The Boy and the Bushmaster
“It was at that point, I just knew I wanted to be a phlebotomist!”
We all have our dreams. But how many of us know from whence those dreams came? How often do we take the time to look back on our life to see what spurred our desire to become a nurse, or a teacher, or a truck driver?
If I asked you to single out the one event in your past that had the most influence on your career path, what would it be?
It’s easy to say, “I’ve always known I wanted to be a hairdresser.” Or, “Ever since I was a kid, I dreamed of working in a meat-packing facility.” What’s not always so easy is to dig deeply into your memory bank and try to point to one defining moment that set you on your current journey.
Personally, there were several things I experienced as a child that I can point to now as pushing me in the direction of writing, acting, and audio production. Some of these I touched upon in my very first blog post. But there is one thing that I always remember as having a lasting effect on both of my career choices (radio production and writing).
The Bushmaster, one of the world’s largest and deadliest snakes.
OK, technically, it was a story about a bushmaster snake, but the reptile was the star and the title character – so I’m more than happy to give it all the credit it deserves or wants. When the longest viper in the Western Hemisphere demands its Evian, you jump up and get it. Allow me to explain…
My Introduction to Theatre of the Mind:
It was the mid-’70′s, and my father, who had grown up during the Golden Age of Radio and was a big fan of classic shows like “Lux Radio Theater” and “The Lone Ranger,” purchased a record collection featuring all sorts of these programs. There were comedies, dramas, even some musical-variety productions. And he couldn’t wait to play them for me.
I had my reservations.
Only 10-years-old or so at the time but already quite familiar with this thing called a ‘television,’ I couldn’t imagine how anyone could just sit and listen to a bunch of people ‘talk’ while acting out a story. There were no pictures! No TV screen! No visuals of any kind, except a flat, black vinyl disc spinning around and around and around, lulling oneself into a near-hypnosis…how could anyone call that entertainment?? My father assured me I’d enjoy them; however, I was pretty confident that he had no idea what he was talking about. This was going to be boring.
As you’ve probably guessed, it turned out I loved them. I was amazed at how much my imagination filled in the “visual gaps” that came from not seeing the pictures! I wasn’t consciously aware this was happening, of course - I was simply enjoying the stories and voices and sound effects. It really was enormously different from anything I had experienced. But it was nothing compared to the experience that scared – and scarred – me for life.
The Boy and the Bushmaster
One of the programs on this record collection was an episode of CBS Radio’s “Escape” anthology series. With its big, bold musical introduction using “Night on Bald Mountain” and the voices of legends like William Conrad and Paul Frees, it was a show that demanded to be listened to. This particularly tense episode was titled “Shipment of Mute Fate,” and was about a Bushmaster snake (genus name, Lachesis, refers to The Three Fates of Greek mythology – get it, “Mute Fate?”) that gets loose on a cargo ship headed from Venezuela to New York City.
The entire action is confined to this ship; the main cast of characters consists of not much more than the captain, the sailor who brought the snake onboard, and the snake itself, along with some crew members and one other important person (sorry, can’t say who – potential spoiler!) So as far as radio dramas go, this was pretty basic as far as production values. But after just one listen, I couldn’t stop.
I played it again. And again. And again and again and again. I have no idea how many times I picked up the needle and dropped it back to the beginning of the track (also known as “hitting repeat,” for you younger readers), but it made such an impression on me and created such vivid imagery in my mind that I became literally scared to death that reptiles – snakes, alligators, take your pick – were going to mysteriously materialize under my bed and attack me as soon as I climbed in. None of this “they’re going to get me while I’m sleeping” business…I knew they were ready to go as soon as my foot was off the floor and under the covers. Consequently, I slept with those covers over my head for years. I got so used to sleeping that way, as a matter of fact, that I was still covering my entire head when I got married, even though the threat of spontaneous croc attacks was fairly minimal on the 2nd-floor of our St. Albans, Vermont apartment.
So as I think about this experience, it’s no wonder that, consciously or subconsciously, I eventually got into acting, especially voice-acting. I started reading more. I started writing stories. I started writing and recording my own little radio dramas, complete with my own sound effects! And to this day I am still creating stories, whether they are poems, commercials, or picture books.
And, I’m happy to report, my home is currently reptile-free and I’m sleeping comfortably.
Have you remembered that one defining moment yet?
Don’t just go with the first thing that pops into your head, either. Spend some time ruminating on it. Perhaps, in doing so, you’ll learn something about yourself, your past, or even your loved ones. After all, they obviously like you for some reason…even if you don’t know what that reason is. And once you have that event in your mind, think about how your life might be different now if something else had occurred instead. You may find an answer you’ve been searching for. You may find an answer to a question you didn’t even know had been asked.
You may also discover something about your character – why you like certain things, why you behave the way you do, why you always do that certain ‘thing’ when you get nervous.
And if you’re a writer, you may even discover a NEW character! How cool would that be?