Paradise Lost?

The Epic Shenanigans of Adulthood Part III: What We’re Missing

What is it that we have lost? Childhood is a time of emotion, imagination, fun-centered friendships, and awe.

Even though adulthood brings with it physical freedom, childhood has emotional freedom. Only those with a child’s heart have the freedom to feel without limit: laugh, giggle, cry, whine, shriek, etc. No feeling is out of bounds.

Likewise, childhood is a time of boundless intellectual freedom. My heart goes out, too, to those whose childhoods were characterized by restraint. My musings and generalizations here are a reflection of my own upbringing. “You had a magical childhood,” my fiancée concluded, after looking through the family photo album, full of picture of me with gloves on my feet, a pitch helmet on my head, and a sword in one hand. Or the video of me telling my third-grade class that I wanted to be a cryptozoologist. My mind as a child was free to go wherever it desired. How many adults can say that? And how many of our minds, given the choice to go to the heights of the ineffable, go to the gutter instead!

The nature of friendship, too, seems to change. Now I did not have any great friends as a child, other than my sister, with the exception of Nate in 5th grade (whom I still call and email from time to time, though he lives at the other end of the country) and some half-assed friendships in middle school and high school. But let’s be honest, most of us didn’t figure out how to be good friends until college (I’m especially speaking for the guys). Even with those qualifications and limitations, I would still see childhood friends as being drawn together by shared fun, while adult friends, as often as not, are drawn together by shared duty. My friends now tend to be my coworkers. But at the cookout on Friday, four-year old Halsey’s friends were determined simply by who else wanted to play in the dirt pile.

If you remember the joys of dirt, then you can agree with the importance of awe at the world around us. A cardboard box is a source of endless joy and possibility, all the more so if you can fit inside it, as it transforms into a car, submarine, and space ship. When we are born, the entire world is unknown, except for mother, and all of the unknown is a source of awe. As we increase in knowledge, the temptation is to decrease in awe. Perhaps the greatest loss in a human’s transition into adulthood is a loss of awe.

The greatest tragedies of childhood – abuse, neglect, loss of love ones, physical hardship – are those that deprive a child of emotional freedom, imagination, friends, and awe.

Do you remember the joys of simply playing in dirt? If not, the next post is especially for you. Meanwhile, I covet your comments.

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The Epic Shenanigans of Adulthood

Part I: What

My long hiatus from blogging has brought with it much writing material. It’s not just an excuse. The “interruptions” in life can be a source of great blessing.

I am engaged and the wedding is in two months. I am nearly finished with my first year of Ph.D. studies. I am in the process of maybe selling a house, which has been complicated by ant number of issues. Unbeknownst to myself, I was without homeowner’s insurance during the earthquake, for example. But I digress.

My question is this: in what ways is adulthood qualitatively different from childhood?

I ask this because I am convinced that far too many adults have not abandoned their childhood selves and that, unless I am careful in the big decisions I face in my present, I will become one of them.

For the purposes of this essay, I will disregard such nuanced stages as “teenager” and “young adult.” I assume that if you are somewhere between 12 and 40, my discussion applies to you, as well as to many people outside that age range, which is simply my best guess at classifying those who are trying to figure out what it means to be grown up.

Children dream of becoming adults. Most of them do, anyway. Their games reflect this. But they do no want to become just any adults. While stereotypical roles reflect this –firemen, soldiers, astronauts, movie stars, princesses, and mothers – I think that even non-stereotypical playtime reflects this trend. My earliest career aspiration was to live in New York and own a costume shop, helped by a giant rabbit. My favorite book, “Busy Day, Busy People,” had somehow given me an inkling of the Big Apple. But I think, too, of my recent summers spent mowing the campus at the seminary. I wore a broad-brimmed hat to protect me from the sun and a bandana over my mouth and nose to keep out the dust and pollen. I heard from several seminary parents that their sons enjoyed “playing cowboy,” i.e., mowing the lawn like me.

Why do children want to grow up? Adults have apparent freedom and endless possibility. They come and go as they please. They stay up as late as they want. They spend money on whatever they want. They have power, beauty, strength, and knowledge to a degree that is barely imaginable for a child. A boy who longs to be strong knows that he will be stronger when he is a man. A girl who longs to be beautiful knows that she will be more beautiful as a woman. All children who long for adventure know that they will have greater means to travel and explore when they are older.

Yet if the standard children’s attitude is “I can’t wait to be an adult,” the standard adult response: “bills! [gripe, gripe] duty! [gripe gripe] if you only knew!” Too fraught with duty to dream of childhood, gripey grown-ups nonetheless know that they are missing something. As to what and why, I will devote my next post.

