The Kingdom 15: The Apprentice

Here we go again. Welcome to the blog blast of the section that I call The Kingdom from the book Reality of the Unreal Mind, Vol. 3: The Keep. The Kingdom is an explanation of the work itself. You can’t understand any writer unless you know their work. So Friday we began at 6 p.m. and I will release one blog every two hours and fifteen minutes. That means we’ll finish the story of my work and its future, my work and its past, at 7:30 on Sunday evening. There are some crazy things in here. Some setbacks we never could have made it past without the people who care about me. There are some crazy things in here. Plans that I have and things that I’m doing that, simply put, are impossible. But everything’s impossible until it’s finished, until it’s been done or accomplished. There are some crazy things in here. Dreams so wild and so immense that to think they’re within reach you have to be a little unhinged. And while reading this small collection of blog posts, you’ll hear the rantings of the Lunatic of Fantasy. You’ll find in these posts the past, present, and future of the writing of Jesse Teller.

Slowly, while I am fighting Sasquatch’s war for him, I am building my empire. A lot of it was a deep desire to make a mark on the fantasy world, but wrapped up in that desire was a need to show him that hard work made a difference. When you are driven and you want it badly, you can do magical things. I get into The Manhunters and I write Song.

Song is like nothing I have ever written before. There is so much to it that I can’t get into. You have to read that book to see the things I do with its end. I was proud of it at 200 pages. It was a rough draft, but the fact that Sasquatch had not read a single thing I had written was becoming an issue.

Two years into our friendship he wanted me to praise him because he could remember the names Peter Redfist, Jordai Stonefist, and Aaron the Marked.

All of my work came down to these three characters. They were the main focus of every conversation we had about my work. And when after two years he could only manage to recite three names that I had been talking about incessantly, I had enough.

I made an issue about him reading Song. Told him he had to do it, had to make it happen. Told him that if he didn’t at least make an effort to read my work, we were going to have a problem. So he took Song. He read it. It was two hundred pages. It took him eight months to read it.

When he read it, he flipped out, told me it was my best work and that I needed to drop everything and try to get it published. He said it “had legs” and that the rest of my work was fine but this was it. This was where I would make my mark.

Excited, I ran to Bekah.

“Sasquatch read… He said he loved… Has legs…” I grabbed her by the shoulders and I said, “Sasquatch said this is the greatest book I’ve ever written.”

Blacksmiths slide steel or metal of other kinds into a forge, and they watch. That steel turns red and malleable. And they can hammer it into whatever shape they wish. As I looked into Bekah’s eyes, I did not see cherry red malleable steel. I saw molten metal.

“How does he know?! How does he have any idea what your greatest work is! He— He doesn’t know who Flak and Roe are! He doesn’t— I mean— he’s never seen Sob walk into a room. Don’t listen to him!” She shook her head, she pulled away from my hands. And she got that look on her face, that bulldog rage on her face. And she said, “Do not listen to him.” And there was darkness on her face. Let’s pause right here. My loving wife has backed away from my grasp. She is stabbing her feet at the ground which is the foundation of my house. She is staring at me with flaming eyes and gnashing teeth, and she is begging me, she is ordering me, she is sobbing, “Don’t listen to him.”

It would be years before I was ready to self-publish Song. When I did, I added another 125 pages. While I was working on it, he said he needed to say something about the book. He needed to make his opinion known because he couldn’t just sit by and let me do this and not say something.

“In my opinion, that book is too much. There are too many reveals and endings. Too many climaxes. That book pays off too many times. Pull it back. Nobody wants that.”

Well, I told him I was going to add another climax to it with my new character. He shrugged and told me he tried. Tried to make me pull back the pay offs for the reader. What that was meant to do, I don’t know. But I took it as a bad thing.

Now we have to add Kraken to this shit show. He becomes part of this drama and when he does, he has learned so much from Sasquatch. Learned great lessons. Sasquatch gave that man so much. Let’s see what that is.

