Measuring our worth

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Recently I met a fourteen-year-old screenwriter and director.  He was eight when he realized he wanted to make movies, and since then he’s read everything he can get his hands on that has to do with screenplays.

He’s taken workshops, he’s studied movies in his genre of choice — horror and suspense — and he’s practiced his craft.  Most of what he’s produced have been five-minute movies he and some friends made in his garage or elsewhere around our community— until recently, when he made the leap to more ambitious scripts, like the thirty-minute movie he filmed last summer in preparation for this summer’s sixty-minute feat.

As a writer, I applaud him.  Right before I apply his experience to my own.

We never should measure our own worth by the success of others, I recently read by coincidence.

But how can we not?  At fourteen, this Stephen Spielberg or Peter Jackson in the making has been at it for nearly six years.  I’ve been writing novels for five, and before that, I was doing nothing.  And I’m thirty-three.

Of course there are extremes at both ends, like people who don’t start writing until retirement. Most novelists don’t begin their writing careers until adulthood — but then there’s always that fourteen-year-old out there who writes Eragon and makes us all feel like slouches because instead of spending our summer vacations writing novels and studying up on every book on writing we could find, we were watching cartoons and making Suncatchers window art.  We were the ones working meaningless summer jobs instead of pursuing internships, or studying for career paths we would choose not to pursue in adulthood.  We worked in coffee shops or grocery stores or at pools, coming home at night to fall onto a couch and wither away in front of the TV — for years.

What drives children at eight or ten or twelve or fourteen to a dedication so great it makes them think and act like adults before their time?  To abandon the games of their youth and the habits of all their friends and close themselves in their rooms and rattle off ten or fifteen pages of a screenplay each day after school instead of play some game online or shoot hoops down the street?

When I was all those ages I wasn’t writing, but I was pursuing other hobbies — I was learning to play the clarinet; I was joining the chorus at school and drawing for hours at a time and spending weekends alone in the woods behind my house raking out paths for a world only I would enjoy.  And children who choose baseball or dancing or art over their friends’ activities oftentimes choose to follow those passions into adulthood as eagerly and with as much training, experience, and maturity as those writing screenplays or novels do.

I did — eventually — start writing, and I kept at it, and still keep at it, long after others would have quit.

I guess I won’t know why I never felt the need to pursue a career path before I could spell the word “career,” but I’m not sure it matters at this point.  When he’s thirty-three, shooting his own equivalent of Jaws, maybe Peter Spielberg will look back on the movie he’s working on now and think it’s all too telling of the work of a fourteen-year-old.

Or maybe he won’t. Maybe it will be exactly how he hopes it will be. Maybe he’s on a faster track than the rest of us are because he has more to accomplish in his life. Maybe the rest of us took longer to come around to our purpose or we needed to live more so we would have more to write about when we did finally sit down to our writing desks.

When I was fourteen, I didn’t have any ideas yet. So that’s why I didn’t write anything then. The ideas came later, built upon a foundation of imagination facilitated through artistic expression and time spent with loved ones. Only now would I be foolish enough to ignore the ideas I have to the promotion of meaningless pursuits.

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “Measuring our worth

  1. I think that people start writing when they have something to say. It doesn’t have to start at fifteen or fifty. Writing is ageless. You could kick yourself and wish you started earlier, but would you have as many experiences to take your inspiration from? I believe that great writers need experiences to draw their inspiration from, much like you mentioned in your post. Awesome post, and great blog!

  2. wingedblue

    Different people have different paths. Just because you weren’t writing hardly means your life had somehow a lesser value — outward signs of creativity are not by any stretch the only measure of a life’s noteworthiness, nor is creativity itself the only measure of a person’s worth!

    How many people have you touched in your lifetime — touched in a positive way. How many people, many if not most unknown to you, have had their own lives enriched as your life’s line met theirs?

    By the same token, when a person has such a strong focus so young, they are also making sacrifices in other places. Never doubt that. Looking at only one aspect of a person’s life…. well, that’s like only noticing Mona Lisa’s hands. 😉

  3. I recently saw bits and pieces of a documentary, for the moment the theme linking the 4 very different profiles escapes me. however one of the the profiles was on an amazing concert pianist in Japan. She was flat out incredible. She started playing piano at 4 and there were clips of her playing this amazing and complicated piece of classical music (that was the link, how this one piece of music had changed people’s lives – I digress) she spoke about all the you tube videos of kids playing this amazing piece perfectly, and how they all were lacking. Lacking life experience, lacking the passion, the emotion, the understanding of loss in order to make the music move people, make them cry. You admired them, sure, their accomplishment was phenomenal, but she said she understood the difference now. She was now the grand age of 14, but had lived through the horror and devastation of the tsunami in Japan.
    You can be young and accomplished, dedicated. But the emotional connection that makes your work resonate comes with empathy, with life experience and the ability to connect meaningfully with many. For most of us that comes much later in life, for some, like this girl, far too young. But regardless, I believe you’ve hit the nail on the head in this post.
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    • Wow, thanks for your comment, alreadynotpublished. 🙂 Love your blogging handle too!

      Yeah, it’s hard not to feel jealous over others who seem to have their lives figured out so early in their adult or teen years, but I have to remind myself that at least I did figure out my purpose — one that makes me happy. Many people don’t realize their potential until it’s too late, or they do realize it but don’t do anything about it. The key is just working with the time we have. Thanks for the example you offered. That’s a really great point. The writing I did 10 years ago and even 5 years ago was really awful. It has taken experience to make it something people won’t cringe to read. I hope. 🙂

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