Monday, June 18, 2012

Growing Up, Taking Notes, Giving Addresses

Growing up is a stripping away of illusions, isn't it? We must surrender certain beliefs, acquire a practised air of unconcern, sacrifice enthusiasm at the altar of practicality. The older we grow, the wiser we become - wiser to our frailties and others', more comfortable with the things that should make us very uncomfortable. We lose our sense of fight and lie to ourselves by saying we're just becoming more understanding. Or we swallow the bitterest pill of all and become cynical and resentful, because one of the chief perils of growing up is knowing that we will never be 17, or 27, or indeed even 37 again - doors have slammed shut, chances have passed us by and the possibilities for re-invention are thin on the ground.

But then, when we've resigned ourselves to growing up, we will discover Notes, Memoirs, autobiographies, interviews and commencement addresses, all relaying pearls of wisdom and experience acquired over a lifetime. We will hear Neil Gaiman exhorting young people to make good art, we will hear J.K. Rowling making a case for empathy, we will read about Steve Jobs'  connecting the dots, we will hear Meryl Streep talk about craft. Ray Bradbury will say something important about joy. And we will think, very hard (even if it is only for a couple of minutes) about how wonderful that essay/ address was, and how exactly it corresponded to our world-views, although we would have probably tweaked a bit here and added something else there.

One of the pleasures of growing up is that our years add weight to our advice. Only grown-ups can truly give commencement addresses. In fact, grown-ups from all walks of life spend a significant amount of time sharing excerpts from an imagined/ real commencement address. What else is that lecture on values/ manners/ ideals/ cleaning up a room, if not an extract from a much longer and more impressive text (shared in that moment just for one lucky child's benefit)?

Our growing up will be the making and unmaking of us. It would be nice to grow up in a way that leaves us with something compelling to say. What will our mantras and buzzwords be? What lessons will we have learnt? If we really end up doing everything that grown-ups are supposed to do (being responsible, learning how to parallel park and how to balance chequebooks, playing politics at work or even better, becoming bland and inoffensive) will we have any time left over for the stuff of commencement addresses? And most importantly, if we are doing commencement address-worthy stuff, are we making notes? Are they in order and will we be embarrassed if someone reads them? Incentive to start scribbling, no? And also incentive to do something worthwhile.      

Note: Some of the commencement speeches referenced here were discovered on www.brainpickings.org. I remain unsure whether this is a 'hat - tip' or a 'via' acknowledgement.

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