There’s a concept that I really like, and in English it would take me 1000 words just to explain. I forget where I learned about it first, but in Japanese it is called “Mono No Aware”, (‘mono’ like “moe-noe”, ‘no’ like we say it, ‘aware’ like this: “ah-wa-ray” – sue me I like pronouncing things correctly). And the translation is basically the recognition that nothing we have or do is permanent, that it is all passing – but to do so with an appreciation and empathy for those things.
If you have been reading my blog (which is great that you are doing that but – holy crap I only have -what, 10 posts maybe?) then you know that I have recently gotten some world-shaking news. Through the combined effort of my wife and I, there is a child coming in to the world. I am planning on posting this particular post (that you are reading, right now) about a week or two after my ‘announcement’ post that is addressing my children and my acknowledged inadequacies directly.
And there is a reason that Mono No Aware comes up with the subject of Children. Ever since I first got the news from my wife, my mind has been doing absolutely everything that it can to avoid the fact that there are metaphysical doors in my life that are shutting, very quickly. No, They have shut, but I just have not yet looked at the new state of my life to acknowledge exactly what has shut and was has remained open. I will not be able to quit my job in a huff and pursue
writing full time anything that does not consistently pay me money. I will not be able to work on my master’s degree (at least – not where I was planning on doing so). I will soon not be able to stay out with the guys past a certain hour. I can not waste my time on bullshit.
I want to build something for my child. For my children. But thinking about the future like that forces me to extrapolate further and realize that in only 2 or 3 generations (4 or 5 if I am lucky), the only evidence that will remain of me and my legacy (other than some old photos and a dusty memorialized facebook account) are the intangible things that I need to start thinking of right now as to how I want to raise my children.
In short: I would like to have more educated people in the world; so I will raise my child to love learning. I am excessively interested in truth and people fighting for it; so I will raise my child to value truth like fresh water on a long hike. I would like to have more peaceful people in the world; so I will raise my child with gentleness and respect. A lot of other things are on this list as well, including several things from the last link on my ‘about’ page.
The awareness involved in really looking at and embracing Mono No Aware is a scary one and it makes me realize that my legacy is a very real thing and a very ephemeral thing. My children will be the cement in which I write my name, but they may also be the backhoe that rips up that same cement. If I know humans (and I think I do, at least a little) I will probably want them to strip away some of the legacy that I am going to be imprinting upon them – we humans are terrible people sometimes, and terrible people sometimes make terrible parents, but I think even terrible parents want their children to minimize their terrible qualities.
Now, to art.
Holy crap my children are going to be one of the most important things in my life. That realization still hits me really hard. And I get to form them – not just physically, but emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. This means that I can look at them as a canvas upon which I will make my mark. My rough stone from which I will carve a beautiful statue that others will adore or a pillar that will hold up a great structure. They are the room full of people that have no idea what sort of story I am about to inflict upon them.
I don’t even get a choice! My mark will be on my children whether I like it or not – and whether they like it or not. I hope that I can approach this with excitement more than dread.
I think that storytelling will be similar to raising children in a few ways.
Stories are very ephemeral – they don’t stick around very long, like dancing, sand sculptures, and a few other art forms. Having a story in your head is a little different than telling a story. Getting it in your head and maintaining it there is just the work that you do ahead of time – the art is in the telling. Same goes for teaching anything, but over the course of my progeny’s childhood this fact will be highly emphasized – The stories that I tell and the things that I teach them will not have a lasting, physical effect. Hopefully they will have a lasting effect.
When I tell a story, I hope to give people an experience and entertainment with my words, my voice, my inflections and emphases and so forth. But I cannot just list off a bunch of verbs and nouns and tell people “you are now entertained.” Similarly, for the next few decades at least – I will be telling my children things that I hope they will remember. But there will be very few things that I can point to that I will be able to say “see that – that is the particular thing that I meant to do. And here it is.” And in this way, both raising children and storytelling are similar – it is in the action of the thing is where the important bits are.