So a friend of mine at the dojo comes to me one day and asks if I had anyone that her nephew could submit his work to. He wants to be a graphic novelist. He wants to send out his work.

I promise her to get a list of names and when I get home, I start to wonder if he is ready. I know better than anyone how long it takes to get ready to even submit a piece, let alone finish one. So I ask her at the next class if she thinks he is ready. How much does he work? How dedicated is he?

He plays video games. He watches movies. He is not ready at all.

But I want to help this kid, and I want to inspire Sasquatch to get to work. So I decide to take him on as a project. I can give him some advice about writing. Sasquatch can help him with the drawing. We can give back to the community. We can help a man reach a dream.

I introduce the idea to Sasquatch, and even though he scowls at the notion of anyone else coming into the Friday night group, he lets it lie. “He had better be ready to work,” he said, and we wait until the next Friday to see what we have to work with.

The kid is young, maybe 24, and he is excited. We hit him right away with the rules of the group, a lecture that I hope Sasquatch is listening to right now.

“The only rule of this group is that if you want to join here, you have to work all the time,” I said.

“All the time,” Sasquatch adds. “If you are not ready to devote yourself to the craft we will teach you, then don’t waste our time.”

Now Kraken was on time, but Sasquatch came in late. He walked right past Kraken that first day and didn’t say a word. He simply started talking to me about his week and never acknowledged the kid sitting five feet away from him at all. He talked for about ten minutes without pause before a break in his speech where I could introduce them.

Kraken was scared to death. But he wanted in this group, and he was ready to work for it. I had told him before he got to my house to bring us some samples of his drawings. We wanted to see where he was.

Well first Sasquatch pulls out a portfolio and shows Kraken his work. This is leagues away from where this kid is, but Sasquatch needs to display dominance. So he flaunts his ability before this kid and then tells him to show his own stuff.

I tell Kraken the rules to a critique. “You stand right there and listen. You can ask questions for clarification, but never try to explain anything and never interrupt us. We will tell you what we think and you will learn. We can talk after and you can say anything you want about what you have brought us. But you will learn more by shutting your mouth and watching us talk about your work than explaining yourself. Your work needs to stand up to peer review on its own.”

I smiled at him. “So brace yourself. Because this is going to hurt.” I lay a hand on his shoulder and smile. “Remember this. You are going to suck for years. For years your work will be terrible. Mine was. Sasquatch’s was.”

Sasquatch did not like that at all, but I kept going.

“Keep in mind that no one knows what they are doing in the beginning. The masters, in the beginning, they were fools. Everyone wears a jester’s suit into a master’s studio.” I looked him in the eye. Kraken was so scared at what I would say next. “You have miles. You have hours, years, to go before you’re good. I like you. We’ve laughed. I like the Superman t-shirt. But this is a road less taken, and there will be broken pencils, trashed sketchbooks, years of cussing and kicking your desk. You have miles to go before you sleep.”

He was heaving. He was scared. He looked me in the eye, and he… he looked me in the eye and Kraken wanted to run. I grabbed his wide shoulders and looked him in his panicking eyes, and I said what Sasquatch never would. “I’m with you on that road. Now, we’re going to rip you apart. If we want any input from you, we’ll ask you. Otherwise, Kraken,” I smiled at him. Was it Adam that smiled? Maybe Prince that smiled? Was there the stench of gasoline filling the air? “Kraken, shut the fuck up,” again that smile, the indefinable smile. “And learn as much as you can.”

Then the critique. It was brutal. Sasquatch broke that kid. I did my best to be as encouraging as possible, but everything Sasquatch said was cutting. I would ask Sasquatch why I didn’t like a line in a drawing, or an image overall. Because I did not have the vocabulary to say what I was seeing, and Sasquatch would tell me. I would say that I liked a thing and Sasquatch would stay silent.

No criticism that Sasquatch gave was complementary. He had nothing nice to say. When we were done, I grabbed Kraken by the shoulders and smiled as I looked at him with love and a gentle gaze.

