July 3, 2012 by Danielle Harris
I’m going through the Storyline Conference given by Donald Miller. In Exercise Three, I’m suppose to find some role models or character models who I aspire to be like.
This means deciding what kind of person I’d like to become. These character models could be pioneers in my industry, parents, grandparents or fictional heroes from stories. They can be living or dead, friends or complete strangers.
Here is the exercise:
1) Identify at least five character models.
2) List the characteristics of each model you would like to cultivate within yourself.
3) Add a picture if available.
I thought about this exercise carefully. There are so many people who I deeply admire, who I wish I could be like. In my childhood home, surrounded by an extremely extroverted mother and sister, I was always the quiet one. Most people used the words “reserved” and “aloof” to describe me. There was no competing with my mom and sister. They were friendlier, louder, more attention-getting, and more popular. I wasn’t jealous, just eclipsed. When I went to college, I felt this freedom to redefine myself. I could be outgoing. I could be loud. I could be popular. It was so exciting to try on new costumes of personality.
But eventually, I had to realize that they were just costumes — not me. My essential nature had been formed. I was quiet, reserved, aloof. When I really let myself just be myself, I’d get lost in my thoughts. I had a hard time paying attention to small talk, to gossip, to everyday living. (This added to my other labels — “air-headed”, “head in the clouds”, “mysterious”, “snobby”). I enjoyed difficult thought-provoking books, deep philosophical discussions, and being solitary. Sometimes I’ve intimidated or offended people because I seek to understand, directly and frankly. Sometimes I fear I am accidentally being rude — forgetting a courtesy and crossing a line I didn’t see was there. I’m insecure at parties and other social gatherings. I don’t even like going to church.
That’s who I am.
So, in choosing a list of character models, I’ve decided on people whose personalities bend the same way or whose work I deeply admire. While I’ve always loved Anne of Green Gables and have read her books again and again, and though her character taught me to laugh at myself heartily, and not to take myself too seriously, I’m not going to include her. Her personality has influenced me. She has helped me to balance out. But I’m at the age where I’m tired of fighting myself and I want to give in to all my natural tendencies. I want to follow my strengths. I no longer want to focus on correcting my weaknesses. I just want to go in the direction I’ve always leaned towards.
Moreover, though I deeply admire the women in my family: my stoic maternal grandmother who raised ten kids, my colorful and beautiful paternal grandmother whose tastes are exquisite and whose love of life brings a sparkle everywhere she goes, my own mother whose deep convictions and careful, deliberate living has deeply left its mark on my being, and my outgoing, friendly, generous sister, my personality is very different from these women.
So, ladies, know that I love you, that you’ve affected me greatly, that you deserve praise from the depths of my heart, but I must walk my own path — your paths shine with your strengths, I must find my own.
1) C.S. Lewis
The effect his story has on the world: Though I admire C.S. Lewis’ defense of faith in God to the intellectual community, I admire his stories the most. I think his Screwtape Letters place him as a genius of satire. Here, the whimsical and serious meet in a perfect union. I love his fantasies — of course, Chronicles, which I read over and over again as a kid, but also his Space Trilogy which gave me that gist of nearing heaven. I believe that the effect C.S. Lewis had on the world was to couple acceptance of Christianity with intense reasoning. He put it through the rigors of an extremely logical mind. He was also very honest about his struggles with God, most notably in A Grief Observed, when he doubts God’s goodness after losing his wife to cancer. His faith seemed more pristine and sharp because he tested it, put it through the fires, and pummeled it with questions.
Challenges he had to overcome: He lost his mother when he was young. His father was distant and demanding. And he hated school. Not until he became homeschooled by “The Old Knock” did he finally receive the “beef and beer” he desired. I hated school too, so I identify with him there. I wish I could have been homeschooled. And then, after a brief love affair and marriage late in life, he lost his wife.
Characteristics I appreciate and would like to acquire: I’d love to study literature in Oxford. I’d love to learn Greek, study mythology, lecture on ancient poems and old stories. I also admire his deeply authentic searches to find something out. He explores things with his mind and shares his thinking.
And I’d love his old job as a professor at Magdalen college or Oxford someday. Who knows? One can dream:)
C.S. Lewis’ wrote about his friendship with Tolkein — that it marked the breakdown of two old prejudices. “At my first coming into the world I had been (implicitly) warned never to trust a Papist, and at my first coming into the English Faculty (explicitly) never to trust a philologist. Tolkien was both.“
The effect his story has on the world: Wow. Where to begin? Tolkein was key to C.S. Lewis’ conversion. Would we have C.S. Lewis without Tolkein? His book The Hobbit was noted as the Most Important 20th-Century Novel (for Older Readers) in the Children’s Books of the Century poll in Books for Keeps. He gave us The Lord of the Rings Trilogy and the subsequent revival of fantasy as a genre followed on publication of these works. (This has caused Tolkien to be popularly identified as the “father” of modern fantasy literature). Perhaps had the public not had its love for fantasy awakened, would Harry Potter have been so well-received? Who knows? Who cares? We just love to read the story of the unassuming little hobbit and how he and his close relatives saved middle-earth. Tolkein was also a literature professor who was instrumental in bringing the epic poem Beowulf into our cannon of literature study.
Challenges he had to overcome: His father sent the family to England but died of rheumatic fever in South Africa before he could join them. His mother went to live with her Baptist parents and raised the two boys there. When she converted to Catholicism, she was ousted by her parents and had to support her boys on her own. Then, she died when Tolkein was twelve. Tolkein wrote: “My own dear mother was a martyr indeed, and it is not to everybody that God grants so easy a way to his great gifts as he did to Hilary and myself, giving us a mother who killed herself with labour and trouble to make sure us keeping the faith.” A parish priest completed his upbringing.
