I used to be the type of person who didn't have heroes. Or I would never admit it, anyway. I had different answers any time someone would ask. Sometimes it was cynical--"heroes are just normal people," "I don't know anyone who should be called a hero," "idolizing heroes is stupid." Sometimes it was something like "I think everyone is heroic," or "I'm my own hero." But I dodged the question, and it was really only for one reason: I was afraid. There's weakness, vulnerability, in liking someone. And I don't want the safe choices. I don't want to just say that my sister is my hero even if she is. Or that I think that this great writer or great musician is my hero, or even a great philosopher, because that's not what it's about. A hero is someone you pattern your life after. A hero is fascinating. A hero stands out, is memorable--and not just for a body of work.

I was afraid of saying "I think that these people are awesome." I was afraid of enthusiasm, of saying "yes" to something. There's no weakness in saying no. But saying yes? Saying you admire someone? Saying "hey, I think you are clever and brilliant, and I love the way you aren't afraid of making mistakes, it's inspired me to try to be bold," or "your enthusiasm is so awesome, and you're so unpretentious, I am glad I know you and I really wish I could be more like you--" that's scary.

So, ask me about my heroes! I want to talk about them. And tell me yours.


Christin said...

The problem might be in the word "hero" itself, which is almost irredeemably cliched to death. And there's some weird gender issues that go along with it--if a girl's hero is a girl, or a guy's hero is a guy, it is often assumed that it's a role-model-hero, but if a girl's hero is a guy, it is assumed to be a savior-hero. And I'm not sure I've ever heard a guy call a non-family-member girl his hero.

I had a lot of people that I thought of as role models in middle school and high school, while I was trying to figure out how I wanted to project myself and studying how other people projected themselves, but that was largely about trying to emulate confident, healthy-in-various-ways people I knew, not about anything of substance. And it's been a long time since I've looked for somebody to emulate. Admire, that's easy; emulate, that feels more and more like a set-up for failure as I get older and trade in self-confidence in my own ideal life-goals for more realistic but achievable mundanities. Which sucks, to sum the obvious.

So I don't know about heroes, or even role models. The people that fascinate me most tend to lead lives that seem much harder and prone to disaster than my own--prone to disaster and greatness, where I am actively walling off both possibilities. Maybe I shouldn't do that.

(But sometimes I write these people hero-worship e-mails anyway, which are always an exercise in embarrassment, but I do it anyway, because people should know that their struggles are noted and appreciated.)

Tell me about yours.

Rob said...

Why thank you for your completely unsolicited response! I am a big fan of reclaiming cliche words in a fun and exciting way. Lists of heroes can be so boring, and it's usually like "my hero is CS Lewis and my dad and Jesus" and it's like say something interesting! So let's take it back.

I don't think admiring and emulation are exclusive! I think you can have heroes you just admire even if you don't want to emulate them. I mean, everyone is unique, but it's still important to have heroes, to say "yes, this person is awesome, we should talk about how awesome this person is." I don't even think the word 'role model' is necessary. Sometimes it's just admiring someone because they are cool and doing things you could never do.

And while there's gender politics there's gender politics everywhere, and I think the best way forward is to just go forward anyway. I have girl heroes, but it's not like I just compiled a list to make sure it was gender-inclusive. (I kind of dislike when you do something just to be gender-inclusive, because then it feels like 'well NORMALLY they wouldn't be good enough but here you go here are some women.')

I am not really sure if I should list names of people you don't know, because then it sounds like I'm just listing names. But! There are people who are awesome and heroic because they are just so cheerful and friendly and nice and unassuming about it, in this effortless and almost self-conscious way, where they would never assume they are awesome and worry about it and everything about them is just, well, fun. They are the nice, awesome, modest people that I could never be, because I am abrasive and arrogant and snarky. (But chaotic! I can still give birth to a dancing star. Thanks, Friedrich Nietzsche!)

And then there are people like Joey Comeau who are just awesome for that unbridled enthusiasm and sense of adventure, for everything. And for being sexier and more talented than me, THE ONLY PERSON ALIVE WHO FITS THIS DESCRIPTION THANK YOU VERY MUCH I WILL KILL ALL WHO OBJECT TO THIS STATEMENT, which is also pretty awesome?

And then there is this old friend of my dad's who just runs a used book store because he likes books and doesn't care about making money so much as just getting by, so he sells things for cheap. And he bikes everywhere and has all these adventures and basically just really enjoys himself and will always treat you like you're his best friend when you walk in and offer coffee or pastries or whatever.

Sometimes I have heroes because they remind me that it is possible to never grow up or to grow up and not have to get boring and stable, or because they remind me that people are still awesome. Oh there are also my personal heroes who have said things or done things that have changed my life (for the better obviously because I AM THE BEST POSSIBLE HUMAN BEING THANK YOU VERY MUCH I WILL KILL ALL WHO OBJECT TO THIS STATEMENT WHICH APPARENTLY ALSO INCLUDES ME SEE PREVIOUS ALL CAPS SHOUTY BIT FOR MORE DETAILS), and these people are all awesome and insightful and clever and I like when I feel like people understand me because sometimes I really don't think I do. I kind of have a vested interest in me, so it's nice when someone from the outside has something to offer!

Lots of people make their heroes people who are wealthy or successful or whatever and I think that is kind of boring! I don't really care if you have made millions founding ebay or whatever. I mean, it is cool, but it doesn't make you an exciting person. And that is what I want in a hero. I want a hero who it would be awesome to just have coffee with or get ridiculously drunk with or get arrested with. That is basically the point, forever.

Rhi said...

I've never really had a hero. I guess it's because I always wanted to be the hero of my own story and thus had no real need to look up to others.
However, I have influences, those I've looked to and incorporated certain aspects of either how the person lived his/her life or whatever into my own.
I could say Bono or Stevie Nicks could be considered heroes of mine, but it's more their personas I idealize and find interesting and find aspects of their work that I would like to aspire to, but I wouldn't really consider it much more, and this could be because I'm far too egotistical and self-involved.
I do believe heros are important, in a way, to keep you to have a drive to aspire to more, so long as it doesn't get to the point of idolization.
Now, we could get into super heros, since I'm such a comic book geek. You have the character of Superman, who is so controversial- you have those who think he's cliche, a boyscout, boring, a good-two-shoes and there are others who think he's a raging asshole and then you have those like me who think he's such an amazing character because here he is, this little boy lost in a world he's trying to learn about, trying to adjust to and understand because it's all he has now. He does the right thing not out of some obligation or compulsion or because his parents are dead, like it's his cross to bare- no, he does all his amazing feats because not doing anything to help humanity to him is completely and totally out of his relm of comprehension; the idea of living any other way has never crossed his mind. So I guess I admire his altruism? And I consider it a bit heroic, yeah.

So those are my thoughts on heroes.