Every summer I make a habit of reading for fun. I read enough theology and whatnot throughout the school year. When it comes to summertime, I want to read nothing but fun, imaginative fiction. Last summer, I read a lot of Kurt Vonnegut which I would highly recommend. God Bless You Mr Rosewater and Cat’s Cradle are two of the best books I have ever read and are perfect for a jaded and ironic generation. This summer, I decided to read something different. Instead of catering to my cynicism, I decided to read the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I’m pretty ashamed to say that even though I have seen each movie about a dozen times, I have never actually read the books. I am a little more than half-way through the first book, and I have been constantly surprised/overjoyed by how sincere it is.
In 2012, we are obsessed with irony, sarcasm, whit, and creative twists. I don’t watch much television, but I have seen all of the Office, Arrested Development, Scrubs, and LOST several times. The first three shows are comedies that hinge on ridiculous characters that we can make fun of while feeling self-impressed at our own normalcy. LOST was entirely predicated on new and mind-bending twists every episode. The Lord of the Rings was not a success because of the great twist that Frodo was really Sauron the whole time. Gandalf is not a crotchety old man who makes fun of everyone. We don’t laugh at Gollum’s misfortune. When we first meet Aragorn, we are given his life story and the reader is pretty confident that he will redeem himself and save the day. The characters fit within archetypes that we all know and love. Maybe it is just a retelling of a story as old as creativity itself, but there is a reason that archetypes survive.
I used to watch the Daily Show and the Colbert Report every day until one day a friend pointed out that I had nothing good to say anymore. All of my opinions of public figures were negative, snarky, and sarcastic. I focused entirely on the negative, making straw-men out of real people, and stood contentedly with a smug sense of self-righteousness in the midst of a world full of “idiots”. If only people could see the world as clearly as I can, we would all be better off. Sometimes I still fall into that trap, so please forgive me for my accidental smugness from time to time. I’m working on it.
In our day and age, the worst thing that a person can be is genuine. It is better to be well-groomed and narcissistic. By that, I don’t mean that we all love ourselves. The opposite is true. The good member of our society spends all of their time thinking about how they appear to others. I’ve been watching a lot of the Olympics lately, and I am stunned by how many commercials there are that advertise beauty products, weight-loss, and status symbols like cars and clothing. The message that we are given is that if you are not attractive, rich, or glamorous enough, then you had better fake it.
I dealt with this a lot when I was growing up. I was a pudgy, pimple-faced boy with a love of science and video games. I tried so hard to fit in with the punk kids who “didn’t care” what society thought of them, but I had just replaced one social master for another. My parents bought me expensive JNCO jeans which I tore on my BMX bike. I listened exclusively to punk music and looked down on people who liked the music on the radio. “You actually like the Spice Girls? Oh geeze”. The only place that I felt comfortable to be myself was among my fellow-nerd friends. In my experience, they are the most accepting and faithful people on the planet. That is, honestly, the only social circle in which I feel completely safe from judgement. They are good people and some of my closest friends.
Sometimes, I will sing along to Dashboard Confessional or Bright Eyes with an over-the-top voice to mask the fact that I actually enjoy singing along. When I’m by myself, I listen to Coldplay and the Killers. I have a Legend of Zelda tattoo on my back and I love it. I don’t understand a single Wes Anderson movie, and I can’t tell the difference between fancy coffee, Starbucks, and McDonalds.
Phew. That felt good.
What are the parts of you that you are afraid to admit because of how they make you look within your particular social-world?
Here is where I have landed as of recent months. I am exactly who I am. I love looking at the stars, staring at pictures of Mars, talking about God, rescuing Zelda, playing baseball, watching baseball, talking about baseball, cooking, building, dreaming, reading, imagining, playing video games, writing, and being an introvert with friends. When I am confident in that, I am less likely to see the faults in others. When I am constantly self-conscious and afraid that I will be discovered as a fraud, I am critical, judgmental, arrogant, and sarcastic. The journey towards loving others begins by being ok with yourself. I would like to spend a good portion of my life studying, writing, and teaching theology and science. That’s a passion of mine, and when I confidently and excitedly explain it to people, I find that they are usually more likely to respond with their own dreams. When we were kids, we all had dreams, but somewhere along the line, we became too afraid to admit to them.
I don’t care if your dreams and aspirations are too unrealistic. Achieving your goals isn’t the point of life. We are all on a journey. Life is like a field trip to the zoo, and if you spend the whole time following the cool kids to the reptile house that you miss the giraffes, then what was the point? The giraffes are the best.
At the risk of this post sounding like a self-help seminar, you are exactly who you are, and the sooner you realize that, the sooner you can find out what that actually means. If we spent as much time chasing after what we love as we do making fun of what we don’t understand, we would actually have the rocket cars that we were all promised as kids.
In all seriousness though, I want my rocket car.
Dear society, what the heck? Where is my rocket car?