A few weeks ago, my family and I went to a book sale hosted by Murray’s South Eastern Book Company. We were really looking more for books we could use in the kids’ homeschooling, but in the process of browsing a couple of titles caught my eye.
One was a book by horror writer and best-selling author Steven King, titled “On Writing.” I’ve always been kind of on the fence concerning King’s writing. He definitely has the ability and talent to weave together passages of stunning power, but he also has a maddening tendency to descend into jolting, needless passages of profanity and general gutter talk. Still, I’ve seen enough examples of the former and read and heard enough interviews with him that I thought a book where he’s discussing the craft of writing might be something I should read. Plus, it was only a quarter.
The other title, at first glance, could not have appeared more different. It was the autobiography of VeggieTales creator Phil Vischer, titled “Me, Myself, & Bob.” Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber have been staples at the Sheridan household for several years now, and we all practically have the “Jonah” movie memorized line-by-line by now. What many people don’t know, however, is that Vischer’s Big Idea Productions eventually went bankrupt, forcing him to sell the company (Vischer still works with VeggieTales, though. I’m not going to go into the explanation here. Look it up on-line or get the book.). I’d heard him speak several months ago on Focus on the Family concerning the whole ordeal and what he was up to post-Veggies, and I thought the book might be worth a read. And, again, it was only a quarter.
I had, honestly, expected to glean much more useful information from the King book than Vischer’s autobiography, since the former author is a writer (which I identify with) and the latter produced, well, CGI videos of animated, talking vegetables (which I have no experience with whatsoever). Instead of focusing the beginning of his book on writing, though, King decided to share some autobiographical details of his own in the first several pages, and – perhaps unsurprisingly, since this is, after all, a book written by Steven King – while he tries to paint a sort of “artist as a young man” picture, most of his early recollections just come off as weird and more than a little disturbing. I guess this is done to offer some insight as to why King developed into a writer of the macabre, but I really had no desire to relive his memories of how one of his babysitters used to sit on his head and pass gas and once fed him eggs until he vomited and then shut him in a closet (I’m not making any of that up. Just read the book.).
From skimming through the rest of the book, it appears King does actually discuss writing as a craft in it, but his initial (and, yes, sometimes vulgar) attempts at telling his own story turned me off enough that I decided to give Vischer’s book a try. Despite hearing the aforementioned Focus on the Family broadcast, I went into “Me, Myself, & Bob” fairly unfamiliar with any of the details of Vischer’s personal life; I just knew he was the guy who created VeggieTales and then lost the whole thing. (Well, that’s not entirely true. I did conduct a radio interview with Vischer and Mike Nawrocki, the voice of Larry the Cucumber, when the VeggieTales movie “The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything” was released. I got them to bust out the Bob and Larry voices, but that was as deep as the conversation went.)
Unlike King’s somewhat rambling personal introduction, I was immediately struck by several of aspects of Vischer’s personal history. For one, he grew up in a small town (Muscatine, Iowa – population 22,886 in the 2010 census). He never went through a particularly rebellious phase, outside of pulling some pranks in college. He showed incredibly ingenuity as a kid by utilizing the video equipment of the day. His grandfather was a famous radio evangelist.
And he was a child of divorce.
I, myself, am not a child of divorce, so Vischer and I do not share that fact in common. What I found we did share in common was an extreme shyness (which Vischer explains developed after the shock of his father walking out on his family one day), a desire to create things, and an initial sense of not knowing what to do with ourselves. Vischer explains in his book how watching hours of MTV as a kid was the genesis of his desire to provide children’s programming that would point them toward God and not toward the values and morality of the culture at-large. It’s a goal he’s still attempting to fulfill today with his newest endeavor, Jellyfish Labs (www.jellyfishlabs.com).
Vischer’s tale and my own begin to veer off into different directions when he leaves home for college (I never left my hometown, and I actually lived at home during a large part of my college education.). He eventually sets up his own business before embarking on what would become VeggieTales. I’m at the point in the book right now where VeggieTales is about to really take off and become successful, which is almost sad because I know what’s going to come after this part of the story. A very fascinating and insightful interview with Vischer appeared in last month’s World magazine. I would highly recommend checking it out at http://www.worldmag.com/articles/18626.
You’re probably wondering, at nearly 1,000 words in, what point I’m trying to get to here. It’s something that’s been brewing inside me for a long, long time, and I’m still not sure what to do with it. It has to do with feeling like you were created for something more than what you’re doing. It also has a lot to do with being afraid to step out and answer the call. It involves a place I’m still not sure I’ll ever get to, but I want to try now more than ever. Two weeks ago, I was dreaming.
Then I went to Disney World.