I know I’ve mentioned this many times before, but here’s the short version once more: in early 2000 I met one of my childhood heroes, George Harrison. I believe he was visiting a holistic campus a few towns over from the mall where I worked, and one day he came in to the store looking for music. Suffice it to say, I was a) gobsmacked, b) nervous as hell and c) did my damnedest to make him feel at home. I even chatted with him about music for a few minutes, which was super cool.
I bring this up as this past Friday was the long-awaited release of some major Beatles archival music: the almost-forgotten 1977 compilation album Live at the Hollywood Bowl and the release of Ron Howard’s documentary of their live years, Eight Days a Week. The hashtag #ISawTheBeatles has been floating around Twitter for the last few days as well.
Remembering that unexpected meeting with my childhood hero made me think of what my definition of ‘hero’ is. I rarely use it to define any of my characters in my writing, as I’d rather write the Flawed Human Who’s Just Trying to Do Their Best. [I rarely use it to describe someone in the military or someone who saved the day, come to think of it. Not that I believe it unearned, far from it…more that it’s a word that’s been so overused and abused that it no longer rings true as an adequate descriptor for me. But that’s another post entirely.]
I think at this point in my life, my kind of hero is someone I admire who’s influenced and/or inspired me, or taught me things I’ve desperately needed to know. Someone who put me on the right path to where I wanted and needed to be.
Someone like Ray Bradbury, whose Dandelion Wine made me realize that reading is not always a chore — I just need to find what connects with me on a deeper level. [Met him in 2006 at Worldcon and let him know he inspired me to become a serious writer. He appreciated hearing that.]
Someone like George Harrison, who aside from being the lead guitarist for my all-time favorite band when I was a kid, inspired me to seek inner peace as a way to calm myself when I most needed it.
Are all my heroes musicians and writers? No, there are everyday people who have been my heroes as well, like my history teacher in college, Rev. John Coffee, who taught me how to look at history not as a list of facts to memorize for a sememster-end exam but as an ongoing and evolving world story. But yes, I will admit a lot of my personal heroes are creative people. They’re the ones that have influenced and inspired me to do the best I can with my own creative works. They’ve all shown me just how far I can go.
I’m not much of a hero worshiper, either. Over the course of the last twenty or so years I’ve met with such people, I treat them as they would treat me: ordinary humans who just happened to get away with doing extraordinary things. Doing meet-and-greets during my college radio and HMV tenures, and chatting with numerous writers at conventions, I’ve learned that meeting my heroes doesn’t have to contain a high level of squee and OMG. If I ever met Hayao Miyazaki or Rumiko Takahashi in person I would most likely stutter and laugh a bit, but in the end I think I’d be able to thank them for their wonderful works and masterful storytelling.
After all, heroes are like you and I. We all wake up groggy in the morning and in need of sustenance, and we all go to bed at the end of the day, exhausted by the day’s activities. Heroes to me are the ones who actively, relentlessly look for answers in between those moments.