The Curious Mind Of Caleb Mannan
A creative mind is a curious thing. And none so curious to me as the mind of my brother, Caleb Mannan. It is, perhaps, the wildest of forests I have walked, the wildest of fires I have felt, and the wildest of flowers I have ever seen. And so follows my journey into the making of his mind in the Forest, the Fire and the Flower.
I. The Forest
It is a mind that is ordered in chaos. Just as a forest, the seeds grow where they fall, the trees stand where they plant their roots and the shadows lay where the sun leaves them. The Age of Imagination for Caleb was the forest. And I was there to see it.
As I look back on boyhood days, I am reminded of his creative spirit growing more restless to break the barriers of his own head. And out of necessity, more than anything, new worlds were created for that spirit to roam freely through the trees.
So began a creative journey unlike any other I have witnessed. For a wise man once said there are many paths through the forest, and many paths were traveled in the pursuit of a great story.
It must be said that Caleb is a gifted storyteller above all. The kind who oils the stone to sharpen the axe to fall the tree to burn the fire to tell you a tale of tales. And out of thin air, flames begin to gather smoke in strange shapes as a story unfolds before you.
Caleb was 7, Nathan was 9 and I was 5. I was the bottom of a totem pole, the bottom of a triple bunk in Springfield, OR. It was the first time Caleb began to leave his indelible ink on the empty pages of our minds.
The Adventures of Choochoowacha and Wolverine was a series of stories contrived in the tradition of radio serials from the 1930s. The dramatization of brave heroes facing imminent doom was captivating in every way.
The lights were down, the blankets were drawn to our chins and the radio dial was tuned to the voices in his head. Each night a cliffhanger ensued. Each night, our eyes grew wider in anticipation.
It should be noted that we had frequent commercial interruptions from our mother. Mostly advertising the virtues of being quiet, followed by a strong endorsement for going to sleep. But it was only after the story ended that our eyes grew heavy enough to fall asleep.
So began a flurry of creativity in the coming years. The sun rose, the leaves fell, the snow fell and the sun rose again. And each time, we moved to another corner of Colville, WA. But the forest was always there for Caleb. It was there at his side whenever he called. A stray dog to a welcoming master.
Characters and stories grew under every rock. Detective Blake Sherry, a hard-nosed private-eye on the dirty streets of a crooked town. Sargent Eucalyptus, a nicotine-stained drill sergeant in the trenches of WW2. Fly, a skateboarding superhero in a modern day concrete jungle. Absalom and Jael, vigilante superheroes in an alternate universe, just to name a few.
The longer the years, the higher the stacks of paper rose. Boxes and boxes of paper capturing every whim. Some as acorns, others as trees. Perhaps one day the forest will be known to you. But it will take you some time to find a path through it. I should know.
But all ages must come to an end. Even the Age of Imagination. Because when someone finds their way through a forest, a greater world awaits them on the other side of it. And so it was for Caleb. The years of freely roaming a world of his own making gave way to a world of stranger truths.
II. The Fire
The mind is a curious thing. It often wanders from the heart to the soul in search of itself, and many are the minds that are lost on this journey. And so it was for Caleb in this time, the smoke scattering before it settles to the flame.
In the years following the flurry of imagination, many were spent on a desolate road between meaning and purpose. Years and years in the form of poetry and prose. Notebooks and notebooks of sentences running freely, yet forgettably across the lines of a new world.
He traveled from state to state, Washington to anywhere, anywhere to Tennessee and everywhere in between. And many verses crossed the plains to stand before a chorus of canyons with barely an echo in return.
Love. Marriage. Life. Death. That was the story arc for Caleb during the Age of Abandonment. If you travel his writings during this period, you will feel it, as I have. You will hear the silent prayers begging to be heard in Michigan.
You will hear him waiting for lightning to strike. And when it strikes, you will hear him plead for the fire to not consume him. You will see it burn with its own purpose and not as a brushfire controlled for the greener pastures of spring.
