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Brian McMillan’s Stick Figures

| April 25, 2010

Need we say more? From the Nanette Newman classic, Vote For Love (1976)

“Matthew, 3, Idaho Falls, Idaho: While sitting on the toilet, he called his mom in for help. ‘Did you poop?’ Mom asked. ‘It started to come out, but then it went right back in like a yo-yo!'”

“Grant, 3, Palm Coast, Florida” (under the heading: “Metabolism Explained”): “Jumping in place, he says, ‘This is how you hexercise. Hexercising makes you eat faster.'”

“Jackson, 6, Palm Coast, Florida: ‘Endangered’ means there used to be a lot, but now there’s just a bit.'”

You’ll find these and other sayings by the smallest creatures caroming around their verbal discoveries at Brian McMillan’s Stick Figures of Us, a new blog from Palm Coast devoted to the reason nostalgia was invented: “Remembering my own kids’ one-liners and the tender-mercy moments, as well as yours,” Brian writes in his inaugural post (headlined, not coincidentally, with the first three words of Genesis), “will remind us how great it is to be parents. This is what life is all about.”

Not that the joys (and terrors) of parenting aren’t their own alarm bells. What they need, the joys especially, is a mechanism that bottles them up, preserves them the way those roadside museums all over byway America preserve “fearsome crowns of bolts, trusses, struts, nuts, insulators, and such” (as Updike described the constancy “more constant than evergreens” of companions even more enduring than children, whether we like them or not: telephone poles; I happen to love both, and some telephone poles more than some children I’ve known).

“Stick Figures” appears to be Brian’s mechanism for now, and parents across the land, some of them surely transmitting their one-liners by way of those same telephone poles, are keyboarding their stories. (“James, 6 (or 7), Marquette, Michigan: He’s older now, but when he was 6 or 7, James said, ‘When I get married I don’t want to kiss my wife, I just want that golden ring.'” The question is: did he get it?)

The blog reminds me of the great Nanette Newman books from the mid-70s in England, of kids’ sayings and drawings about love, parents, politics, war and such, like this gem from Jill, aged 7: “I think when you vote you have to do it in private. Its like swearing.” Or John, same age: “My daddy says he votes to go to the pub every night,” and Allison, 9: “Politicians are people sometimes.” That’s just on one page. It’s hilarious: “Not many people vote for Jesus now because he didn’t keep his promise,” from Gordon, aged 7. And Barack Obama thinks he has problems. Still some of my favorite books, which I first read in Lebanon, hardly understanding what was then a foreign language, and have now passed down to my children.

Good to see Nanette Newman rebooted. Brian McMillan is a just-published poet and the managing editor of the Palm Coast Observer, the weekly that shot out of the racks in this previously no-newspaper town a couple of months back–a daring act, considering print’s growing affinities for dodos. Then again some of the people making up Palm Coast’s demographics remember the days when they had dodos for pets, so a newspaper is a powerful nostalgic experience for them. Brian and I cross paths now and then at government meetings or rallies or other sundry inanities that thicken up any local reporter’s book of hours upon hours. I suspect we’ll have more interesting stories to swap from our children’s Everest climbs than anything a county commissioner or a city manager can think up.

Brian has three young children (I have two), and what looks like wit-in-waiting. In waiting, I assume, for being shell-shocked by his recent move to America’s premier exurb. I thought I had trouble getting used to Southern West Virginia after New York City and Chapel Hill, back in the days of the first Bush and pre-Monica Bill. It was nothing compared to the time it took to acculturate to the flatlandish sprawls and crawls of our beloved Medicare-by-the-Sea otherwise known as Palm Coast (as the city’s insecurities remind you with a Palm Coast sign stalking you at every other turn). I’m not alone.

Parenting moves us in ways more mysterious than any god and her brothers could think up though. My youngest son was born here. This is his home. This is his world, as it has been for his older sister, whose memories of former Floridas are fading faster than developers’ relevance. Terrifying as that might sound (my children’s identity I mean, not developers’ fading, which is a blessing), it is also the wonder of our middle-aged and strangely happy lives, stranger still considering that some of us are freshly and even more happily unemployed. This life of ours is cadenced as if, to borrow Brian’s words, to the sound of a child snoring: “the hiss of hydraulics, a rake through gravel, an ordering rhythm.” The suburban metaphors are no coincidence either, I’m sure, but that’s our lives now: we are the suburbs of our children’s universe, wherever they may be. The surroundings are less relevant than what they make of us through them.

I realize I’ve gone a bit afield from Brian’s original stick figures, but this isn’t an entry for a National Academy of Arts & Letters contest. It’s how Brian’s welcome blog got me thinking. Speaking of which: run over there and friend it or favorite it or fan it or whatever it is the tyrants of Facebook are forcing us to do at this hour.

One last word though. I notice Brian chose Blogspot as his platform. Incidentally, the very same template I chose for my first Book of Job in blogland some six years ago. (My first line in that vast wasteland: “John Roberts will be confirmed by the Senate and remain a Supreme Court judge until I’m past retirement then fertilizing daisies with my ashes.” We’re on pace.) Brian: Blogspot is the print of blogs, it’s disco in bytes. Migrate to a more flexible platform, quick, before it hijacks your inspiration with its rigidities. Not that Stick Figures won’t make us see past any limitations Blogspot throws in the way.

You can reach Brian McMillan or contribute your children’s one-liners at

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