March 30th, 2011 § § permalink
I’ve been re-reading Anne of Green Gables recently after rediscovering it in e-book form. It’s a book (and movie) I utterly loved as a child (I lived in a bit of a pre-modern fantasy at that age). In re-reading it, though, I’m struck by the history she tells of herself: orphaned at 3 months, rendered child servant, essentially child slave, emotionally abused, probably beaten, driven to fantasy and an inner life, and yet a providential turn of fate redirects her life. She embraces the redirection, doesn’t look back, succeeds in reviving the emotionally vacant lives around her, excels in school, makes friends with all who encounter her and generally becomes the kind of person we all aspire to be and befriend. And, of course, she does all of this without a lick of therapy or a whiff of antidepressants. We could attribute Anne’s success to the tidy narrative arc necessitated by the storyteller or to our collective love of heroic tales of overcoming, but I think it’s also an interesting meditation on how we understand, or fail to understand, the traumas of childhood and their aftershocks.
We assume that children are resilient in the way of Anne, that the intervention of love and structure can redirect even the most unfortunate, allowing them to lead the most successful kinds of lives. And perhaps children do have a kind of resilience, a capacity that causes them to turn quickly from traumas to rebuild, to regroup and to move forward—in fact, this is a coping strategy employed by children in order to live through events that are beyond their comprehension and that threaten to undermine their structures of understanding—but, then, my question is why is this something we admire and foster?
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January 10th, 2011 § § permalink
I re-read Malcolm Gladwell’s New Yorker piece on “late-bloomers” recently when I was included on a group email from a friend, sent out to our cadre of 30-something friends who have each pursued various artistic/creative/thoughtful pursuits. It was, I think, meant to inspire.
The article distinguishes between two types of creatives: the early genius and the late-bloomer. The former, he argues, is our stereotypical impression of the artist. The tortured young soul who is captivated early by a passion that must be expressed and who spews out evident classics before most of his (and, of course, these geniuses are historically male for reasons of gender bias in record keeping and publicity) peers have figured out how to tie their ascots. However, Gladwell points out that many artists did not achieve early success, and, in many cases, were mediocre at best in their early years, before producing masterpieces late in life. These artists are, of course, the late bloomers.
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January 9th, 2011 § § permalink
Beginnings are hard. We stay in relationships even when we know they’re over, because we can’t see how we could begin a life on our own. Or we leave relationships because beginning the work of saving it seems too impossible, out of reach and riddled with potential failures. We buy travel books, but never plane tickets. We browse decorating magazines and drool over the stylized lives of bloggers, only to let our own desks drown in chaos. The beginning is marked by the bane of the blank page, the pile of debt and empty bank account, the thunderous wheezing of the first minute of your new year’s jog past your neighbours’ morning windows. However faced, the act of starting something often eludes us. More often than seems to make sense, we fail to act, we procrastinate, we put things off. We’ll start other, easier tasks, rather than addressing the things that need to be done and that would ultimately ease our minds, make us feel productive and improve our health: we bake cookies, rather than getting through a pile of marking, clean the toilet while flagrantly ignoring a looming deadline and pretend the slew of emails has to be responded to before we can possibly drag our ass to a yoga class. Behind the beginning is always some weird tangle of suppressed emotional baggage: the terror of the empty void and the feeling of drowning it in, the almost stereotypical and yet still insurmountable fear of failure, and perhaps a bit of the childish desire to eat dessert before dinner. » Read the rest of this entry «