When the lightning strikes a man, it is he who tries to keep the forest from burning, not God. But as the years go by, the forest grows drier, the dead grows livelier and the living grows wearier. Eventually, it will burn in full. As God intended.
The flames that once danced to the call of his own stories now danced to the call of another author. It is hard to watch a brother burn. It is hard to hear him cry. It is even harder to fight the fire for him.
Love was found, love was lost. Dreams were chased, dreams were lost. A brother was found, a brother was lost. May God rest his soul. Beneath a tree, across the field, beside the forest burned to the ground, a strange truth awaits.
III. The Flower
When surveying the damage of a wildfire on a landscape, it takes years to appreciate the full measure of beauty that follows. The trees are greener, the berries are sweeter, the flowers are brighter.
But there are also years when the taste of charcoal dulls the tip of your tongue. The smell of ash is carried on the wind. And the keeper of these lands must wander them in search of life in the Age of Awakening.
Following the tragedy of a brother lost, Caleb began a long journey back through the forest, where imagination beckoned. And the darkness led him, but he would not follow it. And the light left him, but he would not abandon it.
Into The Nether, a novel by Caleb Mannan, was a return to the glory of his storytelling gift. In the place of a charred canvas, he began to follow the subtleties of light. And a years-long story was written in five-minute increments between recapturing love, welcoming a first born daughter and working in the salt mines of Seattle, WA.
It was the reimagining of a forest that served as a demon to exercise on behalf of the living and the dead. And from the ashes, otherworldly characters began to rise in the smoke yet again. And the story began to flourish in fantasy, myth and truth.
Characters were drawn from the darkness and into the light. Hope was found, hell was conquered, and if only for a moment, peace was felt in the solace of the pages. And while this book has never seen the light of day, it proved monumental in the making of its author.
It served as the voice of comfort in the midst of chaos and unrest upon the world. A beautiful telling of triumph in the face of personal tragedy. A creative flurry to prove that life, even that which is conceived from death, will indeed go on.
And from there, Caleb welcomed 3 more children. And not surprisingly, he wrote 3 more novels. Each standing as a flower on the floor of the forest. Each growing bolder in their reach for the sun.
And There I Shall Retire is perhaps his most ambitious idea. Captain Adler, perhaps his most complex character. And the novel is perhaps his most literary work to date. A favorite among the avid fan. That being me.
American Son is Caleb’s first attempt at writing a great American novel, but unfortunately, it followed the same path he followed during the Age of Abandonment. And while it stands as the tallest tree in terms of pages, it was chopped to the ground in favor of his next great American idea.
Bust It Like A Mule, the great American folktale. The spirit of storytelling returning to the forest, returning to the place where the world began. The coming home of a stray dog to his welcoming master. A river of words from the mountains of Montana.
But rivers are curious things, they run swiftly down hills, slowly through the valleys and sometimes reluctantly out to sea. And such is the case with this river. Weeks to write, years to edit and a lifetime to send it freely into the unknown.
It is no secret why this novel is the first to be published. It is a storyteller leaning on his strength. A storyteller who oiled the stone to sharpen the axe to fall the tree to burn the fire to tell you a tale of tales.
And while you contemplate the reading of this book or celebrate the completion of it, like me, it is important to recognize the creative spirit that inspired it, and the curious journey of a stray dog to arrive at your front door, capture your heart and lay peacefully at your feet until his day in the sun has passed.
It is important to recognize the strange truth standing beneath the tree, across the field and beside the forest burned to the ground. Can you see it?
Caleb, like all great storytellers, has never restricted the flowers of creativity to one field alone. There are many of his works that have gone unmentioned in this passage. But in the coming years, all will be told in the Complete Incomplete Works of Caleb Mannan, The Publishing of an Unpublished Author, with a foreword by Jacob Mannan. Look for it in 2025.
Jacob Mannan is currently attending Gonzaga University's MBA program and is a Principle Solution Specialist Team Lead for Salesforce.com. He is also a poet, singer/songwriter, daddy, husband, and my younger brother.