Many, many years ago I saw the remake of The Thomas Crown Affair, starring Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo. I remember the film because it established for me that Pierce Brosnan had gotten kind of icky since his glory days as Remington Steele. It's a strange kind of ickiness - he is a classically handsome man with symmetrical features and plenty of hair. It has something to do with his smile, the "I'm so sexy" grin he puts on, his jaw jutting out exultantly. The ick-factor seriously interfered with my ability to enjoy the film, since halfway through the movie the art-heist plot is replaced by a prolonged celebration of his relationship with Russo. He's a daredevil! He flies planes! And she gets to join him in his extreme-sport-playing, jet-setting lifestyle! The whole movie is a homage to the idea that living life to the fullest means risking one's neck in death-defying stunts.
In Myers-Briggs terms, these characters are SPs: spontaneous, impulse-driven concrete thinkers who function best when they can live most fully in their bodies, suspending conscious awareness in favour of a pure adrenaline rush. I have never been under the impression that I would be happier if I adopted a similar lifestyle. When I was ten years old a friend of mine got a motor-bike and we all got to try it out on the front lawn. I knew I didn't want to get on that bike, but I feared the social stigma of refusing. Against my better judgment I climbed on, frozen in terror and unable to hear the instructions over the pounding in my ears. I squeezed something (the throttle?) and blasted forward, gripping the handlebars for dear life as I crashed straight into the fence. Afterwards I stumbled home, clutching my scratched knuckles and enjoying the melodrama far more than I had the brief burst of speed that preceded it.
I am risk-averse. I don't like sports. Even the hay-ride at the ranch I took Bub to for a nursery-school field trip was a little too scary to be wholly enjoyable for me. (There were no bars along the side of the wagon, so parents sat around the perimeter. The path was bumpy and sometimes steep.) The things I enjoy mostly take place in my mind. I read books. I write. I imagine.
I don't think you get to have it both ways. One of my students recently remarked that she had never enjoyed imagining things. (This was in response to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, a novel she found too imaginative to be enjoyable.) She was a tomboy; she played soccer at an age when I was holed up in my bedroom, building a fort in the closet and writing a soap opera featuring all the kids in my class. That's not to say that bookish people can't be good at sports, just that the main source of pleasure and meaning in one's life is usually either inward or outward. And as humiliating as it was to be picked last in gym class, I always knew which way I'd rather be.
There are two refrains I often hear in blogland that seem to embrace the idea that it would be better if we (and our children) weren't quite so ... bloggy. We want our children to be fearless; we worry about their anxiety, their hesitation and caution. And we want to be parents who live in the moment, who are capable of shutting down the analytical mind long enough simply to experience each day as it comes. There are people who live like that - who jump in feet first, who live each moment fully without analyzing it or mentally composing blog posts about it. But they're not better. They're not happier. The fact that they would be miserable leading my life doesn't mean I'd be happy leading theirs.