Will J. J.

Day-to-day musings and occasional short stories for your delight.


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The Last Toy

 

Have you ever longed to return to a specific moment from your childhood, and change something? I can’t go back, but today it feels like I’ve finally done right by the little boy inside me, and I can’t help but smile.

 

Growing up, my family was very poor. My toys were few, mostly ragged trinkets from the goodwill. Every Sunday, my mom read the newspaper, and I would scour the toy ads, knowing that we couldn’t afford any of them. I would cut out the pictures of the toys and save them, playing with those pictures as if they were the toys themselves. I had an entire fleet of Star Wars ship pictures, and they were far more portable than most toys, because I could slip them all into a folder and take them anywhere. Still, any time one of my pictures was ripped or got wet, I was reminded of just how little I had.

kraft mac and cheese

In 1998, Kraft ran a promotion with their macaroni and cheese products for DC superheroes. If you mailed in a certain number of box tops from these kraft boxes, Kraft would mail back one of three toys: a Superman, Batman, or Wonder Woman figure from the cartoons running at the time. As a kid, superheroes were the one fandom I was a part of, and seeing this promotion lit up my eyes. I had my sights set on the Superman balancing toy, because it portrayed him in flight, and I thought that was incredibly cool. We already ate mac and cheese on a regular basis, so all I had to do was collect the box tops and mail them in.

 

For the next couple of months, I carefully collected and stored the labels, until I had enough. I still recall the day I licked the stamp and mailed the envelope, specifying that I wanted the Superman toy. After that, I waited. Weeks went by, then months. In my naivete, I assumed that Kraft was simply slow with their response, and it would arrive any day. After over 6 months, I finally asked my mom, who had forgotten about the matter entirely. We called Kraft and explained that we had mailed in the box tops but never received anything back.The representative apologized, but said that they no longer had that toy line in stock. They offered me a Rugrats toy instead. A RUGRATS toy??? Are you kidding me? Rugrats cannot compare with the joy of imagining a hero flying over buildings and beating bad guys. Through tears, I told them not to send the Rugrats toy.

 

It might seem like a small matter, but to a 6 year old boy, it was devastating. I did everything I was supposed to. I collected the box tops. I mailed them in, following the instructions. I waited patiently for months, and I received nothing. When you’re a kid, your world is much smaller. You focus on the few things you’re aware of, and they are your everything. My view was even more narrow than most kids, so I invested a great deal of hope on that toy.

 

In the months and years to come, my life moved in other directions, but I never forgot about that Superman toy and that experience. I think it was the feeling of sorrow and injustice that stuck with me. Obviously I wanted the toy, but had I received it, I doubt I’d still be thinking about it years later. The lesson seemed to be that, no matter what you do, the world doesn’t always respond fairly, and that lesson stung. From that moment on, the toy represented far more to me than just play value.

 

When I reached my teenage years, I started intermittently combing through the internet, searching for the toy. It was years before I found any mention of the toy line or promotion, and I never found any for sale. After over a decade of looking, I had little hope of finding the toy, but I’d check every now and then, just in case. I never found any for sale until last week.

 

Emily and I were discussing a package UPS had shipped my way. There were issues with the shipment, and I was thinking through the steps I would need to take to get my package or a refund. Something about that thought reminded me of this toy, once again, and I offhandedly searched for it, the first time in a few months. Lo and behold, I found a man selling the exact toy on ebay, and I hastily bought the item, more excited than I would have thought possible.

superman toy

The toy came in yesterday, and I unboxed it in a fury. The man had never opened it, as the toy was still wrapped in the sealed plastic bag, as it would have in 1998. It felt like I was a 6 year old boy again, and all the expectation and sadness came rushing back to me, this time capped with a warm blanket of satisfaction, made all the more fulfilling because of the extremely protracted wait. I can’t go back and give this toy to that 6 year old boy, but even now, 19 years later, this is something worth celebrating 🙂

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Car Window

Car Window

 

Hey guys,

 

Today I wanted to share a poem I’ve been working on. I had a thought recently about the very essence of riding in a car, and how much that has changed for me since I was a little boy. This poem is a translation of that thought’s conclusion. Hope you enjoy it 🙂

 

Car Window

 

Gazing through to the world beyond,

The glass window, ever beside you,

Cruising down the winding asphalt,

Hills and plains rolling gently past.

 

Shifting focus to sights nearby,

A patch of grass, by the roadside,

A branching tree, atop the green.

At last, you draw them into view,

Out of the constant blur of speed,

Reaching out to them with your eyes,

A lone moment of clarity,

Before they’re gone, swept behind you.

 

Your gaze drifts into the distance,

Houses clustered, etching the bluffs,

Faraway mountains, standing tall,

Massive cities, sprawling and bright.

Passing slowly, distant landmarks,

As if you were barely moving.

 

Riding up familiar roadways,

Fingers tracing along the glass,

On the cold, wintry weather days.

Every bump and turn, routine,

The daily trip you know so well.

New, unknown routes still excite you,

Concrete webbed for thousands of miles,

Skirting peaks and dodging water.

