Spurred on by a thought-provoking blog post by my good friend Tim Brownson, I thought again about what we lose when we grow up. The way we once looked at life. With fresh hope. With a ton of hope and delight. With great expectations and daily excitement. What is it, exactly, about the process of maturation that seems to take so much of that out of us? Is this chemical, biological, spiritual, or all of the above? Do we actually lose special brain cells that are informed with a sense of hope and awe and wonder? Is this an evolutionary process that even makes sense?
I sometimes wonder if we have this backwards. As in, shouldn’t we be more cautious as children and more blown away by the world as adults? Because we see more, we know more, we’ve been to more places, and our senses grow layers and depth, and we can actually appreciate far more about the world in context than we ever could as a child. Not to mention our physical improvements. We are less vulnerable in the world when we gain the stature of adulthood. We are physically stronger and better able to be in the world, as we become who we are.
This odd reversal may have a lot to do with our strange fate as adults. Most of us are tethered to jobs, settle in to them, settle down and settle for. Most of us never travel the seven seas like we once dreamed of doing when young. Reading about Perseus, Jason, Odysseus, Cuchulain, Roland or the Knights of the Round Table, foments a myriad fantasies and hopes for our own globe trotting adventures. We seldom go on to make those myths come alive. How many monsters do we slay and how many fair maidens do we woo and win?
Age can bring dullness. Like a painting left in a basement for years, collecting abstract dust. But there is nothing inherent in the aging process that makes that dullness necessary. Sometimes all that is required is the right cloth, the right medium, and a little elbow grease. Sometimes all that is needed is a reminder.
My own bias pushes me toward the reminder of art. Others find lightning in a bottle elsewhere. The trick, of course, is not to be a temporary child, made new and fresh and hopeful for a minute or two while we gaze at a painting, hear a song, read a poem. The trick is to take artistic provocation and recreate the self, as self, permanently. To inject and infuse the child in all of us so that we reverse the process as adults and never go back to our inner old fogey. Make it new, as Ezra Pound said. But not just that. Not just what Ezra said. Be ever bold and new.