I was thinking about running away, today.
Not specifically, but as an idea in itself.
Bear with me while I explain: I did a post on my Italian blog about what I would do were I a kid of 17 getting ready to end his high-school.
In a word: I’d forget about school grades as our school system’s disqualified. I’d look for an online certification in the subject I’d love to be my career, and then I’ll leave the country and pursue an education abroad. I closed my post observing that there is no dishonour in retreat if we retreat to save our life and our loved ones’.
My suggestions have been called defeatist – it is better to hold our ground against impossible odds and be blasted to hell, I was told, than run and fight another day.
Which of course sounds impressive on paper, looks great on film, but in real life is suicidal.
And this by circuitous ways led me to think about the stories I like, and the authors I prefer – and it turned out that most of my literary heroes are pragmatists that put survival above senseless heroism.
And I don’t mean just Dominic Flandry or Harry Flashman or Retief, and the endless sequence of opportunists and scoundrels in Jack Vance and Roger Zelazny on which I formed my personal worldview as a teenager.
I was reminded of John Carter’s “Still, I live!”
And mind you, if there was a guy all for facing impossible odds, that guy was the Warlord of Mars, but one thing is going for broke with a purpose and a plan (even if that plan fits snugly on a small post-it), another is throwing away all we have in an impressive but useless gesture.
I’m sometimes nervous about the advancing rhetoric of the grand gesture that gets bandied around even for the most basic life or career choices. I don’t like when a kid that braves an uncertain future looking for a job on the other side of the world is called a craven or his gamble is called jumping boat, while those that bow down to certain expectations and basically try and get cosy in their cul-de-sac are treated like heroes.
And being a person that does most of his living in stories and with stories, I wonder if the myths of self-sacrifice for its own sake, of meaningless heroism, has not infected our entertainment. And because we learn from stories, some of us are getting mired in a mind swamp of love as pain, hope as illusion and escape as guilt.
But if love doesn’t need to be tragic and there’s always reason for hope, then running away is no shameful act in itself.
It’s like that old Greek conundrum, who was greater, Odysseus or Achilles.
Well, maybe I spent too much time in the company of fictional scoundrels, but my money is on the King of Ithaca.