Wednesday, April 18, 2007

My Heroes

Have you ever been asked who your heroes are? Someone usually asks me this for one reason or another every few years. I remember one of the first times. I was in grade five. We had to do a "project" on our hero.

As anyone who attended primary school knows, a "project" consists of a brightly decorated piece of A3 paper with a couple paragraphs of text thrown in for good measure. My classmates sprung into action, and it wasn't long before bits of construction paper and lumps of Clag were being strewn about the room at an alarming rate. But I was left pondering. Who was my hero? "Does it have to be someone real?" I asked the teacher. "Yes" she replied, dashing my hopes of doing a project on Han Solo and Chewbacca. I briefly considered the default choice of "Mum" or "Dad", but after seeing the sporting stars and Hollywood celebrities my classmates had selected as their heroes, the desire to fit in soon took over.

If you asked me now, I couldn't tell you why in the world I chose Bruce Lee. I hadn't seen a single one of his movies, and to compound the peculiarity of this choice, I had quit karate lessons a year previously. Yet I spent a good couple of hours putting together a poster. I drew a brilliant picture of Mr. Lee fly-kicking a paragraph of text that I'd re-worded out of a class encyclopedia. I was very proud of my creation. I honestly wish I still had the thing. It was a work of art.

I'm older now, and maybe a little wiser as well. I know a lot more about Bruce Lee (thankyou Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story), although I still haven’t seen any of his movies. I suppose he was an okay guy, and I can see how he’d make a good hero for a normal kid. But still, not the hero for me.

I'm sure I was asked who my hero was a number of times in my teens, but alas, I can’t remember what I said. Perhaps that’s for the better.

Anyway, recently I've been thinking about the question of my heroes on my own accord. No one is forcing me to answer it, let alone make a shitty poster about it, so I feel I've got the mental space to reflect on it and maybe come up with a satisfying answer.

I think the problem I have in answering the question lies in the way I've been looking at it. I've always seen the concept of a "hero" as somewhat limiting. Once you’ve singled out someone as being your hero, it kind of confines your potential. It's like an easy, one sentence way of defining who you want to be. I was always afraid of answering the question, because I was, in effect, "picking" a hero. I didn’t understand how the other kids in my class could come up with heroes so easily. That never sat right with me.

There are plenty of people I admire for their skill, accomplishments, and determination. But are they my heroes? What separates a hero from someone you admire? I can’t speak for everyone else, but I've recently come to the realisation that my heroes have been largely subconscious, and it's only now, with careful reflection, that I can say who they were. I say "were", because I think that once you define a hero for yourself, that person largely becomes an abstract idea – no longer a living, breathing influence on your life. A hero does his best work when no one's looking.

Come with me, now, while I indulge in my childhood joys.

While all the other kids played football and made racing car noises, I was often buried in a book. No novels or biographies, though. I wasn’t a complete nerd. My choice of book was the humble comic book. I'm talking about the syndicated comic strip variety, rather than the superhero comic book. I had (and still have) large volumes of comic strips. Collections of The Far Side and Garfield took up hours of my time. But the books I would re-read the most were collections of Charles Schulz’s Peanuts and Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes. The world these books created, childlike in appearance, but oh so deep. The philosophical musings of Calvin and his pet tiger under an old oak on a lazy Sunday afternoon, interspersed with Charlie Brown's bleak musings on the struggles of life – oh, it was just heaven. These were kids I wanted to know. Kids I wanted to hang around with. They were real. They were so wonderfully childish and at the same time wise beyond their years. I could go on and on, but I feel I’ve already been too indulgent.

I see these books, these worlds, as great influences on my formative years. It was Peanuts that grabbed me in the early days, and I graduated to Calvin and Hobbes who stayed with me through my teens. But what amazes me still is that behind these worlds were human creators – Charles Schulz and Bill Watterson. I have much more than admiration for these men. I can say now, with the benefit of hindsight, that these men defined who I am.

Are these men still my heroes? I can’t say. While I haven’t nearly exhausted the joy and inspiration I get out of their creations, I don’t think it’s wise to demote them to the abstract idea of "hero". Instead, I prefer to see them as very real people. It gives me the slightest hope that I may one day create something even a fraction as brilliant as they did.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Whats this??