Over the past several years, I’ve had numerous dreams involving alternate versions of my book, Iron Man Family Outing. The usual dream scenario goes something like this:
I’m surprised to discover a published version of my book that is somehow different than the published version I know in waking reality. Either I never knew about this alternate version, or I’d forgotten about it somehow. Sometimes it was published by me and sometimes by someone else. The alternate version of the book typically includes material that didn’t appear in the real book, such as additional poems, different artwork, and/or commentary on the poems with notes for readers.
Each time I’ve had one of these dreams, I’ve puzzled over its meaning without developing any sort of useful conclusions. But about a week ago, I had another dream that followed the same pattern, and this one came to me with something new: a direction I could use to investigate the dream in waking reality.
In this most recent dream, I find two alternate versions of my book that I’d forgotten, one of which contains “some additional ‘lost’ material from the same period that I didn’t include in the original book.” The dream ends as follows:
finding these alternate versions is exciting for me
I’d completely forgotten about them and now I want to go home and
dig out the old IMFO archive box
to see what else I’ve forgotten I had.
The “old IMFO archive box” to which I refer in the dream is a real physical object in waking reality, a large box in my closet containing everything I’d saved that was produced during the creation and publication of Iron Man Family Outing. I’d packed this stuff up and taped the box shut years ago, and really had no idea what was in there any more. But I felt clearly directed by the dream to pull that box out of the closet and explore its contents, whatever they might be. And I was excited that I finally had something tangible to help me follow up on the information that had been presented to me repeatedly over several years in this ongoing, very puzzling series of dreams.
A few days went by and the dream slipped out of my consciousness as I fell back into the usual “rush to nowhere” routine of the workweek. But as the weekend approached, I remembered the dream, especially the direction I received at the end, and I made a commitment to myself to dig into the closet, find that box, and open it up. I had a strong feeling, though, that I shouldn’t open it on a weeknight. Something told me I needed to wait until I had a nice chunk of free, open time for this job.
I cracked the box open two days ago and what a surprise. I found all kinds of stuff I’d completely forgotten, including early versions of the manuscript for Iron Man Family Outing that are substantially different than the final version that was published. One of these versions (marked V4 Jan 1990) contains original commentary by my friend, the remarkably talented David Jewell.
David had provided one of the original sparks for the book by leading a poetry workshop that I attended. After the workshop ended, I continued to write and he continued to encourage me. As a matter of fact, he was the first person who told me, “You’re writing a book.” After working through several versions of the manuscript, I reached a point at which I felt I had something that was finished, and I asked David to review it for me and give me some editorial guidance.
I’ve known all along that David played a critical part in the creation of the book, but until I read through his commentary on the V4 Jan 1990 manuscript this weekend, I must say that I’d forgotten what a valuable role he played as an editor. His feedback was wise and honest, sometimes cutting, sometimes humorous, but always generous and always pointed in the direction of improving the manuscript. He commented on what worked for him and what didn’t, suggested I restore some things from previous manuscripts that I’d deleted, and pulled me back from going over the edge with pieces that were too raw, too alienating, poorly centered, or underdeveloped.
I didn’t agree with everything he said, and I didn’t follow every recommendation he made, but the difference between the V4 Jan 1990 manuscript David reviewed and the book I published is substantial. As a result of David’s feedback, I cut, rearranged, and restored some things, and I wrote a whole lot more new stuff.
Probably about a third of the final book was written after David’s feedback. I also made some major revisions to a poem called “fused at the wound” which has turned out to be one of the most popular pieces in the book. In its original incarnation, it was about twice as long, and David’s comments motivated me to tighten it up, which was obviously the right thing to do. I can say without any reservation that Iron Man Family Outing, in its present form, would not have existed without David Jewell’s input. So, thank you again, David.
Another amazing discovery was an envelope containing all of the notes and sketches produced in the course of my work with another extraordinarily talented contributor to the project, Austin artist John Dolley. (I wish John had a web site so I could link to it, but I can’t find one for him.) My collaboration with John was perhaps the most purely fun aspect of the whole project, and seeing all that material from the time we spent working together really brought a smile to my face.
I’d met John a couple of years prior to writing my book and seen a magnificent sketch he’d made of a scene from a dream he’d had. Little did I know that this was just the tip of the iceberg as far as John’s talent as an artist, but even so, that sketch made a big impression on me. When I needed an artist to develop some illustrations for my new book, I remembered John and contacted him. I gave him a copy of the finished manuscript and a few pages of notes about my ideas regarding artwork for the book. I remember being anxious, wondering what he’d come up with, wondering if it would be a good match for what I’d written.
