Wakdjunkaga?

I did take some effort to look through the page for The Book of Seasons and make some much-needed corrections of computer-misheard words and phrases. If any of you read through it and noticed errors I have not fixed, please let me know. With that page in existence, I think I’ll leave the original posts for the last two weekends of that story’s first two chapters as they originally appeared. After all, it is good to be reminded of one’s foolishness, laziness or excessive haste: I did a couple of weekend posts on self-humiliation and its value to oneself back in January (here and here).

However, reading through the saga of Wakdjunkaga’s arrival in room 430 of the Hotel Allison, I started thinking about that character, how he — imagined in the mid-70s — compares to or parallels with me today, as he is supposed to be the future self of that pompous little narrator. I do remember (vaguely by now) that it was in my head to try to predict my own future self in the description of Wakdjunkaga. Doing makeup in high school, community theater and especially college (when I took an interim course during either my sophomore or junior year for three or four weeks on makeup) and having to play characters considerably older than your actual (teen) age interestingly focuses your attention on the issues of aging. There’s nothing like drawing smile lines and facial creases to make you consider the actual, future swipes of the scythe of time (thanks for that image, Will Shakespeare).

I had been made aware by the time I left Fort Madison of my impending balditude. It was an incident I have used in another story — not one, thanks to its vulgar language, that is likely to appear here — when I and two friends had driven up to Minneapolis to attend the Minnesota Renaissance Fair. As we were barely out of college and I had yet to meet my future travel agent/wife, we didn’t make much in the way of preparations and arrived on a Friday evening — no, make that pretty late at night — with no hotel reservation. And it was not only the Renaissance Fair but the Minnesota State Fair that weekend. We visited many hotels before we finally found some rooms. Then having driven for six straight hours and searched for several more, we needed to eat and went to some all-night place like Country Kitchen. While in the restaurant my companions, a male and female — a couple at that time, began giggling at each other as I bent over to slurp soup or eat something that lowered my head at them. They wouldn’t confess what was so funny for a while, but it was my incipient bald spot. I was probably 22 or 23. A crushing blow in those days of long, hippie hair (regardless how unruly, scraggly and unattractive my own hair was; and I had even cut my hair to go off for student teaching — a hugely transitional action).

Naturally, in the story’s “prediction,” I clearly have underestimated the extent of my actual hair loss. And I am currently many years from turning 70. Still another example of imagination outrunning reality to one’s personal frustration.

Unfortunately, at least at present, I also underestimated “his” appearance in other ways, particularly in weight. I’ve been working on the issue I raised January 31, and my running routine has recommenced, but I’m afraid this Wakdjunkaga (meaning the genuine me) in this particular actual reality among the potentially infinite variations of the multiverse is not the svelte and scrawny fellow from the story.

Durwood Wakdjunkaga (?) in the portrait infamously not by Rembrandt van Rijn

Of course, I was also misleading myself, suckered by the all-powerful allure of Art. (And I don’t mean someone nicknamed from Arthur.) Also in my head while writing those vastly dated chapters about the Hotel Allison was the first image of actual Art I had ever acquired (and which, to Janet’s chagrin and amusement, I still possess). One day after my family had moved to Mt. Pleasant, while I was still in high school, maybe even in the first year we lived in that community, my sophomore year, I was sent to the grocery store. I don’t remember at all what I was sent buy, but on display were certain “art prints” available at a discount to customers. There had to be more than just one such print, but I only remember the one that hypnotized my utter being: Rembrandt’s The Man in a Golden Helmet. I don’t remember if it came home with me that day or if it took a while, but fairly soon I was the proud possessor of the cardboard print, to be held in its very own “genuine wooden” frame.

The print held a place of honor in many of my residences, beginning with my own rooms in our family home on Green Street. Since our marriage, Janet has consigned it to less important locations than I had preferred. And it spent the last 20 years or more in various places around my room and the drama storage at Andrew Community School, once I brought it there, later to be copied by art instructor Steve Lucke as the portrait of Sir Simon de Canterville for our production of The Canterville Ghost (and Lucke made an excellent copy that looked just like actor Drew Goettler). Now it lives in our garage, alongside my favorite heirloom from high school drama, a photograph of V. I Lenin, which I was altogether too abashed to ever take to school.

Of course, Man in a Golden Helmet is the most famous painting to be infamously not by Rembrandt. Don’t believe me? Click the link in the title of the picture above. Time Magazine explains it all very well. That damned Rembrandt authentication committee! I’m afraid that Janet took great glee (and still does), reminding me the picture has long been discredited, however much I may yet love it.

