Heroes, Role Models, Exemplars, Crushes, Idols, Paradigms, Archetypes, and Other Illusions

wonder womanMy heroes have always been writers. While other kids were moaning and groaning over sports stars or film actors, the latest gyrating band or skinny super model, I idolized those who created worlds in their minds. To open a book equated to prying open the door to a new existence.

This trait protected me in one way. Sure, I paid some attention to fashion, makeup, and culture pace-setters; but not nearly as much as most. I was the first woman I knew to abandon elaborate hair-does. To this day, I refuse to spend an inordinate amount of money on clothing or tickets to concerts. No one can impress me with a fancy car. These things just don’t matter to me.

I also was fortunate that my dream was achievable. With a minimum of skill and a whole lotta work, I had a chance of becoming a novelist. Too many are the number of young lives crushed in the deadly search for fame—or at least a living—in the performing arts. The lucky ones eventually switch to a more fulfilling career, like selling cars or running a restaurant. And those whose exemplars are in sports know their time is limited to their physical prime.

When I decided to give up a regular job, rather when I was fortunate enough to be able to do that, and did, indeed, begin to publish novels, I anticipated congratulations from everyone. Maybe ripples of attention through organizations to which I belong. Mention of my ventures whenever I was introduced.

Guess not everyone is as starstruck over writers as I am. Certainly good friends understand the long road I’ve traveled to reach publication. But the rest of the world seems as intent as ever on hero-worship of empty-headed reality stars and steroid-popping athletes. Even worse, copying their behavior and mouthing their standards.

I’ve learned “fame” doesn’t accompany achievement of my goal. Furthermore money hasn’t been an objective. That’s fortunate because I’ve made almost none. The actual return on the endeavor has been to substantiate a maxim I heard but never really understood. “It’s the journey, not the destination.” I’ve gained so much from writing, and I’ll consider this at another time.

At first I gave little thought to the person behind the works. I assumed if I adored someone’s writing, I’d like to know the individual. Brushes with some self-centered and idiotic authors soon relieved me of that delusion. There’s a big difference between a writer’s work and his life. Charles Dickens ran around on his wife and finally abandoned her. Norman Mailer stabbed his wife. Katherine Anne Porter had a miserable love life and miscarried several times. So achieving authorhood doesn’t mean you’re happy or fulfilled.

Does this mean heroes, mentors, idols are delusions? Not necessarily. Yours may be delusions or meaningless to me. Do we need them? I think we do. In addition to a few moments of escapism as we dream of a hero’s fantastic life, we can continue to adjust our views, hopes, goals, and dealings by what we know of people we admire. As long as we know anyone, including ourselves, Lance Armstrong, or Bill Cosby, can have feet of clay.

Nosy Nelly Snoops With No Shame

The books that stick in my memory are those that have real people in real life situations, even if they’re fantasies or mysteries. They face problems, defeat them or are defeated by them, live, learn, change. I love immersing myself in their stories, and I laugh or cry with them. Years ago I rode the bus while reading A Tale of Two Cities, and tears streamed down my face when Sydney Carton faced the guillotine. I bonded instantly with a woman pouring over The Joy Luck Club while waiting for car repairs.

In other words, I’m a Nosy Nelly. This antiquated term means someone who’s so interested in other people’s business that she sticks her nose in everywhere. Since I don’t dare indulge myself by peeping in my neighbors’ windows, I restrict myself to books. Since my life has a finite limit and I’m not a time traveler, books let me make endless trips to fascinating eras and equally entrancing personalities. Since I’m not a millionaire, I don’t spend a penny on my voyages through books.

Visual artists enable their viewers to see things in a new way. They open their eyes. In the same manner, writers enable their readers to think about the world and life in new ways. They open their minds. So my cupidity* for knowing about the extraordinary lives of ordinary people brings me rewards in addition to entertainment. How could I learn how a soldier in Viet Nam dealt with the armed conflict except through The Things They Carried? Catch a glimpse of a future I hope we can avoid in The Hunger Games? Get a sense of an immigrant’s situation in London in the course of White Teeth?

I’m neither limited to a single lifetime nor restricted in any other way. That’s why I read.

*Cupidity: greed, strong desire

Who can be extraordinary?

I have a cool dentist. Not only is Dr. Steve a skilled and caring practitioner, he’s also a musician and composer of the folk-rock variety. His group, the Steve Law Band, performs in the metro Denver area, and I last heard them at the Capitol Hill People’s Fair.

So what? Writers are interested in all sorts of individuals. Each person has his own story. Dr. Steve is a multi-dimensional person and a great example of using your creativity and smarts throughout your life. Ordinary people can have extraordinary lives. Sample Steve’s work at http://www.stevelawmusic.com and learn about his dentistry at http://www.metrodentalcare.com/

I know lots of folks who, if you passed them on the street, might be overlooked. Once you get to know them, you learn of their fascinating interests and their exceptional activities. One woman gave me a five-minute overview of the intertwined social lives of common barn swallows, who work together to feed and protect fledglings. Another got the inside view of Alaska’s natural grandeur and shared it with me. Still a third, supposedly retired, just published a book on branding and marketing.

Goes to show that anyone just might have an extraordinary life, if we take the time to find out. Do you have a favorite contact you’ve learned from?

Literary Concerns in Colorado

LiteraryCO was formed with the purpose of bringing together Colorado authors, book bloggers, readers, and writers in support and celebration of our state’s literary works.

Visit www.literaryco.com and subscribe to free electronic newsletter (although I admit I can’t figure out how to read the whole thing yet).