symbol for the rest of her life – or maybe not. But why does she like them so? Maybe she has some innate affinity for them, or maybe she was drawn to them because every time we came across a picture of a duck in a book, I’d say, “There’s the duck. The duck says ‘quack quack quack.’”

So that’s the point of the poker chip. In addition to keeping her off the pole, I’m considering it my job to help her construct her myth. She’ll take what she needs and reject what she doesn’t – her myth, not mine – but I’m going to make sure she knows the parts of her story she’s unable to remember herself. The chip may mean nothing to her or it may strike some deep chord, but either way it will inform the story she wants to tell.
*I’ll be dating myself by insisting on referring to them as “videos,” but that’s what parents in their mid-fifties do. I’ll still be calling the audio-only versions “albums” without ever having passed through the intermediary stage of calling them “CDs,” so fuck off.


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