Q: It’s Tuesday, around 1:30pm…do I know where my Teen and Tween are?
A: Roman is taking a math placement test for entering high school this Fall, as a Freshman! Jordi is home playing LOL with friends…
Q: What books are on my ping pong table?
A: Leviathan! So far, my youngest is loving it…and I’m learning from it. I love reading successful literary work!
Hey writers! How do your characters lead…?
Awhile ago, I wrote about the human tendency to follow. There are numerous examples and colloquialisms surrounding our proclivity toward this habit. Consider, for example, the ever-popular game, “follow the leader.” This game is enjoyed by everyone from 2 to 92. Visit a local parkour gym, and you’ll even see the 22‘s and 32‘s dashing about, in their own version of “follow the leader!”
But…why? Is it really that much fun?
Or, is there a deeper drive that befalls us once we gain our feet and are capable of keeping up with others? This question has many answers. For example, we are not solitary animals. Those that kept up, in the past, surely had a better chance at survival. Then, there’s the fact that we are social learners. Following isn’t just about mobility. Babies’ eyes follow everything! What we do, what we say, how we lift something or cook something or use a tool. Consider religions, with their offer of a “better” path of recommended behavior which – if we choose to follow it – will presumably improve our lives.
It appears we are pretty much stuck with following. And, given all of this following that’s going on…I’d like to suggest that “choosing who to follow” may be the most important and influential decision we make in our life.
What does this mean for writers? Before I give my answer to my own question (of which there are many answers, of course)…let me say one more thing.
The human mind is extremely flexible. What we value, what brings us joy or sadness, what we hope for, expect, and how we experience disappointment…these are almost all arbitrary. Even food, shelter, and pain can be sought or feared or ignored based upon the culture we are born into. The culture…we follow.
For example. When I grew up, my Father would regularly express amazement at how lucky we were to be living in a low-income apartment. “Look! We can turn a knob, and hot water comes flowing out! We are luckier than most of the people on earth!” He still does this. And, he’s still correct. Running water and a toilet is “living in high style” for many. And, for a girl living on limited resources, in California’s rich, coastal communities…his attitude caused me to view our lifestyle as wonderful! Rich! Lucky! Totally good enough.
In other words, because I chose to “follow” my Father’s example, I lived a below-poverty childhood with great glee, sincere contentment, and considerable satisfaction. If I had chosen a different model to follow…say, my best friend’s grandmother who forever groused about her circumstances, or another friend’s well-to-do parents who were never satisfied…I might have been entirely unhappy, dissatisfied, depressed or angry. Who I chose to follow made all the difference!
So. Back to writers. We have, at our disposal, the same “shaping or leading” tool that my Father wielded so deftly. Our story can reinforce current day expectations around high powered success, material accumulation, consumerism as happiness, and denial as helplessness in the face of ecological disaster…or, we can offer “other” ways of being. We can illuminate the truth, which is, that a truly sustainable way of life can be, has been, and even currently is (for those who choose it), a very happy one.
As writers, making a conscious decision about how our characters will offer leadership to readers who inherently seek someone worthy of following is super important! For my best friend, with the grousing grandmother; a character with a uniquely empowered point-of-view can offer an alternative to the messaging she’s receiving at home. For the child living in a ghetto or a suburb…we can light up the joys of organic farming, electric bikes, solar panels, and living lightly on the earth and in our bodies. Consider the leadership millions of children have received from reading the Anne of Green Gables series, where what matters is a massive love of imagination, wild things, quiet time alone, friendship and adventure, homemade food, bravery and self-respect.
Never forget that your “fictional work” has the power to inspire social change in the world! And, many thanks go to my friend, Michele McBride, for helping me to come to clarity around this.
Don’t miss my previous authors! Archived here: www.voiceofvashon.org/prose-poetry-and-purpose