I needn’t have worried. John’s first set of sketches showed me immediately that he got it, that he understood what I was saying with the book and what it meant. I was amazed at the resonance and sensitivity toward the material that his drawings demonstrated, and I knew this partnership was going to work … not just work, but elevate what I’d written to a whole new level that I’d never foreseen.
About half of John’s original concept illustrations were right on the mark. He nailed them the first time, right out of the box. The other half didn’t work so well for me, but I had some ideas of my own. John was completely open to my suggestions and feedback. Not a trace of ego in this guy. He used my notes and very crude drawings to rework the portions of his presentation that I didn’t like, and he did everything, down to the finest detail, right to my specifications.
It was such a joy to work with John. And he worked hard, drawing numerous thorough renditions of the Iron Man … from the front, from the back, details of various parts of the armor. He’d show me what he had, I’d give him some feedback based on my vision of how things should look, then he’d revise until I was happy. Amazing. Probably the best experience I’ve ever had working with anyone, on anything.
John also took Polaroids of all sorts of things as references for what he was illustrating … trees, clouds, buildings, furniture, and numerous poses of me, standing in for the Iron Man. John was a total blast to work with, and seeing all those notes, drawings, Polaroids, and all the rest brought it all back to me. Thanks again, John. Your work really made the book.
I found all sorts of other things as well in my journey through the archive box, including a nearly final version of the manuscript that included my notes from the dozen or so early readers from whom I’d solicited feedback. These folks also made essential contributions to the book, as it was their feedback that helped me determine the ultimate shape of the book with regard to the final set of poems and the sequence in which they appeared. There are too many names to list here, and many of them have moved out of my life and on to places unknown, but I send my thanks out to each of them for their generosity and their help.
Among my other discoveries in the big box was perhaps the biggest surprise of all: a folder containing about fifty unpublished poems I’d written during the development of the book that I’d chosen not to include in the final version. I was stunned. I’d been under the impression for as long as I can remember that I’d used just about everything I’d written. I knew there were some pieces I hadn’t used, but not fifty!
I’m still in the process of reviewing and evaluating this cache of forgotten work. If you’ve ever listened to a CD reissue with extra tracks that weren’t included at the time the original recording was released, or checked out the deleted scenes from a movie on DVD, what I’m about to say won’t come as a surprise. There’s a reason why some of those fifty or so pieces were forgotten in that box for all those years: they’re not very good. Some are underdeveloped. Some are little more than glorified journal entries. Some are nonsense word streams that say nothing and go nowhere. Some are aimed at targets that don’t matter to me any more. And some are just so over-the-top raw that it’s simply not reasonable for me to expect another person to read them. I can barely read them myself.
But, as is often the case with the extra tracks on the CD or the deleted movie scenes, I also see some pieces that may have some potential, maybe a dozen or so. Some of them might need a little tweak or two. I couldn’t see myself writing most of them now, but I’m finding some things I like, that still make sense in the time and the context in which I wrote them, and I may release some of these forgotten pieces, my “Iron Man Family Outtakes,” in some form one of these days, perhaps here on the blog.
As anyone who knows me can attest, the process of taking Iron Man Family Outing from conception to completion was quick and easy compared to the challenges I’ve faced in the years that followed trying to get it out to readers. In the last eighteen months, this project, dormant for so long, has undergone an incredible and completely unexpected resurrection, and I’m grateful to everyone who’s contributed to that process. Eighteen months ago, with boxes and boxes of my books sitting unread and useless in my closet, it would have been incredibly painful for me to open the “old imfo archive box” and see all those artifacts of a time when my book felt so alive and full of potential.
But now, with so many copies of the book out in the world, in the hands of so many people, I have a greater sense of completion with regard to the project and to many of the original experiences that motivated it. Helping others move forward through their own issues is a great source of satisfaction and validates my original vision for the book. Consequently, I can explore these long-forgotten keepsakes, remember my good fortune in having been blessed with such talented, generous creative partners, and enjoy my memories of that extraordinary time in my life.
And once again, I have to thank my dreams. The Iron Man Family Outing project began for me with a series of dreams, so it seems only fitting that a series of dreams would call me back to the artifacts of its creation, and at the right time. I wonder if my dream series about alternate versions of the book has reached its end, now that I’ve opened the box of long-forgotten artifacts. I guess that, as in all things in life, time will tell.
The Iron Man Family Artifacts by Rick Belden, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.