That old man in that golden helmet, I know, was meant to be Durwood Wakdjunkaga in The Book of Seasons. So if you read those posts or the page, don’t imagine the hairless, chubby author in that role but the well-known non-Rembrandt figure, dressed in modern clothes.

Clearly, if I meant Wakdjunkaga to be a kind of imagined future self portrait, I failed. On the other hand, some elements of my personal taste in clothing seem to have been set earlier than I had recalled. I’m thinking of that vest Wakdjunkaga is wearing. I had thought that at the time I wrote these chapters of The Book of Seasons, the vest was just imaginary. Or at best it was a modification of the blue denim chore coats I had started wearing about the time I settled down in Maquoketa.

—But this particular post may have run on long enough for today. We’ll discuss vests and pockets another time.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Whence Wakdjunkaga

I have been perhaps overusing old poetry to create posts, but I have enjoyed an interesting time looking back through the old stuff, both reminiscing and reading things I haven’t even remembered to think of in literal decades. You may have to endure more verse tomorrow (I don’t know yet) as I have at least seven poems already saved for the addition of commentary and scheduling. We’ll just have to see how it goes.

For today I do intend to explain the source of the pseudonym Durwood Wakdjunkaga. It won’t be as long as the first part last Saturday because I don’t have a whole novel idea to summarize in explanation, and I already explained that I have used Durwood Wakdjunkaga as a pen name for a long time—right back to the very beginning in Andrew.

Where did the name come from? That’s the question for today. Whence “Wakdjunkaga?” (And you will all be happy to know I bothered to double-check my word skills to know for sure that I am using whence correctly.)

Once again, let’s trek back in time to the 1970s—directly to the middle of the decade. I had graduated from Iowa Wesleyan in May of 1975, having already—after a none-too-lengthy job search (involving only four interviews, I believe, but about a hundred letters of application)—accepted a teaching position only thirty miles from college and home, at Ft. Madison Senior High School. I would teach English, assist with yearbook production, and direct the senior class play in the spring. I was at the time of graduation still with my college-era girlfriend, who had gone off herself to college that year and who would find her own future later that coming autumn, cascading a tumult of poetic inspiration for me (perhaps because after that I had a lot of free time to sit around, get moody and write—somewhat like retiring from teaching but with no computers or internet yet and much less personal history to review and revise). The issues prompting “Busy Music” occurred that spring, and for the summer we got back together (thanks I have always felt to my beginning to express my sense of silly humor and acting skills—ah, André the lovable Frenchman—no more on that for any of your prurient interests). Amusingly, for the silly sense of humor, I would discover Monty Python’s Flying Circus on Iowa Public Television (whatever it was called in those sainted days of yore) while living on my own for the first time that fall and winter.

I found a furnished apartment in Ft. Madison, high in an old house, partway up the hill that descends to the Mississippi in town (later the top of that hill would develop serious significance for me, but that was the next bicentennial summer and after). The living room in the front of the house loomed out over Avenue D from very high above, and sitting there, looking out and down at the distant ground beneath, I frequently felt like I was in my own personal starship heading off for galaxies unknown (such is the nature of the influence of what we read and one’s naivete and the potential energy unleashed by arriving within one’s destiny). The place was genuinely dismal, but I didn’t know or really care.

My brother Paul headed off for a year in Spain, so I took over his aged Chevy—fated to lose its brakes one winter Friday night en route to the former favorite professor’s married-student-housing apartment in Coralville as he restarted his career after IWC in social work (I still remember gliding in neutral across Iowa City, scoring success with the lights for the most part and avoiding arrest on the questionable intersection passages, to reach a halt at last by bumping with pretty solid force into the building which was my destination; strangely I don’t remember how I got home after the weekend or how the brakes got fixed—probably via my father in the garage on Green Street in Mt. Pleasant).

Iowa City’s Old Capitol, as I have never seen it

…which is the long way around of saying I settled in to live and teach in Ft. Madison as of late July 1975. That winter, on one of my nearly weekly excursions to Iowa City (ah the old days of snow fence, Bushnell’s Turtle, and the temporary buildings in the streets), I was looking at books in Book and Crook on its corner not quite across the street from the Old Capitol (not yet in those days regilded on its dome) when I discovered The Trickster by Paul Radin. I bought the book and devoured it immediately over Christmas break 1975.

I have been intrigued by Native American cultures since we read about that Fifties-perfect figure Fleetfoot in elementary readers (no Dick and Jane for me: at the primary level I learned phonetics, and in Rock Island, at Denkmann, we had whatever bland whitecake boy and girl were Fleetfoot’s prominent friends). Radin’s book was an easy addition to my (then still moderate) library.

