Friday, August 03, 2012

Safety or Adventure?

Tarzan of the Apes
Most children tell themselves stories in which they figure as powerful figures, enjoying the pleasures not only of the adult world as they conceive it but of a world of wonders unlike dull reality. Although this sort of Mittyesque daydreaming is supposed to cease in maturity, I suggest that more adults than we suspect are bemusedly wandering about with a full Technicolor extravaganza going on in their heads. Clad in tights, rapier in hand, the daydreamers drive their Jaguars at fantastic speeds through a glittering world of adoring love objects, mingling anachronistic histories worlds with science fiction.

[...]When I was growing up, I read all twenty-three Tarzan books, as well as the ten Mars books. My own inner storytelling mechanism was vivid. At any one time, I had at least three serials going as well as a number of old faithful reruns. I used Burroughs as a source of raw material. When he went to the center of the earth a la Jules Verne (much too fancy a writer for one’s taste), I immediately worked up a thirteen-part series, with myself as lead, and various friends as guest stars. Sometimes I used the master’s material, but more often I adapted it freely to suit myself. One’s daydreams intended to be Tarzanish post-puberty (physical strength and freedom) and Martian post-puberty (exotic worlds and subtle combinaziones to be worked out). After adolescence, if one’s life is sufficiently interesting, the desire to tell oneself stories diminishes. My last serial ran into sponsor trouble when I was in the Second World War and was never renewed.
--Gore Vidal, discussing the attraction of Edgar Rice Burroughs.

I can relate to Vidal's memories of telling stories to himself as a kid. My inspirations were more Star Wars and Universal monster movies, but I did that a lot and probably more than anything else, it's what made me want to become a writer.

I can also relate to his statement that "if one’s life is sufficiently interesting, the desire to tell oneself stories diminishes." I don't pretend much anymore that my car is the Millennium Falcon and that the Interstate is a Death Star trench (much to the benefit of my fellow drivers, I'm sure), because I'm usually thinking about my day: a story I'm working on, a blog post, errands to run, all that stuff. My story-telling time doesn't take the form of unstructured daydreaming now. I have a time and a place for it.

Edgar Rice Burroughs
When I look at that a certain way, it seems kind of sad. How can you structure storytelling and imagination? But that's not really what's going on. Like I said, a lot of my daydreaming is about storytelling. Instead of being purely for my own pleasure though, I'm thinking about stories that I want to write down. It's just taken a different form.

But while I like to think that I've outgrown childish daydreaming and figured out a mature way to put it to work, Vidal doesn't let me off the hook so easily. He writes, "Until recently I assumed that most people were like myself: daydreaming ceases when the real world becomes interesting and reasonably manageable. Now I am not so certain. Pondering the life and success of Burroughs leads one to believe that a good many people find their lives so unsatisfactory that they go right on year after year telling themselves stories in which they are able to dominate their environment in a way that is not possible in this overorganized society."

But that's not talking about me, right? My daydreaming is work. It's part of the writing process. Except Vidal quotes Burroughs as saying, "Most of the stories I wrote were the stories I told myself just before I went to sleep." In other words, Burroughs' writing was a product of his daydreaming. For him, they were the same thing. And if I'm honest, they're the same for me too. Whether or not I eventually intend them for publication, I make up stories first for myself because I'm bored. Or dissatisfied. Uninterested in the mundane details of my life. Whatever you want to call it.

This isn't a profound revelation. I suspect that most people feel the same way. I don't even think that for most cases it's a problem in need of fixing. We make up stories (or read them, or watch them, or play them in video games) because we're dissatisfied. It's a tested coping mechanism and it works. But - I'm starting to realize only just recently - it's not the only coping mechanism. Another option is to change the part of life that's most dissatisfying to you.

Craig Ferguson: Adventurer
That's something I've been thinking about lately. As much as I love adventure stories, I've never been a risk taker. Presented with the easy way or a potentially more rewarding, but harder way, I've always taken the easier way. I can think of one time when I took a huge risk in my life and that was because there was no easy option for me to choose. It ended up being one of the most wonderful, life-changing things I ever did. And the other two - marrying Diane and having David - only happened because of it.

I'm sort of at another crossroads right now. I need to find a new day job and I can either stick with what I've been doing the last twenty years or branch out and try something new. Naturally, I've been trying to stick with the familiar. But the universe (or God or circumstances or however you like to think of it) hasn't made that easy so far. In fact, it feels very much like that other time when life made me take a gamble and it paid off so well.

This is far from decided (there are other people to consider besides myself), but I keep thinking about what Craig Ferguson wrote in American on Purpose. As he was trying to decide whether to stay in the US and make a go at a TV career or move back to Scotland where he was comfortable, he describes visiting the Nevada desert one night:
I got out and walked away from the car and looked up at the immense blackness of the night sky, and the tininess of myself against the enormity of the universe had never been more obvious, even on acid.

An inexplicable bolt of terror shot through my system. Then I remembered what Rock and Roll Susie had said, that fear might be God's way of saying, "Pay attention, this could be fun," and I said aloud to whoever was out there, even if it was only me:

"Between safety and adventure, I choose adventure."


Black Vulmea said...

Thoughtful post, Michael.

People Of Hunza said...

Nice blog. excellent post,


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