People should write about their passions, and Henry Winkler certainly does, telling us about fly-fishing while teaching us ways in which to combat our fears: “Only after I took up the slack of my insecurities and tightened the lines of my self-confidence did I begin to get a knack for casting. I had to risk failing before I could get it right.” He goes on to say: “When I speak to young people, one of the things I tell them is that the anticipatory fear of trying something is always far worse than actually doing it. That’s certainly true of scuba diving, giving a speech, or interviewing for a job. Just about anything you set out to do in the cold, cruel world looks and sounds worse before you throw yourself out there and go for it.”
Henry Winkler grew up labelled as “lazy, a slow learner, and an underachiever.” This is because “I had undiagnosed dyslexia, a neurological disorder that affects your ability to read and write and learn word pronunciations. Dyslexia is a learning disability, and because of it I was stuck, academically speaking, in the bottom 3 percent of American schoolkids.” Not understanding that he had dyslexia until much later in his life, Winkler used determination to earn a Bachelor’s Degree at Emerson and a Master’s Degree from the Yale School of Drama.
Winkler’s lawyer, Skip Brittenham III, and the late literary agent Leonard Hanzer taught Henry Winkler and his wife Stacey the art of fly-fishing. Because eye-to-hand co-ordination is very difficult for Winkler, when he did learn fly-fishing, through much practice, he began to enjoy it completely, treasuring the vacations he spends with
his family fly-fishing and engaging in nature photography in Idaho and Montana. Fly-fishing “attracts men and women from every socioeconomic level,” and Winkler believes that “every person I’ve met through this sport seems to be grounded and sensible and, well, I’ve just never met an idiot on the river.”
About the process of learning fly-fishing, Winkler writes: “When I was learning to cast, my old fears of failure crept up on me. I thought of all the reasons I couldn’t learn properly. But in practicing over and over, I discovered that casting was not as complicated as I’d envisioned, and when I broke the cast down into steps, there was a simple elegance to the sport. I discovered that fly-casting could be learned, like dancing.” And, since he also believes in fish-releasing, “I especially savor the moment when I place the fish back in the water, thank it, and send it home again.”
Winkler is a person who enjoys interacting with people, and people abound in his life (e.g. Frederic Joy, who sold him his first nature photograph and made him realize that perhaps he could take photos himself; Rowan, his fly-fishing guide and companion; and the many people at lodges to whom he shows his photos of caught fish, besides “anyone, at any time, at any place. I share them with fellow fisher people in Montana, with fellow actors and actresses in Hollywood and New York, with total strangers and sometimes even with potted plants and statues in the park”). He is not afraid to show happiness or to write about his fears, thus letting us into his private world and inspiring us to try to find out what gives us each, as individuals, joy, so that we can pursue it. His favorite quote is “If you will it, it is not a dream” that was “said by Theodor Herzl more than a century ago and I have made it the cornerstone of my life.”
Winkler has been featured on John Barrett’s Fly Fishing The World TV series (fly-fishing in New Zealand). He has starred in a Broadway show, The Dinner Party 9.0, and is the co-author, with Lin Oliver, of seventeen children’s books about Hank Zipzer, “the world’s greatest underachiever.” And he really believes that we shouldn’t give up on our dreams, as he writes “Don’t give up on your dreams, you can and must make them your reality. We all have insecurities and fears. We all have some disabilities, just as we all have some abilities. You should never allow anything or anybody to define you or keep you from living the best life you can.”
This is a warm and unique book, filled with photos of everything that’s special to one man in his journey on this earth. Through him, we can identify and see what’s special about our own lives on our paths towards the future.
I’ve Never Met an Idiot on the River: Reflections on Family, Fishing, and Photographyby Henry Winkler, published by Insight Editions on May 31, 2011, 144 pages.
Reviewed by Christina Zawadiwsky
Christina Zawadiwsky is Ukrainian-American, born in New York City, has a degree in Fine Arts, and is a poet, artist, journalist and TV producer. She has received a National Endowment for the Arts Award, two Wisconsin Arts Boards Awards, a Co-Ordinating Council of Literary Magazines Writers Award, and an Art Futures Award, among other honors. She was the originator and producer of Where The Waters Meet, a local TV series created to facilitate the voices of artists of all genres in the media, for which she won two national and twenty local awards, including a Commitment to Community Television Award. She is also a contributing editor to the annual Pushcart Prize Anthology, the recipient of an Outstanding Achievement Award from the Wisconsin Library Association, and has published four books of poetry. She currently reviews movies for , music for , and books for .