The Incredible Mind of Captain Slow

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James May is now my new muse of inspiration, and believe me I don’t take lightly who occupies that little spot below my office computer screen. Image: Lisa Kay Tate

I had to fire a Time Lord.

I’ve had a little cut out picture of actor David Tennant on the base of computer screen for a few years, now. He seems like a likable guy, and he is a great actor, but he’s never been my favorite. I don’t even particularly find him physically attractive (don’t tell my daughter this, please, I might get tarred and feathered), but I’ve looked the little speck square in the eye every day for several days on end.

You see, he was my “muse.” When my writing work load became increasingly larger, I found myself getting distracted by everything from the temperature of my tea to Facebook, which was where I ran across a meme of a judgmental little Tennant in full Tenth Doctor gear standing next to the text “YOU Should be Writing.” He was right. I should have been, so I got distracted again, printed out the picture and stuck it to my computer as motivation.

I talked a little about the importance of getting a muse a couple of years ago in my To-Do List post to help keep me in tune with my goals.

Well, I’m at the point in my life right now where I’m tired of the criticism and need some full-on sympathetic, and empathetic, encouragement. I’m tired of little snips of inadequacy from a former Time Lord, so I “retired” the image to my daughter’s bedside bulletin board of wiry British actors. For a short time, I was “muse-less,” guided only by deadlines, guilt, Chinese gunpowder tea, and Monster Energy drinks. Not a good mix, nor really a tasty one at 3 a.m.

Then I “discovered” James May.

I’ve known who May is for some time, everyone who watched the first 22 seasons of Top Gear UK does. I begin to delve into his work more and more of recent, when I begin mainlining the show, as I mentioned in a my Father’s Day Top Gear article. I got hooked on his Toy Stories, his Man Lab, his Big Ideas, his 20th Century specials, Things You Need to Know, and even his and wine expert Oz Clarke’s slightly buzzed road movies. I kept on a steady stream of his mind-filling online Head Squeeze web videos, now reborn sans May as BritLab, while working on otherwise mind-numbing computer jobs.

Somewhere in this video muddle, I found a kindred spirit. My husband holds the title as my “soul mate,” but May’s mind comes closer to my way of thinking than anyone else’s. Is it possible to have a “brain mate?”

This isn’t to say I don’t have plenty of role models and influences in my life. No one person can take up that mantle. My family, friends, educators, pastors, and a cadre of writers, musicians, and great thinkers help fill those hefty shoes.

However, I’ve resolved myself to only have one actual “muse” and May now claims that title with absolutely no competition.

I’m not planning on giving a laundry list of May’s professional achievements. Instead, I want to touch on the very nature of this man, from what I’ve casually noticed, that makes him so uniquely appealing to everyone and anyone with a maker’s mind.

Therefore, here are my main reasons May is my new, and I suspect permanent, muse:

I get him! And, whether he knows it or not, he gets me. Watching his Toy Stories achievements in particular, I completely felt for his failures and setbacks. I’ve personally teared up in frustration when some grand scheme of mine didn’t work, no matter how insignificant it seemed to the world around me. There’s still a rocket out there in the West Texas desert with a roll of undeveloped Kodachrome, likely with a picture of three idiots looking up at it from the Sul Ross Range Animal Science parking lot wondering, “where the hell did it go?”

I’m not trying to speak for all GeekMoms, but I’m reasonably sure we all share a fondness for Lego bricks. Fellow GeekMom Maryann Goldman has written some great pieces on them, and Judy Berna even wrote about May’s own Lego house project in 2011. Seeing how May has brought people together to achieve projects like this house was, and still is, inspiring.

He did this with his plasticine garden, and his 1:1 scale model of the Spitfire model. I loved seeing these teenagers get into these projects. I’ve already built models with both my daughters, as my father did with me as a young girl. We even tried…and failed…to get one to run on salt water. Don’t ask.

One of my earliest creative memories was collecting broken glass in the arroyo (desert) and wanting to glue them together to make house-shaped votives. My dad let me fill my pockets, but knew full well this was going to crash and burn after multiple attempts at trying to use Elmer’s school glue as adhesive. I was three. It just got worse from there. Backyard haunted houses, Millennium Falcon mock-ups, and re-creations of all most of Indiana Jones’s artifacts as home decor (did I mention the latter is a current project)?

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We’ve been making little gardens out of Play-Doh for ages. Now my youngest wants a block of non-hardening Plasticine. Personally, I would have added a chile ristra to the wall. Image: Lisa Kay Tate.

He strives to keep kids off electronic devices. No, he’s not saying get rid of all things electronic. He even did a great piece on how digital cameras work. He has repeatedly said on Toy Stories, and at other times, how today’s youth, and adults, need to get their faces away from living in their smart phones and hand-held video games, and explore more creative venues.

