Back when I was kid there was something we were taught to be concerned about, our “vocation.” This was somewhat like the perennial question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” but with a religious and spiritual aspect.
As the word “vocation” suggests, we, while still children, were asked to consider our calling, what task God would ask us to do with our lives. Yes, there as an expectation inherent in that, that some of us would find that we had been called by God to become Christian clergy, but at least in my small town and church, this was not set out as the answer most of us were to find. It was assumed that each of us would obtain a distinct answer fitting to our talents and the universe’s needs.
Religious paintings depict a calling as a clear and vivid action,, like in a comic book
The folks who provided religious instruction in my town were practical people, and I couldn’t picture any of them expecting us children to be visited by spirit birds, or hear mystic voices to lead our country into battle. Rather they expected a small inner voice to whisper to us that we should be family farmers, or mechanics, or nurses and so forth. In my family, I could look to a grandfather who I never knew, who was called to the Christian ministry, or to an uncle who followed his father’s path, or to the more complex stories of my parents, whose vocational path I’ll defer talking about for reasons of space now. It never occurred to me, but I could have asked my teachers or myself about my great-grandfather and namesake, who would have had to have been called to be a common laborer by this scheme. Somehow this talk of calling and vocation seemed a bit grand a process for that.
I never knew what to answer that question with until my late teens when I decided that I would be a poet. That’s certainly a grandiose enough answer for this religiously-infused process, but even in my naïve youth I knew that meant I’d be doing something else beside that with my lifetime. So, a calling, but no answer to what I wanted to be when I grew up.
Most decisions to become an artist of any kind expose a person to things that will mess up one’s life. First off, you are going to do something that is likely unlikeable—you are going to privilege your own interpretations of our common life as somehow more valuable than modest silence or undecorated space. Even successful artists most often have a majority of people judging what they produce as not worthy of their time, or generically replaceable by something similar but different from what you do. And these odds of rejection, combined with the concentration of effort needed for much artistic work, make many artists defend their self/center with self-centeredness.
So there, as so often here in the Parlando Project, I’ve violated one of the principles that I set out to follow: I’ve spent time here with my story, talking about myself. Alternate Parlando Project presenter Dave Moore avoided this in today’s episode “Wally Wood” which Dave gave the longer title “Wally Wood’s Co(s)mic Philosophy.”
Here’s what Dave had to say about the piece:
“Wallace Wood was one of the great comic book artists of the fifties and sixties. His detail work for EC Comics and Mad is still astounding to look at. Like many, he was also an alcoholic, and increasingly bitter as he aged. His words in the song are from a late interview in some fanzine.
I can’t draw, so far be it from me to draw conclusions about success or happiness. Or the scope of a talented artist’s frustrated Fifties ambitions. What strikes me most are the words ‘And yet’ after a pause. No matter what he says, no matter how things ‘work out,’ it was worth it for me and all the thousands of others who enjoyed his work. Go look him up, you won’t forget him.”
Wally Wood, combustible master of line
What did Wally Wood add the “And yet” to? Listen and find out, using the player below.