Characteristics I appreciate and would like to acquire: Tolkein was disappointed when Lewis joined the Anglican church and not become a Catholic, but they remained friends. I admire any Christian who can overlook party politics and stay unified because of our core beliefs. I believe the Church would grow in splendor and strength if she stopped fighting herself. And she would stop looking so silly. Tolkein disagreed with Lewis’ use of religious references in his stories that were overtly allegorical. I sometimes feel tempted to strict allegory in my writing as well. I admire Tolkein’s wish to simply entertain without preaching and aspire to that in my writing. If my Christian beliefs are deep within my soul, they will naturally be expressed without becoming didactic. His love of mythology and assertion as it being a divine echo of “The Truth” is another affinity I share.
The effect his story had on the world: My grandfather spent ten years in Chile as a missionary. Upon returning to the USA, he joined the faculty of the University of Southern California as Director of their International Public Administration Center. He has consulted for the United Nations, USAID, and Latin American Development Bank. He served as Senior Fulbright Lecturer in Madrid. He is a published author.
To me, he was just Grandpa. But these are the things I admired about him. He is extremely articulate. When I asked him a question as a child, he used big words and didn’t talk down to me. He speaks with exactness. He is specific. And he loves to study and to understand. I’ve been thankful for many of the philosophical discussions he’s had with me. He’s helped me out of my religion and into a relationship with a God that is beyond what I know.
Challenges he had to overcome: Being a missionary has many challenges. Living on minute finances. Language barriers. My dad and his siblings grew up speaking English at home, French at school, and Spanish with friends. When my grandfather returned to the states, his education was not accepted because it came from an unaccredited Christian college. He and my grandmother had to start again, midlife. He convinced the university to allow him to test anyway. His scores were so high, they accepted him into the program. Married to my grandmother for over 60 years, he’s been by her side while she fought cancer twice. She is fighting it again now.
Characteristics I appreciate and would like to acquire: His studious, exact, logical mind and his ability to speak other languages. And a Ph.D. — though I’d rather have it in literature than political science.
The effect his story has on the world: His writing was and is beloved. That is enough. But further, Dickens showed us how to use art to bring about social change. The stories were not preachy with morals stated at the end. They could stand on their own as just entertainment. Yet, they did bring about social change. Dickens campaigned to bring changes to social conditions, but his best weapon was his art. I love that.
Challenges they had to overcome: He was forced to work in a factory as a child when his father was thrown into debtors’ prison. And when his father got out and the family moved, his mother never sent for him. These terrible things worked in our favor, in that Charles used them to show us the plight of the poor. His mother not sending for him may have affected his writing for the worse — Dickens’ depictions of women are rarely kind. I’ll use examples of just Great Expectations – the strange spinster, Ms. Havisham, Pip’s mean-spirited sister, and cruel, beautiful Estella. But isn’t that wonderful how art works? He’s provided us with so many colorful and terrible examples.
Characteristics I appreciate and would like to acquire: I’m most jealous of Dickens’ audience — people who read his serial chapters as eagerly as people today watch reality shows. Again, his art was so powerful that the illiterate poor would pay half pennies to have the chapters read aloud. What a time! What would I give to see masses of children begging people to read to them. Today’s children are impoverished in a completely different way.
To me, Dickens was a master at painting a person in a few strokes. A few descriptive phrases and the person is forever etched in memory. I would love that ability — to observe the objects they held, the frown in the forehead, the phrases repeated to raise a person from a collective memory.
The Brothers Grimm
The effect their story had on the world: They gathered the folklore that quickly disappearing because of industrialization. Because of them, fairy tales such as Little Red Riding Hood and Cinderella were preserved.
Challenges they had to overcome: Their father died when the eldest brother, Jacob, was 11. They endured extreme poverty and prejudice in the academic world because of their lower social status. They assumed adult responsibilities very young and had to work all the harder because of unequal treatment of the poor.
Characteristics I appreciate and would like to acquire: Both philologists, the brothers loved language and saw their culture as linked to it. In their efforts to preserve the old stories of the common people, they launched an “intellectual resistance” against the French occupation by attempting to shape something uniquely German. This created a method that would be followed by other writers throughout Europe during periods of occupation.
Cultural trends fascinate me and I’m alarmed at the growing sense that our past and all that is meaningful is being pulled from us. We’ve forgotten more than we can learn anew. The solution lies in language, a revival of old stories, preserving what makes us human.
Looking at my list makes me feel alarmed. Do I suffer from penis envy? Perhaps because I grew up with domineering women, I seek men out for a break? And can you get anymore WASPish? Like any good American, I’ve read my share of books and poetry by women and minorities. I have no idea why these people made my list and not others. If anyone would like to give a psychoanalysis, feel free. But, in the spirit of not fighting myself and going with whatever comes natural to me, this is what came up. So be it.
In my defense, I chose C.S. Lewis because of his essays and satires on faith, Tolkein because of my love of fantasy (perhaps I should have substituted Madeleine L’Engle or Lois Lowry), my grandfather because of the influence he’s had on my personal growth, Dickens because he used his art to bring about social change, and the Grimm brothers because of the term “intellectual resistance”. Perhaps if I didn’t live in such a homogeneous environment, I would be drawn to other points of view. I hope my heart is open.
- Breaking: J.r.r. Tolkein Ripped Off Harry Potter! (videogum.com)
- The Hobbit: Better than the Lord of the Rings? (brwesterberg.wordpress.com)
- Review: The Magician’s Book by Laura Miller (amckiereads.com)
- Clive James: 30 classic quotes (telegraph.co.uk)
- Chapter-a-Day Psalm 7 (tomvanderwell.wordpress.com)