A long, long time ago, there was a little boy that sought an escape from the world he lived in.
He found his escape not through the gentle auspices of cinema, computerized virtual worlds or drugs, but instead by slipping into the universe of L-space, the infinitude of possibilities and worlds to be found by browsing through the stacks of books in any good library.
Books, for me, were an escape from reality, and I freely admit it.
I consider myself blessed that books were my shield and armor, because it was through the examples of countless heroes, heroines and ordinary folk overcoming adversity far worse than any I faced that I found role models to guide me, teach me and inspire me to never give up, and to know that even if you can’t see it at first, a way can usually be found if you think. Failing that, the least you can do is carry on and bide your time.
When you’re a child, escaping into books chosen on your own, without external guidance and direction, the lessons you take away can be very different from what your parents or teachers expect.
As an example, one of the earliest books I can remember was Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
At first glance, would you expect that book to have a subversive impact on a young mind? After all, Disney made a movie of it starring Dick VanDyke, and that doesn’t usually scream “subversive” to most parents of the 70′s.
To me, though, it had a profound impact, indeed, it’s had a life-long inflence.
Early on in the book, it introduces the roads of the European countryside as being filled, bumper to bumper, with black sedans, plain, utilitarian, boring, each one just like the one before. This is the modern world.
Into this world comes an anachronistic throwback, an antique car with strange lines, vibrant colors, unusual noises and hidden depths, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
The obvious message wasn’t lost on me, the metaphor for a world of people struggling to conform to some boring, faceless, colorless ‘normal’ for the sake of efficiency.
But there was a deeper message in the story for me. The point of the car Chitty Chitty Bang Bang wasn’t to be different so that it would stand out and be noticed. It wasn’t get the attention of others, to cry out, “Here, look at me!”
The point was that the car was different and colorful because it pleased the car and it’s owners from a personal aesthetic.
The goal was not to stand out just to stand out or be different from the herd. It wasn’t about being noticed.
It was about finding an inner life and an outward appearance that you found pleasing to yourself. To find what you like, and embrace it, irrespective of what you’re told by others that you should like or be or do.
Everyone looked at Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and thought it was silly, laughed at it, made fun of it, and it hurt. But the owners and car did not react by changing to try to fit in, or by acting outrageous to spite them. The reaction was to be even more true to itself, and be as superb at what it truly was and loved as possible, and screw what others thought, or even if they noticed.
Shakespeare can have a torrent of advice to young people pour forth in Hamlet, “To thine own self be true”, but that didn’t reach me the way Chitty Chitty Bang Bang did.
The point is to find what you love, to think, to be, to do, to look, and then embrace it. Live it.
Not to stand out, to be looked at, to act a role and draw attention, to live a life on stage.
No, it’s to be yourself, and the best damn self you can be, because no one else can know who you really are or choose for you.
The ideal then, is that everyone, everywhere, does the same. That we ALL embrace our loves and life, and nobody stands out as silly or crazy in a soulless, faceless world, because everyone looks and acts as unique and individualistic as they really are.
In fact, true freedom of personal expression includes the freedom to seem as ‘normal’ as you’d like, if that is how you reaaly wish to be.
I suppose if you really crave attention, if you want other people to fade into the background so you shine all the brighter, this doesn’t sound like a good thing.
But from where I’m standing right now, in the main gathering area of the North American Discworld Convention, what I’m seeing are people, hundreds of people, all being themselves, all being the kinds of folks I feel comfortable hanging out with, and having a great time doing it.
Not all of them are outwardly flamboyant, but all of them are clearly damn glad to be here. It’s a wonderful thing.