Monday, January 29, 2007

Are You Adventure-Prone?

As part of my continuing education as a writer, I try to read at least one author's biography or autobiography a quarter. In the fall, I read a biography of Agatha Christie. This month, I've been reading a memoir by John Howard Griffin.

You may not recognize Griffin's name, but I'll bet you've heard of his 1961 book, Black Like Me. A white journalist born in Dallas, Griffin darkened his skin and spent six weeks traveling through the American segregated south, passing as a black man. His critically acclaimed non-fiction book discussed race relations and social justice in America.

Griffin wrote other books. The one I'm reading now is called Scattered Shadows. He fought in World War II and sustained a head injury that left him blind for a ten-year period from 1947 to 1957. Scattered Shadows is his memoir of that time.

Although I'm not yet finished with the book, I can strongly recommend it. I was particularly moved by his prologue, which is titled "Adventure-Prone." I'm going to quote a short passage that will give you a sense of the whole:

The greatest background education for a writer--and too often the most neglected--is experience. By this I do not mean a wild dashing about from place to place or having love affair after love affair. I mean the ability to make experience out of everything that happens to you.

Experience for the writer is in many ways an attitude of mind. It is the ability to feel adventure in the smallest things in life, a walk in the rain if you like. It is this sense of adventure which many young writers lack, and yet I am sure it can be developed . . . There are few other vocations that list such a high percentage of those who are adventure-prone. Almost all writers--from Dante to Moliere to Hemingway--are capable of tremendous intellectual adventure. They give the impression of living grandly, even when isolated in a lonely room over a work desk. We think of them as people to whom things happen.

An adventure-prone person is not simply someone assaulted by a set of adventurous circumstances. Rather, he or she is one who perceives the possibility for adventure where others do not. It appears to be a matter of conditioning, a conscious technique that can be acquired.

In the past, my family and friends have frequently complained that I can turn a simple event into a big deal, implying that I'm prone to exaggeration. My feelings have often been wounded because they didn't get as excited by what had happened as I did.

I've decided that, henceforth, I will not be deterred by my loved ones' editorials of my "adventures." I will embrace this trait as my simply being adventure-prone.

I grant you permission to do the same.


lainey bancroft said...

What an excellent quote, Maya. I agree wholeheartedly.
I've known many people who can't survive without a social calendar planned a year in advance, tickets, invitations, parties, vacations etc. I enjoy an 'event' as much as the next gal, but I'm never driven to fill every second with something that is perceived as a 'big deal'. Some of my most enjoyable times are spent with people who can make an event out of a sunny afternoon, a six-pack and a package of hot dogs.

It goes with something my grandmother was fond of saying: "You should be ashamed to admit boredom. Any intelligent person with a lick of imagination can find ways to amuse themselves."
Damned if I haven't said it a few times to my own kids, because I believe it.

Maya Reynolds said...

Lainey: Thanks! I'm the queen of winging it. Years ago, I was very active in the Big Brother/Big Sister program, and I can still remember one of my little sisters looking at me and saying, "We're winging it, aren't we?" When I smiled and said yes, she sighed and said, "I just hate it when we wing it."

Poor little sparrow.