 

Years pass, your position changes,

Passenger to watchful driver,

Your gaze forward, the road ahead,

Fewer moments to peer aside,

Allowing your mind to wander,

And take in the beautiful view.

 

But when you do, so seldom now,

You recall that soothing feeling,

The world passing, both fast and slow.


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Dreams

Dreams

photo (25)

 

Day 3147

I’ve had some interesting dreams the past couple of days. I remember most of my dreams, and I’ve gotten into the habit of writing them down as soon as I wake up, so after a few years of that, I’ve collected a broad range of dreams. Some are mundane and are clearly influenced by my thoughts during the day. Others are so fantastical and bizarre that they leave me thinking for days or longer, and those often serve as the inspirations for my writings. The last two dreams I’ve remembered have been those sorts of quizzical experiences.

Last night, my dream was very simple. I was walking down an empty road at night. Streetlights lit the middle of the road every hundred feet or so. Passing by a building on the right, I stopped in front of a novelty shop. There was a sign in the window that read “everything is on sale!” in bright, red letters. As I peered into the store beyond, I realized that the space was empty. There were no shelves and no displays, only two mannequins, completely bare, placed directly in front of the window. I remember feeling oddly puzzled and wondering, just before I woke up, how much the mannequins would cost. A peculiar dream to say the least, though I will say that roads have been a common theme for me, both in my dreams and in my writings.

My dream from two nights ago was far simpler, at least the portion that I remember. Normally, my dreams are filled with vivid imagery, but this one was the first I’ve ever had that was completely devoid of images. It was also the shortest dream I’ve ever had. All the dream consisted of was a voice whispering me a question. “If you could change any one thing, what would it be?” That was it. A single question, but that question has remained at the forefront of my mind ever since. I started wondering, what WOULD I change? If I could truly change anything, anything at all, what would I even want to change? Would I alter some event in time, past, present, or future? Would I modify some feature of myself? Would I make all humans green?

 

The enormity of the question struck me hard, and in the two days since, I have come no closer to an answer. What frightens me about this question is the fact that, even if I focus solely on what I would change in my own life, I’m not necessarily certain what it is that I would want. I’ve always been a very driven person with goals to strive for. For the first time ever, I am on the cusp of being utterly in control of my life. I have a great job (two jobs, actually), a degree, a published novel, and I will be debt free in a few short months. In a sense, the question is real for me because I do have the power to transform my life, to make a change. Perhaps wise or perhaps foolish, I’ve spent a great deal of my life resisting the things that I want in favor of the things I feel are right and those that serve a greater purpose, to the point that I have trouble giving in to my own desires or even listening to them. It may sound silly, but I’m not good at wanting things lol. Clearly I have some soul-searching to do.

Any thoughts or advice, friends? If you could change any one thing, what would it be?


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The Question Of Starting

Day 3096

Image

There is a question that has been running through my mind quite a bit lately, and though I’ve been toying with the puzzle like a rubik’s cube all week, I still haven’t figured it out. Why is it so much more difficult to get ourselves to do certain tasks? Not necessarily that those undertakings are any more challenging in themselves, it’s just that much harder to get started on them, because we know they carry greater meaning.

Conventional wisdom states that we set our own priorities and that the tasks we make time for are the ones that we truly value. While that may be true in many cases, I feel like it also has a tendency to oversimplify. If I spent my nights wanting nothing more than to play the violin, and yet that was the one activity I neglected, would that automatically mean that I did not want to play after all? No, I don’t believe so, and that is where this question has stemmed from. In my mind, the things we want most are often the things we are most afraid to admit to ourselves, because we fear what that will mean.

I like to think that I manage my time well, and for the most part I do. On a daily basis, I am acutely aware of how little time we actually get in a life, and sometimes that realization stops me in my tracks. How do I know that I am spending my life in the fullest way? That’s an awfully big question to ask yourself, but it’s one that is very important to me. I decided a long time ago that I would strive for meaning and honor always, and whenever I feel myself slipping even slightly into complacency, it frightens me. I fear most the possibility of looking back and realizing that I could have done more because I focused on the wrong area.

People are, in certain ways, like a single stem cell. Every stem cell begins its lifespan in a state of totipotency, meaning that it has the ability to become any type of cell in the body, just as a child sees such endless possibilities for their own life. As each stem cell ages, it becomes more specialized, losing the ability to become certain types of cells. As each person ages, certain pathways close, and while it is always possible to make a change, we are never able to face the same choice a second time. When confronted with a task of significant emotional and personal investment, it can feel much easier to avoid the task and focus on something less impactful, even if that substitute is far less fulfilling. Bypassing the task enables the person to avoid the larger questions it entails, such as, is this what I truly want? Of course, that only delays the inevitable, but we don’t realize that in the moment, because we are emotional creatures given to impulsive highs and lows.

In these sorts of moments, I try to remind myself that not choosing any path is a choice in itself, and definitely not the one I desire. But even armed with reason, I find myself frozen at times, and it takes every ounce of my willpower to overcome that sensation. At the end of the day, I recognize that there is no surefire way to know that we are on the right path, and in the rare moments when those questions creep into my mind, I can only push forward, hope for the best, and keep my eyes open.