The Pain of Love

helen

“I am too old and enmeshed in everything you do and are, that I cannot conceive of life without you,” read her suicide note. “My going will leave quite a rumor, but you can say I was overworked and overwrought. Your reputation with your friends and fans will not be harmed.” These are the last words written by Helen Geisel. Infused in them is the pain of her love for one of our country’s most celebrated authors, Dr. Suess.

Born Theodor Suess Geisel in Springfield, Massachusetts to a family of recent German immigrants, Geisel would meet his first wife Helen while attending Lincoln College, Oxford in pursuit of a PhD in English Literature. Helen encouraged him to abandon this course in favor of committing to his true passion, drawing. The Saturday Evening Post published his first cartoon on July 16, 1927. After receiving a check for $25 for the cartoon, he packed up and moved to New York and landed a job at Judge, a humor magazine. With his new job, Geisel felt financially stable enough to propose to Helen and the two were married on November 29, 1927.

The Geisel newlyweds made it through the great depression from Ted’s “mad men” work for ad agencies, drawing cartoon ads for companies such as  General Electric, NBC, Standard Oil, Narragansett Brewing Company and others. The couple had plenty of money and no children so they traveled often and explored much of the world. But Geisel’s lasting success would come after returning from one of the couple’s adventures when he bumped into an old college friend on the streets of New York.

Geisel had attended Dartmouth during the years of prohibition and was once the editor-in-chief for the college paper. After being busted for drinking gin with nine of his college friends, Geisel was forced to leave his position for the paper and contributed afterward with cartoons and articles under the pen name we all know and love, Suess. Interesting enough, the original pronunciation of his mother’s maiden name is similar to the word “voice”. After many years of people mispronouncing Suess, he decided to adhere to the incorrect way because it rhymed with Mother Goose and he believed this helped him in his endeavors as a children’s author. And his foray into children’s literature began after his old college friend helped him publish And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street.

But before he would utilize his mild success from his first book to venture into the realms of children’s stories, Suess contributed to political cartoon publications and worked with the United States Army during the war to produce films for propaganda and training. After the war, he would be challenged to incorporate 250 words deemed essential for first graders in improving the nation’s literacy. 236 of these words became the famous Cat in the Hat.

Suess added “Dr.” to his pen name in honor of his father who had wanted his son to become a medical doctor. Dr. Suess would go on to produce seminal works of children’s literature that would have an unforetold lasting effect on American culture. The love and support of his first wife Helen nurtured his work throughout most of his distinguished career. They remained together until her decade-long struggle with Guillain-Barré syndrome and his suspected affair with longtime friend and future wife Audrey became too much for her to bear.

When we recall our love for the infamous Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham, let us not forget that without the love of Helen Geisel, we would never have been fortunate enough to experience the world of Dr. Suess. She steered him down the path he was meant to tread and we are all lucky she had the conviction to push him to pursue his dreams and share them with the world.

Dr. Suess passed away in 1991, from oral cancer. His second wife Audrey is still alive and well, living in La Jolla, CA.

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Overcoming Fear

I’m afraid of heights, terribly so. Once I’m higher than six feet above the ground, my guts turn to ice and my asshole clenches tight. I become dizzy and lose coordination while desperately seeking anything to cling onto. My head is flooded with the fear of falling, with images of hitting the ground mangled and broken, with the imagined sensation of wind whipping past me as I fall faster and faster. Panic forces me away from the edge and my overwhelming need to get down onto the ground sweeps through all my thoughts. I hate this fear. It makes me feel weak and not in control. So I choose not to be ruled by my fears. How do I overcome my fear of heights? I climb.

My girlfriend is a climbing fiend. It’s her passion, her one true love. When she’s overwhelmed or highly stressed, climbing puts her mind and worries at ease. She loves the challenge, both mentally and physically. She loves conquering hard routes in the gym and taking to the rock outside in search of the amazing view that rewards her at the end of a climb. The expression on her face when she’s reached the summit is pure joy. And because I love her, I want to share that joy and not let my fear get in the way.

It’s been a year since she first took me to the rock climbing gym. I was resistant for months afterward, going occasionally just to spend time with her and bask in her joy for her passion. Then I started to like the mental aspect to climbing. It’s problem solving, sort of like a puzzle. And I love puzzles. They distract my overthinking mind and force me to focus, to accomplish. So I started going more often and I joined her on a trip to Yosemite, climbing outdoors for the first time. The fear almost crippled me. Being so high on the rock face of a mountain…I nearly shat my pants. The amazing view wasn’t worth the fear-ridden journey up the rock. I’d rather see the photo. But again, Emily’s joy was so rich and wondrous to behold. There’s no fear in her gaze when she looks down, only freedom. I wanted that same liberation from my fear. So I kept going to the gym. I kept my determination to conquer my fear. I kept getting better, my fingers stronger, my technique much improved. And each time I went, once I climbed about six feet up the wall, the fear would set in. I did my best to ignore it. I told myself that I’m safe and securely fastened in my harness to the rope and that the love of my life was belaying me below and would never let me fall.

Little by little, the fear would subside. After a while, it would only seize me on the first climb of the day. My trust in the rope, in the staff that maintain the gym and in Emily would reassure me and put my fear to rest after the initial climb. And then the most amazing thing happened a few days ago. We went to the gym and I climbed the whole time, free from my fear. It was one of the most amazing things I’ve experienced. I made the first climb with nothing but thoughts on how to get past the crux and make it to the top clean. When I reached the ground after that first climb, I was elated. I felt a childish joy at the fact that I hadn’t been scared. We climbed a bunch of routes that night. I almost couldn’t believe it. I went up and down, never once scared. And for the first time, when I saw Emily’s joy, I felt the same and knew she could see it.

I know the fear isn’t completely gone. But I’ve experienced substantial heights without it for the first time in my life now. And now I’m looking at my fear as something that’s been driving me, to do more and to grow. To quite literally reach new heights. Don’t let your fear rule you, let it be your motivation to explore and become free from it’s limitations. There is joy to be had on the other side.