Not only did I start my continuing interest in Jung (and Karl Kerényi), who have essays in the book, but I learned all about the Winnebago Trickster deity—Wakdjunkaga. As the links (do any of you actually click on those and learn some things?) should tell you, Tricksters are mythological divinities that screw up frequently (sometimes deliberately, often maliciously), demonstrating little true self-control, behaving clownishly and sometimes even creating reality or devising cultural advances—generally by accident. Radin’s whole book is available through the link. Somehow, Wakdjunkaga appealed to me.

Thus the immortal surname arrived in my life. It was weird (as most who have encountered the word through me have determined for themselves) and it was appropriate. It was perfect. Like any true WASP American I acquired the Native American property without qualm or hesitation to make it my own (listen, tightie whities: “immigrant-go-home” should mean YOU and our ancestors). And when I searched “wakdjunkaga” on Google just now, I turn out to be the first hits.

“Durwood” is a little more obvious, coming from ”durwyrd” via Graves’s The White Goddess (a druidical word which he translates as “oak seer”)—a book which I also purchased and read that same winter. Thus the name combines a mass of true and (probably) false ethnology, archaeology and anthropology in my own alter ego (actually the character from the future who turns out to be identical with, though older than, my alter ego in The Book of Seasons). A tricky, selfish, cunning, mischievous, malicious, generous, comical, wise and magical being: myself. (Yes, you may feel free to laugh aloud along with me.)

So now you know both why and whence came Wakdjunkaga’s Blog. Interested to explore Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd. S.A. next?

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Why Wakdjunkaga

First, before we explore today’s topic—the title of this blog—I should acknowledge that last night was the first of two performances of Peace Pipe Players’ production of One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Tonight will be the closing performance (at 7:00 PM at the Ohnward Fine Arts Center in Maquoketa.). I play one of the crazies in the insane asylum, Scanlon, the bomb nut. I’ll talk about the show is a future post, but you’re all welcome to come…

Furthermore, we topped 2000 hits on the blog yesterday—an inconsiderable amount in the world of big-time blogging, but I was pleased. I hope you all keep reading—and tell your friends (or enemies).

But back on topic: why do I call it “Wakdjunkaga’s Blog?”

Why indeed?

My friend Sharon asked in a comment about the name of the blog. Was it some local thing? Local, if you live in northern Wisconsin, maybe. But that element has only a little to do with me and this blog.

Wakdjunkaga is a kind of alter-ego for me, a false identity on no occasion but a pen name for most of my plays in their original productions at Andrew Community School. Many of those plays, and most of the choral reading and readers theatre pieces we developed ourselves were presented as “by Durwood Wakdjunkaga.” I think the first official use of that name happened at a district individual events speech contest when a girl of great talent received an unfair rating (aren’t all the judgments with which we disagree unfair?) and would have been unable to advance to state. However, in my youthful ineptitude, we had an open spot for a poetry reader, scheduled to perform later in the afternoon (or at least an hour or so after the maltreated girl had received her II rating). We had just one problem (other than no performer, but of course this girl was going to be the substitute)—no poem to read. So I wrote one (fortunately, I believe it may only exist in the poetry files at the school or you might be reading it in one of these posts, and I have an otherwise embarrassing poem slated for tomorrow). Needing an author’s name for her to announce as she read the thing (and she did receive a I this time), I quickly settled on “Durwood Wakdjunkaga.”

Not as catchy as “George Orwell,” probably, certainly less memorable than “Mark Twain.” But my own.

So where did it come from? That’s where the story gets going…

In college one semester, I took a creative writing class, taught by the president of Iowa Wesleyan and former head of the English department. His was not the normal career path for an English professor, but Dr. Louis A. Haselmayer seemed to me then everything a college president should be (and, as I would later find out, then some). Naturally, everyone in the class wrote poems, including me (at least for the first couple of sessions). But I grew bored with uncritical reception of my verse (most of us were also members of Sigma Tau Delta, the English fraternity, at meetings for which we also exchanged writing—usually poetry—for discussion and critique as well as publishing a magazine every spring). So I decided to try writing a novel (I’d tried that several times previously in junior high and high school—all very incomplete), working up a chapter for each class session. I haven’t seen any of those pages, for which I was too ignorant to create carbons, in many years, so I assumed they’re long lost (we worked on typewriters in those days, a manual for me).

