(About a 7 minute read)
Sometime around the age of 16, my heart suddenly bloomed — riotously bloomed — for a much older woman than me. Although older, she was stunningly gorgeous and just as creatively free spirited as she was gorgeous. I had never met anyone like her before.
She was so much more fascinating than the girls in my high school. The one thing I thought I valued most in people — very much including girls — was intelligence, and I thought the older woman possessed gobs more intelligence than the girls I knew. “Why can’t more girls be like her”, I would think. Poor girls!
Yet, I didn’t fully know myself in high school. It wasn’t precisely intelligence I valued. It was intelligent creativity, with the emphasis on the latter. I wasn’t much of a fan of being dumb in creative ways, but I was a huge fan of being intelligent in creative ways, the more creative, the better. The older woman was so creative, intelligently creative, that she was a genuine free spirit.
Another thing I didn’t know about myself at the time was that I was afflicted with adolescent depression. As a consequence, my emotional range most days was pretty much restricted to boredom, loneliness, anger, and horniness. But she added hope to that mix.
I began to hope that, even though she herself might not be for me, there might be someone out there like her who was for me. Quite a positive hope.
In fact, the only great negative thing to me about the much older women was the fact she wasn’t real. She was the character Star in Robert A. Heinlein’s novel, Glory Road. Empress of the Twenty Universes. Mother of dozens of children (via egg donation). Recipient of special medical treatments for longevity. Intelligent. Creative. Free spirited.
I was reminded of Star early this morning when I came across a blog post by the author, D. Wallace Peach, on Why Books are Living Things. It’s a short, thought-provoking read in which Peach essentially makes three points, and it was her third point that inspired me to think of Star.
If I understand her, Peach argues that we can “enter into relationship” with the stories we encounter in some very significant ways:
Books and the people who inhabit them can open eyes, stir the heart, elicit a deep sense of longing or grief, outrage or fear. I’ve fallen madly in love with protagonists, profoundly altered the path of my life, made new choices, expanded my understanding of the world, all through my relationships with books.
Thus, for Peach, stories are fully capable of influencing our lives in the same ways as people — real, living people — can influence our lives. Fully capable.
To get a more concrete idea of what Peach might be talking about, I searched my experiences until I remembered Star. I had “entered into relationship” with Star in more ways than merely desiring her. She set a standard for me for what I wanted in a woman, and that ideal lasted for a few years — until I met at university a woman who dwarfed even her. The point is, though: Star was in some ways just as much of an influence on me as could be a real person.
Peach’s second point is more novel to me than her third. She argues that relationships have a kind of reality to them that I never before thought they might possess:
While studying for a degree in a pastoral counselor, I took this great class called “The Spirituality of Relationship.” In essence, it described a relationship as a new entity, a created presence with a life of its own that requires nurturing and an investment of time to thrive.
As an instance of a relationship with “a life of its own”, Peach gives the example of children in a divorce. The children, if they have a happy relationship with both parents after the divorce, do not grieve the loss of their parents, but might still grieve the loss of their parent’s relationship to each other.
A fair point, I think, but one that seems to conflict with my own view of non-causal relationships as wholly concepts in our mind. Because Peach’s idea is novel to me, it might take awhile for me to give it a decent and honorable hearing, so to speak. Something I’m not satisfied I’ve done yet. Hence, I won’t comment on it further here.
Peach’s first point is far more familiar to me. Like many people, I am consciously aware of the fact that humans are story-telling animals, and so is Peach. (It even seems to me that we instinctively tell stories. That is, that story-telling is an inherent human trait, a manifestation of our DNA. Why else has every people on earth, past or present, told stories?) She makes some excellent points about stories: That they can be filters or lens through which we view our world; that they can guide our decisions; and that they can create a sense of meaning for us.
She goes on, however, to make some claims I’m uncomfortable with, being the fool I am (for further in-depth, detailed information on what a fool I am, see either one of my two ex-wives). For instance, she seems to suggest that we are primarily — or to some large extent — the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves. I’m not entirely sure that’s precisely what she meant, but if it is then I have an issue or two with it.
I think most of us would like to believe we are the stories we tell about ourselves, at least the good ones, but that we are not. Not in any profound way.
Now, I do recognize that our stories comprise a large and significant part of our self-image. And that our self-image is something we often take action (or, sometimes refuse to take action) in light of. I might tell myself stories of when I acted compassionately, in consequence of which, I might now and then act more compassionately than I actually feel towards someone simply to avoid contradicting my stories, or at least the self-image that my stories have done so much to create. All of that, I don’t dispute.
I would, however, offer to arm wrestle Peach over the issue of just how important self-image (and by implication, stories) is in comparison to the whole of our selves. Arm wrestle her, of course, because she’d probably win any purely intellectual dispute, but I am a fierce arm-wrestler (I know how to tickle my way to victory). It just seems to me that self-image is commonly over-blown as a vital component of our individual natures. It’s like the boss who gets all the credit and attention while the employees do all the work. I have yet to write a post wholly devoted to what I think of as the self, but I have written some posts that bring up quite a bit of what I mean. One of those can be found here for anyone interested.
Overall, I find myself much more in agreement with Peach, than in disagreement, which saddens me, given how fond I am of arm wrestling. Her short but entirely thought-provoking post can be found here. Now seems a good time to turn the discussion over to you. What do you think of her views? Is she onto something? Your opinions, thoughts, feelings, and challenges to arm wrestling are more than welcome!