The Black Dragon – Fakes, Frauds and Kentucky Fried Chicken
That is a photo of one of my childhood heroes. Count Juan Raphael Dante. Martial arts master, founder of The Black Dragon Fighting Society, voodoo priest and alleged bank robber. He came to fame in the 1960s by posting adverts like this in the back of American comic books :
Okay, he bore a rather disturbing resemblance to The Yorkshire Ripper, but let’s not hold that against him. He was reputed to be “The Deadliest Man Alive” and was rumoured to have taught his lethal secrets to Mafia enforcers. And he didn’t teach them his techniques in a draughty sports hall or a dojo. He taught the Mafia men in disreputable bars while they were drunk, the theory being that if someone attacked them, they would almost certainly have a few drinks on board so they’d better get used to fighting that way.
All this is the stuff of legend, except of course for one thing. “Count Dante” wasn’t really a Count and he wasn’t really called Juan Raphael Dante. Counts come from Europe, and he was American. He was from Chicago and his real name was John Timothy Keehan. He was an accomplished martial artist. Quite influential in the early American karate scene. But he was not, technically speaking, “The Deadliest Man Alive”. Technically speaking, he was “The Deadliest Hairdresser Alive” because that’s what he did for a living. He was a hairdresser:
A really good hairdresser as it happens. Hugh Hefner used to hire him to do the Playboy Bunnies’ hair. Nice work if you can get it.
But the fact that John Keehan, aka “Count Dante”, cut and styled ladies’ hair for a living is an obscure footnote in history. He made damn sure that hairdressing wasn’t what he would be remembered for. He did not let his job define him.
It’s very easy for me, particularly at this time of year, to slip into the trap of defining myself by what I currently do for a living. I have deliberately abandoned my career in order to explore my creativity and hopefully earn a living at it. I have deliberately chosen the most menial job I could think of in order to do this. This is what I have to keep reminding myself. My current employment is a choice and not an unfortunate circumstance.
Writing is weird though. All writers suffer from a cyclical pattern of thought which goes something like this:
- It’s okay. I can do this. I can do this writing thing
- Actually, I’m not too bad at this.
- Bloody hell! I’m really rather good at this.
- Oh my God. I’m a fucking fraud and I’m going to be found out any minute now!
- Go back to step 1
And so on and so forth. Over and over again. Sometimes several times in a single day.
I read about this in a book about writing science fiction by an Irish writer called Bob Shaw. Even he suffered from this and he had awards and plaudits coming out of his ying yang. It’s a variation on something called Imposter Syndrome, which is apparently more common than you’d think, particularly among successful women.
Imposter Syndrome isn’t the only needless concern which plagues me though. I sometimes also think “You’re hurtling towards Fifty, Mike. Left all this a bit late, haven’t you?” Which is a ridiculous thought to have, because writing is one of the few professions where nobody gives a shit how old you are. Or even if you are still alive or not. I still think it though.
When I find myself thinking this, I have to remind myself of another forgotten hero:
That’s right, Colonel Sanders. Odd choice for a hero you might think, but bear with me. Do you know how old this man was when he founded Kentucky Fried Chicken? No? Well, I’ll tell you. He was 66. He had worked all his life in a safe and boring job when he retired. When that first pension cheque hit his doormat, he opened the envelope and looked at the cheque. And he thought to himself : “The world thinks I can’t look after myself anymore. Fuck this.” So he went out and started doing something he had always been really good at. Making fried chicken. The rest is history. He did all of this in Utah, by the way, not Kentucky. Kentucky Fried Chicken should really be called Utah Fried Chicken. Though that’s not as catchy and Utah is only famous for Mormonism and The Osmond Family, so he probably made the right call there.
The truth is, it’s never too late to improve your life and everybody thinks of themselves as a fraud sometimes. The only person who doesn’t is probably Donald Trump, and that’s because he’s an idiot.
Depression is often called “The Black Dog”. And if depression is “The Black Dog, then Imposter Syndrome is “The Black Dragon”. Because dogs exist and dragons do not. Sure, The Black Dragon is scary and breathes fire and stuff, but he is himself a fake. A fraudulent phantom trying to convince me – me! – that I’m a phoney. The cheeky fucker.
So I am forming my own Black Dragon Fighting Society. Every morning I’m going to get up and kick seven shades out of this fictitious little bastard and then get on with the things I want to do. You’re welcome to join my club. Membership’s free.
Copyright Michael Grimes 2017