Saturday, March 24, 2018

An Antidote to Being One-Dimensional

Yesterday while working on a project my mind kept returning to a scene from Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes. If you are unfamiliar with the story, it's a worthy read about youth and old age, good and evil. It is somewhat fantastical but has some good life lessons without being moralistic.

A carnival comes to town run by a Mr. Dark, and it is a dark carnival. The story centers on two teens, Will and Jim, and Will's father Jim. The seen I vividly recall, perhaps because when played in the film by Jason Robards it struck me so vividly, takes place in a hall of mirrors. I can't recall whether regret is the trap that captured all the other people lost in that labyrinth. What I recall is that Will's father, on his knees weeping, is wracked by regret because he has looked too deeply into the mirrors.

Here's the thought I had: when one looks into the mirror of one's acts--over a long lifetime of one's acts--it can be difficult, even loathsome, to look too deeply because of those moments where we have behaved badly or hurt people or acted stupidly so that we regret what we said or did. And that this regret is something akin to Chinese handcuffs. Did you ever stick your fingers into Chinese handcuffs when you were a kid? The first time children encounter these finger traps they think that you can escape by pulling, but the more you pull the more you are bound. It's deceptive, and counterintuitive. The path to freedom is to push in, hold it then wriggle your finger out.

This was my thought yesterday afternoon. The regret which Charles Halloway (Jason Robards) encountered in the Hall of Mirrors was a trap, a trap like Chinese handcuffs. It's deceptive because there is nothing you can do to change the past.

This image was brought to mind by one of the ten items in Parnell Thill's column One-Dimentional, which appeared earlier this year in the Pine Journal, the one instructing us to look in the mirror, which you will read below.

* * * *
Parnell Thill is currently Sr. Marketing Manager at AMSOIL INC., but has been an Adjunct Professor of Marketing at one of our local colleges and columnist since the mid-90s for the Cloquet Pine Journal, where this post originally appeared. This spring Parnell was honored as “Columnist of the Year” by the “Minnesota Newspapers Association” for his column, Notes from the Small Pond. His first book, Killing the Devil and Other Excellent Tricks, is available on

Guest Post by Parnell Thill

We are easily seduced. We believe we "get it" and understand the multitudinous and nuanced "Understanding of Things." We shake our heads at those that disagree on Facebook and change the channel to our own when we accidentally hear an opposing opinion. I've said this a thousand times because I'm old.

But seriously.

Here's 10 things to do that everyone should and no one will:

10. Shake the hand of a person who doesn't have a hand, but a hook or another prosthesis, and ask how the original equipment was lost. And listen. Write it down.

9. Interview the oldest person in your family. Ask them about their earliest memory and their most brutal/joyous. Write it down.

8. Go to Pine Valley after midnight and lay on your back in the snow or mud or grass with the wind or the mosquitoes or the ticks and look at the sky and wonder about what the same sky looked like in that exact spot 50 years ago. Five thousand years ago. Fifty thousand. Mind bend. Write it down.

7. Volunteer at a hospice. Be loving to the beloved. Write it down.

6. Find one of those old-school gumball machines and slide your nickel in and crank the dial to extract one of those purple, bumpy, grape gumballs that make your mouth pucker and sucker and douse your mouth with saliva to dilute the sugar your teeth hate. Thanks, evolution. Write it down.

5. Walk on crutches. Humbling. Not humiliating, but humbling. Write it down.

4. Start a fire with no matches or no lighter. It can be done and has been for 40,000 years but hasn't been for a hundred by anyone that anyone knows. Write it the hell down.

3. Eat raw protein, something that used to be swimming or climbing or running or hoping it wouldn't die, but did. Give in to your apex predator. Write it down.

2. Tell yourself the truth. Take a deep breath and stand in front of a mirror and tell yourself what you think of yourself. Chickens--t. Write it, loser.

1. Lie.

Cloquet resident Parnell Thill, former Pine Knot editor, has been penning his "Notes From the Small Pond" column for decades, or at least that's what it feels like. Contact him c/o

Read more of Parnell's columns at the Pine Journal website. 

1 comment:

Ed Newman said...

Well, I couldn't post this without at least doing some of it. The second item in the list --Interview the oldest person in your family. Ask them about their earliest memory and their most brutal/joyous. -- I did today, asking my mom her earliest memory.
She first shared how her brother, my Uncle Ted, would take carry milk bottles to school but on several occasions broke them. On one occasion he left the broken glass from one of these broken pint milk bottles on the playground by the swingset. While pushing my mom (she was maybe three years old) she flew off the swing and landed on the broken glass and cut open her shin, which today remain a long scar there.

Another early memory, a couple years later. She was in first grade in a one room school house and one of the boys in the class would take her ribbons (she wore pigtails) and one time she got mad and stole his schoolbook and threw it down the toilet... which in those days was an Outhouse.

Well, first she got a spanking from her teacher, then her mom and then her dad... and her parents has to buy a new book for the boy. A hard lesson about the downside of taking revenge.

Note: This first school teacher later became president of West Virginia University, which later became my brother's alma mater.

Up above the schoolhouse, the old turnpike used to go through Highland. This road above the main road had a cutout where teaberries grew. So kids would go up and chew the teaberry leaves.

Years later mom, her sister and cousin (a retired pilot from Delta) went back up there to see if there were still teaberries there... and there were.

So many stories... all you need to do is ask.