Saturday, August 1, 2020


It might not be the first memory I have of my Nana but it is one of the first. My Nana didn’t move around a lot out in the world for many reasons. Her friends were the people on her soap operas. “The Secret Storm”, “The Edge Of Night”, “One Life To Live” and a handful more.

She would watch one after another despite my grandfather, Bampoo, occasionally shouting into the room that one was enough and that he had a mind to pull the plug on that television set.

I watched them all with her. All those hundreds of hours, at a very young age, of people’s problems and the peccadilloes they got themselves into might have had something to do with the fact that one of the hats I would wear when I grew up was that of psychotherapist.

Now the deal between Nana and I watching Soap Operas all day was, at a point, there was an empty half-hour. Nana would use that time to read to me. All children should be read to. It is very important.

In this very first memory of my Nana, she is reading me a Hans Christian Andersen Fairy Tale, “The Little Mermaid”. The Disney movie has deep elements and a lot to recommend it but the original fairy tale goes much deeper and darker and offers a warning.

The little mermaid begins with a beautiful, iridescent, scaled tale and is able to move fluidly in a land where she belongs. One day she pokes her head out of the water and looks towards the shore at the land where human beings walk on two legs. She falls in love with the prince and is willing to sacrifice everything she is to get those two legs and live in his world. It never occurs to her that she will be a fish out of the water. Never fit in. Never belong.

The little mermaid makes a pact with the Seawitch and gives up everything. Her birthright. Her kingdom. She receives two legs in return and a brief chance to live on dry land and get the prince to love her.

How does it feel to exchange your tale for two legs? The little mermaid finds it tremendously painful to walk. And she doesn’t feel like herself. And she doesn’t feel comfortable in her own skin.

The original Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale does not end well. Time runs out and the little mermaid doesn’t win the prince. And she has given up her authenticity and her throne in the underwater world to which she belonged.

I could not have gotten a better warning about life at the starting gate then this fairy tale. I didn’t take the warning. I have replayed this fairytale and ended up giving up my shimmering tale and trying to walk on two spindly painful legs in places where I don’t belong more times than I care to recount.

But all that is an editorial sidenote. Here is what I really wanna tell you...

My grandmother’s television set was a piece of furniture that had wooden doors. Very old-school. And whenever we weren’t watching TV those doors had to be shut.

In the early days of television people were suspicious about opening up their lives and their living rooms to the presence of a television set. When they figured out they could disguise it as a piece of furniture they felt much more comfortable.

So I got up from my grandmother’s floral pattern couch and shut the doors on the television set and then sat back down and snuggled next to her and she began to read to me the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale of “The Little Mermaid.”

I was listening to the sound of her voice and to the sound of her words and the meaning of the words when suddenly, in my mind, I started to see the story. I got very scared. This had never happened to me before.

My grandmother noticed my fright and asked me what was wrong. I told her that while she was reading I was starting to see the story in my head.

She gave me a beautiful little smile and then in her crackly, gravelly voice she said to me, “That is your imagination. You have just discovered your imagination. Just relax and enjoy it!”

So I did. And I have been ever since. Maybe a tad too much every now and then.

How wonderful to remember the exact moment when I became conscious of having an imagination.

Listen to William Martin's podcast episode here.

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