Monday, March 8, 2010

Growing Up

This marks my entry in the March 2010 Blog Chain.

"Growing Up" derives (or so it seems) from a straightforward fact--namely, that as we get older most of us get taller. But if so, then doesn't such hint at a limitation to the whole idea? Humans generally reach their full height by sometime in their teens, or soon after. In other words, when it comes to "growing up" we...well, stop. Literally, anyway.

Hence my preference for a different phrase. Coming of age.

It feels better, more complete and deeper. To grow up sounds perfunctory, with a focus upon but one aspect of maturity, surely one of the least important. What is height compared to self-control? To understanding?

Countless stories use this process as the heart of the plot. Never mind about efforts to thwart the Dark Lord or win the love of the your life or achieve that event coming up at the end of the tale or solving the crime somewhere near the beginning. Those are surface details. Very often what a plot really consists of is what Robert Heinlein called "The Boy Who Learned Better." One of the frustrating things about nearly every adaptation of Herman Melville's Moby Dick for instance (even sincere ones like the 1950s version penned by Ray Bradbury) is how the films ignore the story of the narrator (who says to call him Ishmael, a different thing from saying such is his name interestingly enough) and how he changes. In the book, he is seeking he-knows-not-what and goes to sea because he knows from experience the soothing impact this has. But once aboard the Pequod, his heart catches fire from the rest of the crew--he hungers to take part in the hunt for whales. Yet later, from the crow's nest, he views a whale calf's birth. He feels the blood lust leave him. Later, alone of all those on board, Ishmael the man who does NOT long to hunt whales, is the sole survivor. Coincidence? Or the whole point in some ways of the story?

Another interesting detail about Moby Dick is that the novel itself is an example of this process. Go and read what Melville wrote before, then read his masterpiece as well as what followed. Seems amazing the same man created both. More, Melville evidently planned his whale novel to be quite different. It changed as his pen put words on paper. Writers know what that is like. Not writing a story so much as transcribing it, describing what we find rather than composing what should go into the work.

My own writing--or coming of age as a writer--echoes this. Not so much the following of my heart, but the learning how to listen then carefully put upon paper what I hear. Craft, yes--but that is almost like learning a software (I would have said driving a car or riding a bicycle, but not knowing how to do either...). Practice until you are proficient, then simply use the skill acquired. Much harder, a far more mature ability (at least in my case) is to swim the river of imagination, barely knowing what lies ahead.

But that is just me. Your experience will be different, at least to some extent. That pesky (glorious) individuality thing, dontcha know...

aimeelaine -
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Raven Corinn Carluk said...

Coming of age. Such a great concept. Some cultures change their name as they grow up, to represent that they're no longer the child they were.

Aimee Laine said...

Great take on 'growing up' David! I love how you tied that to writing too ... and that development process. :)

FreshHell said...

Very nice. I love how everyone approaches the same theme so differently.

Simran S. said...

Nice job! It is so interesting how we all have a different take on the same subject. Love it!

Anonymous said...

Wow, that was a lovely and thought-provoking post. I'm ashamed to say I've never read Moby Dick but think I need to remedy that ASAP.

Great playlist too. I hadn't heard Kate Bush's Running Up that Hill in eons. Had never heard her reggae Rocket Man, which was interesting. I think Kate's a distant relative of mine, oddly enough.

Stacey Espino said...

Thanks for the thought-provoking blog! I like the concept of 'coming of age'...sounds much nicer.


Proach said...

Hey David, can I say that I absolutely love your blog and the music on it. Its so catchy. Great blog. Love the opening paragraph.

Rebecca Laffar-Smith said...

One of the reasons stories are so compelling is because they all have a sense of growth. Not so much up, as forward.

From one point the hero begins and through his experiences he learns and grows and changes. When the story ends he is not who he was. Ishmael grew into a new Ishmael. Even someone who is considered "of age" continues to grow.

Wonderful insight and a creative take on the topic. :-)

Razib Ahmed said...

"Practice until you are proficient, then simply use the skill acquired."
Very well said. I had the same lesson in professional blogging.