“You’re at a starting place. Everyone—me, even Sasquatch—everyone is terrible at the beginning. We will get you there. Don’t walk away.”

“Got to go to the bathroom,” Kraken said. And he walked out. He stayed in the bathroom long enough to put himself back together before he came back.

“This is the last time we will see this kid,” Sasquatch said. “He doesn’t have the stuff to hear that again. We just broke that kid’s dream.”

But Kraken did come back. He had new work to show and he got torn into again. He had taken all the advice. He had learned from it and worked on his problems.

See Kraken is a rare breed. He is what I like to call a master student. He can learn anything he chooses to know, and if he wants it, he has the will to do it. Right away his work started to improve, and we continued to be hard on him.

Then he brought in his first brilliant piece. He showed it to us at Sasquatch’s house. It was the profile of a screaming man with bionics on his face. His head was bolted together and he looked as if he was in searing agony. When I opened the page in the sketchbook I lost my mind. I would not shut up about it. It was flawless. There was nothing to complain about.

There is no price he could name, if I had the money, that I would not pay. I would give Kraken $15 for this sketch from this sketchbook. I would give Kraken $25,000 for this sketch from this sketchbook. There is no limit to the amount of money I would pay, because here in this profile, this right here in this moment, this is when Kraken broke Sasquatch. He snapped him in half.

I’m not evil. If you’ve gotten this far, you know I’m not evil. I don’t wanna see people fail. What I want is I want masters to delight in the accomplishments of their students. And when I looked at that picture, that screaming profile, joy. This is not a story about how Kraken is better at drawing than Sasquatch. This is a story of delight. When I looked at this picture, I felt joy and delight at the wild progress of my friend. Kraken had become my friend. But this picture is also a lesson to men like Sasquatch, and I’ll lay it out for you now.

Do not teach if your goal is not for your student to become better than you. If you do not wish to be DaVinci’s master, then shut the fuck up and don’t teach DaVinci.

Twenty five thousand dollars, I would call it a deal, because this is the moment when I understood the difference between a master and a sadist. When I looked at this profile, the master in me wanted to kiss Kraken on the mouth. And the sadist in Sasquatch walked away.

Sasquatch walked deeper into the kitchen and said nothing. He kept his mouth shut, and no matter how many times I called him back to look at it, he would not say anything nice about it. Finally I straight up asked him.

“Isn’t this awesome?”

“Yeah, it’s pretty good, but he has a long way to go,” Sasquatch said.

I was upset. It bounced right off of Kraken. He said nothing, and nothing that Sasquatch said upset him. He’s a master student. When I had taken him by the shoulders, that hard conversation I had looking into his eyes, You’re gonna suck for a long time, he was prepared for Sasquatch’s dismissal. It rolled off him and he was unaffected. Or at least, that is the way it seemed to me.

A few weeks later and we tell Kraken to get a big piece of paper and do one huge piece. We want it to take up an entire piece of paper and take his time on it. Show us what you can do.

Well it was about three weeks later that he brought it in.

It was breathtaking. It depicted a great kraken coming from the sea. Its tentacles were spread everywhere, its beak was flashing, and in the very middle of the work, a small boat. And a man with a harpoon leaping into the mouth.

I was shocked. In two short months he had created a great piece of art. He said he had plans to work on the water and he didn’t like the waves and they could be doing a better job of showing off the kraken, but we were pretty excited. He and I, Kraken and Jesse, were celebrating. In another world, maybe a cartoon world, think Pee Wee Herman, Kraken and I would have grabbed each other, giggled, jumped in a circle, and considered ourselves victorious.

I went nuts. I told him he had earned his place with us.

Sasquatch said nothing. He barely looked at it.

I took down one of the two Tim Burton figurines that I had left and I handed it to Kraken. “This is a mark of belonging. You are part of the group now. Welcome anytime. You have earned it.”

Kraken was humbled.

So was Sasquatch.

This chapter is from Reality of the Unreal Mind, Vol. 3: The Keep, available on Amazon.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s