When my ancestors were young I like to think that their heroes were knowable, that they were members of their families, their tribe. I imagine they would sit gape-eyed at the feet of the elders and listen to tales of hunts for better lands, confrontations with long-toothed predators and the chaotic mood swings of the mushroom-powered shaman. They would then hug the cast of the stories before they went to sleep, or sneak a peek at them over the camp fire as they keep watch out over the plains. I think that it has always been important for us to draw inspiration from positive sources, and I don’t think we should lose sight of that as we grow older.
As I was a nipper my world view was influenced by my Grandmother’s eel hunting exploits, my Uncle’s exotic travels and my Grandfather’s explanations of how storms build. Soon I discovered I could share other’s lives through reading, and I found a new additional cast of heroes, exciting people and creatures I’d never met. I learnt moral lessons through the exploits of wolves, swordsmen, and most importantly boys who ended up on accidental adventures. I could then engage my imagination and draw some aspects of my day-to-day world into these fables. I’d imagine Hiawatha being as feisty as Renita in my maths class (until she started calling me square-head), and whenever I encountered a sea-faring adventurer they had my Dad’s knowledge of the sea along with their Captain Haddock beards and inventive line in curses. The converse is that I could also take the lessons I learnt from my stories and apply them to the world around me.
The stories that we directly or indirectly place within our children’s grasp help them determine what we deem as important. And if was tales of honour, honesty and strength that I could access at eight, they subconsciously affect me at fifteen, and still echo through my ideas as I make decisions in my forties. It’s so important then to offer up positive role models for those we’re trusted to influence. If we replace Asterix, the Famous Five and Tom Sawyer with a couple of Kardashians and a Rihanna then perhaps we deserve to reap what we sow. And to focus this even further, I think there is huge value in helping people find heroes in the people that surround them.
As I’ve gently (cough) aged I’ve abandoned the untouchables as an influence on my behaviour. I’ve replaced H.R. Giger, Timothy Leary and the guy who got to play Boba Fett with people I’ve shared travel, conversations and tears with. I’ve realised that the people most capable of inspiring me these days are the ones I can share real life adventures with. Rather than hoping and wishing to have a life like a Rock God or Somali pirate I aim to be as patient, tolerant and thought-provoking as the people I meet in trailer parks, Hallowe’en costumes and woodland cabins. I think it’s important to be continue to be mindful of who we look up to our whole lives, as like snow-boarding or motorbike riding, wherever you aim your gaze that’s where you end up heading for.
Why though do I think it’s important to replace those who have reached fame and mass market appeal with local heroes though? It starts with being human. I remember watching a Miss World competition when I was young, and as I watched the parade of pretty ladies I thought how strange it was that I knew girls at my school who were more beautiful than any of them. The girls I shared classes with so much more than an image, they ran races against me, beat me in spelling competitions, and shared stories of unicorns with me. It was the fullness of these girl’s character in which I found much of their delight, and so now I get dismayed and sometimes a little offended when people choose to promote the media creations they read of in magazines over the people around them.
There is a danger in choosing to worship images without flaws as none of us exist without learning from our failures. We’re all imperfect. If my heroes are knowable their glories can be offset against their flaws, they become human, and then I can hope to strive to be their equal. When we meet and get to know other people we get to understand the motivations behind their loves, the frustrations behind their anger and the sources of their sadness. In growing to understand the way they handle these things we can learn powerful lessons.
The other incredible benefit of local heroes is the chance of mutual inspiration. When I was a child I used to dream of earning Tom Sawyer’s respect in a battle of wits, and now I actually have a chance of offering my heroes something to think about. There’s a chance that I’ll inspire them with my own tales, what greater reward is there than having someone you respect and admire cock their head at something you say, and think it through? Sometimes we fail to realise that our own experiences can offer important lessons to others, even our perceived losses or failures.
As I grow as a writer I become more understanding of what it can take to succeed in a creative field. My writing heroes growing up were great and popular novelists like Orson Scott Card, Stephen King and Ernest Hemingway. Since then I’ve read of their techniques, beliefs and habits, burrowing through their writings for inspiration. Just a few months ago though my first girlfriend contacted me after reading my blog on ‘being shy’. When I left her all those years ago she was working on her first article for a national newspaper. While we were together she had always written fantasy stories and I used to be fascinated at the back-stories she had for her characters, though I don’t remember letting her know just how much depth I found in her ideas. Sigh. To date she has published several books and attends conventions across the USA, inspiring new authors. Her vision, her determination, her path-building is now a very personal inspiration. I’ll continue to re-read King’s rants about adverbs, admire Scott-Card’s endless inventiveness, and hope to live my stories half as dramatically as Hemingway, but it’s her that I think of when I hit walls of frustration.
Pip is just one of the many people who have helped me find the energy and drive to strive towards my dreams of sharing my stories and ideas. Reading books as a child armed me with the heroes I needed for my battles through childhood. Writing books as an adult is introducing me to the heroes I need to lead me through my emancipation as a freer thinker. To all those people I’ve met that lead their lives rather than being led by them, I thank you. To each of you that makes the difficult decisions in the face of disapproval and disbelief I salute you. None of us should ever settle for less than what we think we are worth, and if we forget from time to time how valuable we are, we only need to look around us for inspiration.