Again, I get this. I don’t want to rip these conveniences out of people’s hands, but I don’t–and will not–own a smart phone. My children do not need, nor own, cell phones yet, either. My oldest does have a Nook reader, and I allot an hour a couple of times a week for my youngest to play on the iPad, but we don’t keep these things permanently embedded in our hands as a primary form of entertainment. Believe it or not, we are doing quite well, thank you, and we still love technology. Don’t tell me how much I would love my smart phone and would use it all the time. Yes, everyone who tells me this is right. I would use it all the time. Ergo, I’m not getting one. I don’t need that extra distraction.

His parents, especially his father, are big influences in his life. May has not only had his parents on Top Gear and other shows, he has said numerous times how much they have influenced him. His father got him into model building, and influenced his design for the perfect paper airplane. He’s even joked about his mother’s aggressive driving prompting his moniker as the careful driving “Captain Slow,” by means of “childhood trauma.”

I hope I inherited a lot from my mother. Her creativity, her ability to do anything for her children at a moment’s notice, and her compassion for others’ well-being. I didn’t inherit her ability to talk to anyone and make friends. I’m actually consistently afraid to be around people I don’t know, except on a professional level, and sometimes I’m shy to the point where I come across pompous. I’m not, I promise, I just need to get to know you, first.

My father, however, influences me to this day. An in-flight refueler in the U.S. Air Force, he gave me an appreciation of both planes, and of those who serve in the military. Having put himself through college as a mechanic and a motorcycle racer, I spent a lot of time with my dad, brother, and his friends in the garage watching him work on our cars. This grew a love of all things that go. As an educator, he showed me the importance of a passion for learning. He was also my influence in spiritual matters, morals, and a strong work-ethic. I feel both privileged and proud to be my parents’ weird kid.

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I’ve added this little “Get Excited and Make Things” quote May has worn on his Man Lab t-shirt, to one of my project closets. Perhaps it will help unclutter my poor laundry room a bit. Image: Lisa Kay Tate.

He has to constantly be doing something. Anything! Plus, his interests seem to be all over the place. I’m not saying he’s scatter-brained, he can focus for hours on creating a Mechano erector set motorcycle chain or re-build a model train engine, but I wouldn’t let him go too long with no project to pursue.

When the “Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson vs. producer’s face” fiasco surfaced, he and fellow presenter Richard Hammond demonstrated loyalty to their long-time friend and left the show after his dismissal. The trio has since been picked up to do a similar show on Amazon Prime, but in the interim May created “JM’s umemployment tube” YouTube channel, where he made Shepherd’s pie and poached eggs in his kitchen, and filmed Hammond’s inability to hit a golf ball.

My long-suffering husband understands this part of my own nature too well. There’s a box of plastic water bottle pieces in my garage waiting to be made into to hot rod-inspired flowers (I’m planning on selling these, I swear). There’s always some project-centered mess awaiting completion, books to be read stacked on my nightstand like a Jenga game, and ideas for other things buzzing in my head like bees. In short…keep me busy or I might explode.

Finally, there’s that little detail that he is actually a music major, and plays piano well enough to “go pro,” in my opinion (and I have written plenty about chamber music in my day job). Instead, he’s incorporated this talent into his other work, and even used his appreciation of Beethoven to discuss how electronically mixed music just doesn’t hold up to capturing the creative essence of the human mind. YES!

But, why do I need a muse?

When I go through bouts of middle-aged self-pity, one of the things I lament about consistently is somewhere “I took the wrong path in life.” This has been happening more and more….and I’m still about a decade away from menopause. (Won’t that one be fun?)

“Where, oh, where did I go wrong,” I agonize like an overgrown toddler to my husband, who is always compelled to ask, “Well, what exactly is it you want to do?” Honestly, I never knew, until I saw what May was doing with his talents, and the pooled talents of those close to him.

That’s it! I want to celebrate creativity, ingenuity, the human mind, spirit, and soul with playful abandon. I want to mature in my interests, responsibility, and intellect, but I by no means whatsoever want to “grow up!”

I might not be able to live that dream, but May is, and I hope he wakes up every morning unabashedly thankful he is able to do this very thing.

As much as a dreamer as I can be, I’m a realist as well. I’m not writing a fan letter hoping it will one day reach May’s awareness, but I can still give him my appreciation.

Thank you, May, for helping me find my true muse, who now occupies the front of my computer with attractive and calm encouragement. Thank you for doing what so many of us wish we could, but don’t have the means, funds, or opportunity. Thank you for representing the collective creative minds of the childlike…but not childish…adult.

I only ask you one thing. Don’t stop.

May's airplane
Even if May isn’t your muse, please try his paper airplane. There’s a link to it in the story, and it works great! Pets hate it, though. Image: Lisa Kay Tate.

Lisa Kay Tate is a veteran feature writer with 20 years experience in newspaper, magazine and freelance writing. In addition to serving as Associate Editor for her local arts and entertainment guide, El Paso Scene, she has been a regular contributor to the site ihogeek.com and maintains her own blogsite at lisathegeekmom.wordpress.com. She and her husband, writer/photographer Rick, live on the edge of "New Texico" where they keep busy raising their two geeklings and sharing space with their dog, Sirius Black, and cat, Loki.