However, the story was titled The Book of Seasons, with reference to a pretended magical grimoire Liber Tempestatum (“The Book of Seasons” in Latin—me showing off my high school language study), in emulation of H.P. Lovecraft and his circle’s many hideous volumes of eldritch lore, particularly the nefarious Necronomicon. In what I wrote, a young person has inherited an old manse in which he finds this eerie ancient tome (straight copying of more than one Lovecraftian plot). I don’t think the actual story got much further than his discovery of the book. Evidently, not Dr. Haselmayer nor anyone in the class was familiar with Lovecraft, who was still pretty obscure and disrespected as a pulpster in those ancient days of 1971-75 (I don’t now recall in which year of my college career I took this class). I was unaware of the derivative nature of my story, so even after the class ended, I kept plugging away desultorily at it.

I own such a photojournalist’s vest

Actually, I jettisoned everything I had done for the class and started fresh. After my student-teaching stays at the antiquated, rundown, now-demolished, but beloved Hotel Allison in Cedar Rapids—first for a week in August and then during the longer second stay when I actually student-taught in November and December 1974—I came up with a more original plot. A character (as always, much like myself) was staying in the Hotel Allison (I don’t think I ever specified a reason), when one day literally out of thin air, a strange older man, dressed in strange clothing, popped into existence in the young man’s room and promptly passed out. I remember (the text is lost, I am pretty sure) the young man was cooking a can of beans in the can on a hotplate, contrary to all the regulations for residents at the Allison Hotel—as I had frequently done myself. Almost immediately, the young man went through the bald, old guy’s pockets (and he had many, wearing some strange kind of a multipocketed vest—all this written at the latest during my years in Ft. Madison, therefore long before I ever purchased a photojournalist’s vest, regardless how well-known I am for wearing them always now). Young man found several things of interest—some rods of various woods, powders and containers of other substances, and a strange book—not exactly a paperback because both the cover and pages seem to be either made of or encased in plastic.The book was poetry entitled A Book of Seasons by…

—I needed a name, and after a long process of calculation (which I will discuss in much greater detail later), I devised Durwood Wakdjunkaga.

When he had revived and received some food, the older man revealed he had come from the future, and was here to rewrite his own history. He was the author of the book of poems, so he was Durwood Wakdjunkaga. I think I intended for him to be a magician or wizard, having acquired the other Book of Seasons (the magic book from the earlier version of the story) in his youth, probably in the same way that I had developed for the creative writing class (I never got much past the old guy’s arrival and eventual introduction of himself). I intended these two to hang around Cedar Rapids and do various things the old guy wanted accomplished, with the youngster acquiring experience and wisdom from this future-elder, until the young man had to return to… well, I never had a good reason for him to be at the Hotel Allison, and I wasn’t sure I wanted him student teaching, so we have a hole in the plot outline here.

The old guy helps the young man meet a woman, prevents him from receiving a letter, and then vanishes, having left behind a message for the young man, who falls in love with the young woman and eventually marries her. The message reveals that Durwood and the young man are the same person: Durwood is the young man’s older self from the future, who regrets the path his life had taken (mostly because he received the mysterious letter, acquired the Liber Tempestatum, became interested in black magic or whatever, and never properly fell in love with the young woman—or perhaps he viciously sacrificed her, a virgin, to acquire his thaumaturgical powers; I liked the second version better, and I never did write any of this, just imagined it, so it’s all open-ended). As an old, lonely man, he realized that love would have been preferable to magic, so he used the magic powers he had acquired (by killing this young woman so many years before) to travel back in time and prevent himself from ever becoming a wizard (and her from dying). By succeeding, he extinguished himself.

Ta-daaah! There’s never been anything like that plot before. Not.

The book never got further than chapter two, as the old guy wakes up in the Hotel Allison, but the name and the sense of Durwood Wakdjunkaga being a kind of alter ego for me (after all, who else was the youngster in the Hotel Allison but my surrogate?) have never gone away. In fact, I am going to play with the older-looks-at-younger-looks-at-older self for tomorrow’s post.

So it’s “Wakdjunkaga’s Blog” because it’s my blog, and pseudonymously I am Durwood Wakdjunkaga. In fact, if the students who have asked did as I suggested, I have even foisted the pen name on my replacement to use as the author of their choral reading piece, performed today at the Iowa High School Speech Association district large group contest in Monticello. (I hope they did well, especially since everyone was probably as excited—or more excited—about the Andrew Homecoming Dance tonight.)

I hope that explains why this is “Wakdjunkaga’s Blog.”

However, we still don’t know where or how I came up with Durwood Wakdjunkaga as a name. As this post is definitely long enough, you will just have to wait for the rest of the story (along with waiting for the rest of “Details, Details”). Both will be forthcoming…

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.