King’s Pawn

Lyov Myshkin.  The Idiot.  The master.  It was a clever alias, perhaps, or a twist of fate which named my chess mentor after Dostoyevsky’s “fool.”  Homeless by choice, he rode his bike up and down the parkway, spending nights in parks and under bridges, wherever he could find freedom and his next fix.  No bills to pay, no women to interfere, he passed his days in strategy.  The game was his only source of joy, other than sauerkraut and the occasional gyro.  He passed out of sight after the last big snow.  Perhaps he is already gone.  Or maybe he’s in Vegas, reveling in his latest tournament victory.  I will keep playing, either way, compelled if not yet addicted by moments of pure mind, of my best move against yours, uninterrupted by luck or chance or fate.  Did he know what moved him?  And how will he be transformed when he reaches the other side?

The Joys of Not Blogging

It has been a while.  I love to blog.  But for everything there is a season and sometimes being a good student means being a bad blogger.  So I sympathize for you, if you love my work, for there hasn’t been much of it up here of late.  I sympathize, but I should not apologize.  My priorities have been elsewhere and rightfully so.

Trying to sell a house.  Trying to read six books a week (because that’s how many are being assigned?!  PhDdom…).  So in order to save a buck and cut off my primary source of procrastination, we cut off internet at the house, which means that all of my online time is compressed into 30 minutes MWF.  Cramping my style.

It is a joy to be online, to connect, to express to the multiverse shades of truth.  And yet, it is a joy to unplug, to breathe the fresh air, to dance with a beautiful woman in the rain, and to get some sleep for a change.

 Not blogging is just as blessed as blogging, sometimes more.  Have you been skipping out on anything in order to blog?  I know I did!  Now, back to the books….

The King as King of Kings

The Sacred Heart of Elvis

If a picture speaks a thousand words… I don’t know what this one is saying.

Have you ever googled some zany combination like “Jesus Elvis”?  This is what I got.

I can’t claim to understand the whole Elvis phenomenon.  Now I can claim to understand it even less.

Nothing New Under the Muggle Sun…

…But Don’t Let That Stop You From Going to the Movies

“There is nothing new under the sun.”  (Ecclesiastes 1:9)

“It’s all been done before.”  (The Barenaked Ladies)

Only One has ever made anything truly original and new.  All stories are mere shadows of His Story.  Our best stories mirror aspects of that story: the beauty of creation, the bitterness of the fall, the joy of redemption.  Even if a story only captures one of those aspects, it can be beautiful simply because it rings true, however tragic.

Shakespeare himself realized that all the good plots were already taken.  What happens in his plays might not be original, but how always is.  That gives me hope.  A good story matters, even if I already know the ending.  And I can let myself off the hook as a writer, since every what I might say has already been taken, I can focus on the how

If you doubt whether this principle is true, think of every movie made in the last ten years.  Some have been overt ripoffs.  Eragon = Star Wars – Awesome + Dragon.  Seriously!  If you want a good laugh, follow the plot parallels: farm boy gets secret message from captured princess, the bad guys kill his aunt and uncle, and torch their farm, forcing him to follows a magical mentor who sacrifices his own life when farm boy rescues the princess, so that he can save the day in an epic dogfight.  It’s a good thing I love dragons.

Which brings us to Harry Potter.  If the what of Harry Potter isn’t original (Matrix + Lord of the Rings + Little Orphan Annie), what’s all the big fuss about?  The how!  Her plots are page turners, to be sure, but J. K. Rowling’s true success is in her character development.

(Don’t worry.  I haven’t read the last book or seen the movie yet, so no spoiler’s here.) 

Harry is a complicated guy.  He’s a loner, a leader, and a friend, these attributes ever in tension with each other.  Orphaned, ostracized by his surrogate family, ever-threatened by the forces of darkness, and untrusted by the media, Harry has always had to fend for himself.  He makes independent decisions, which can be impetuous and even rebellious.  Harry is unafraid to pursue what he knows to be right, no matter what those in authority say. 

Because of this, his peers look to him as their captain in the unseen war against the forces of darkness.  Though his anger problem and independence often get in the way, he has developped a loyal cadre.

But it is Harry’s friends who ultimately define him.  They are his by chance, by choice, and by that inexplicable magnetism that draws them all together.  Quite often, he does not deserve them.  But, no matter what, Ron and Hermione stay by his side.  Harry is not afraid to cooperate, usually, but his friends make sure to help him even when he doesn’t want it.  They would give up their own lives for each other.  Since birth, this is a boy who has been protected by love, and that is the most beautiful thing of all.

That is what we really want, isn’t it?  To be reminded that life is worth living outside the norms of society, that there is something worth fighting for, and that the love of friends always makes a difference and is always worth dying for?  We long to hear a new voice sing that same old truth to a new generation, and that is exactly what J. K. has done.  Read on!