Thursday, 18 August 2011

Running out of role models

It was easy when I was young; I didn't need to work out who to be or how to behave, I just had to read a book.

It started with Pippi Longstocking, Astrid Lindgren's fiercely independent nine year old who lived in Villa Villekulla with a horse, a monkey and a suitcase full of gold coins. Who wouldn't want to be the girl with the strength to lift a horse, the imagination and determination to spend her days arranging adventures and telling outrageous stories? Pippi wasn't worried by her long thin legs, she wasn't in the least bothered that her nose was covered in freckles and she was positively proud of her hair in its two tight plaits that stuck straight out; so what could it possibly matter if someone called me skinny dripping, teased me for my freckles, or laughed at the way my carefully braided hair was looped across my head?



In time Pippi was followed by a succession of girls I might have been or could have been; the resourceful and rebellious Arrietty  from The Borrowers, the graceful and talented Posy from Ballet Shoes. As I grew, I found new characters to emulate, I built them into so much more than the typed letters on a page.

And then I found Elizabeth Bennett. My middle name is Elizabeth, I'm a second daughter; that was enough to grab my attention. When I found out she was intelligent, opinionated and favourite of her father's children, that was enough to keep me caught. Through her I defined my role as the sensible one in the family. I recognised my inclination to form an opinion too quickly, saw the implications of a judgement based on first impressions, learned the dangers of pride and prejudice.  I still mostly didn't get it right, but she helped me believe that mistakes could be overcome, that there were always second chances. And that kept me going for a long, long time.

But the trouble with Elizabeth Bennett is that she ceased growing up nearly two hundred years ago. She never got to be middle-aged; she didn't have to worry about what to do with greying hair and increasing girth. She married into a stately home, so what would she know about paying a mortgage into pension age, she never became a working mother or grandmother. I can't turn to her for advice on how to handle a re-structure at work; she can't tell me how to muddle through a long day in the office and still be half-awake and slightly interesting when I get home.

So I need a new role model; someone for this century and today's world; I just don't know where to find her. And for the first time in my life, books have let me down. I don't see any authors creating a positive pitch for the past-her-prime lady. I can't find the novel where it all turns out well for the woman who ought to know better by now; I've yet to read the story of the almost-invisible someone starting their second half-hundred; or the fable of the grown-up girl who is still trying to find out what to think and how to be.

I hope she's out there somewhere. Maybe she's just starting to come together, letter by letter, page by page. I'd love to think that one day I'll pop into a bookshop, pick up something that catches my eye, turn to the first page, and suddenly learn that there's another truth that's universally acknowledged.



22 comments:

Philip said...

Write it.

IJrdn said...

Oh role models, what are they, I've never had any. Maybe someday when I need one, I won't be able to find any, and I'll finally understand this feeling you expressed in this post.

Nicely written :)

Starlight said...

I agree with Philip, write it.

Robbie Grey said...

Third for the write it. Or just look in the mirror.

Sydneylk said...

I agree with everyone else, I think you should write it. Role models are impossible to find, the only answer is to make one up. I mean, people are so desperate they're calling people like Lady Gaga and Katy Perry role models now.

All the good guys (and girls) are dead. All my role models kicked the bucket before I even knew they were my role models.

Bobby Stevenson said...

That was beautifully put Sharon and I think everyone above is correct - perhaps the baton was passed to you and you just haven't looked down to see it in your hand. If it is there, and it is your turn, then your only option is to run with it and see how far and fast you can go. I'll bet you it's to somewhere wonderful. I'll wait with baited breath. x

caterpillar said...

I agree with Philip as well...write it....

Pat said...

Jo March was always mine - faults and all.
The answer is in yourself Sharon. I don't think now you need a role model. It's your turn to be IT.

Jim Murdoch said...

I’m with The Stranglers – ‘No More Heroes’ – because it’s only a matter of time before you learn their deep dark secrets and the disappoint you.

Liz said...

I can't wait to walk into the bookstore, pick up a copy of your book, walk to the till and say "I know her!"

Tran Van Vu said...

a nice blog :)
You are a bloger pro :)
i like it :)
Visit http://travelinmylife.com
Have fun

Bea said...

-loved Pippi as a child. Ramona the Pest was another fave. I wonder how Ramona the Middle-Aged Pest might be yet shaking things up today!

Thank you for your post. :)

Laena said...

It's so true. So many of the heroines of great literature finally reach their destination, find that perfect, loving man, and live happily ever after, leaving us wondering, "What now?" Or what happens if we don't meet that man? What if we are left to cope with life alone? Or what if that man doesn't come until long after we've had to struggle through so much more life?

Even Bridget Jones eventually found her Mr. Darcy. But she was, what? Only 33? What if it takes longer than that?

I agree. You need to write this book! Because we really need SOMETHING of a heroine to get us through.

I really loved this post. But then, you could probably guess that :)

Shopgirl said...

It takes a lot of wisdom and grace to recognize and admit you haven't had it all figured out, a reality at any age anyhow.

I thought it was beautifully expressed and admire how you could do that with any number of subjects.

That's something.

Chantel said...

Such food for thought, and lovely vulnerability. I have found refuge in The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher a bit. Such a graceful depiction of true love, family, passion, age, honesty and memory. Seasons. And acceptance.

However, should you write it...add me to your mailing list.

Hillary said...

You are a role model for the readers of your blog. If you write the book, let me know. :)

Sharon Longworth said...

Philip - ok, because I always do exactly what you say...

IJrdn - I can't imagine how I would have worked out who I wanted to be without thinking about other characters I love.

Tamara - Philip loves it when people agree with him!

Robbie - It's far too early in the day to follow your second tip...

Sharon Longworth said...

Sydneylk - I think my role models have only ever been in books - never celebrities or real people. I'm not sure what that says about me!

Bobby - that's such a smashing thing to say - and a bit scary at the same time.

Caterpillar - someone else agreeing with Philip? His head will start to swell...

Pat - Jo March is fantastic - I can't believe I didn't think to include her here!

Sharon Longworth said...

Jim - maybe that's why my heroes are always fictional - the book always ends before the dark disappointing secrets emerge!

Oh Liz - that did make me smile - thank you!

Tran Van Vu :)

Bea - I don't think I've never heard of Ramona the pest - but the name is so intriguing I'll be off to check her out.

Sharon Longworth said...

Laena - hello and welcome! Thank you so much for leaving a comment. Looks like I might have to stop reading blogs and get on with a bit of writing!

Thanks Tianyu!

Chantel - thank you - I've never read The Shell Seekers, though I've often meant to - so there's another thing for me to try.

Hillary - you're too kind, but you did start me thinking - perhaps that's where my real-life role models are now - in all the great blogs I read.

Jennifer said...

Ha, I agree with Phillip, regardless of if you listen to him or not.

I really loved this post, though.

I always find it a bit frustrating that instead of strong women like Elizabeth, most people, these days, like to write more tragic characters who are a bit unsure of themselves, awkward and who have only somewhat contenting endings.

I still have a few role models, but I am sure I'll be in the same predicament as you in a few years.

Web-Betty said...

This is my first visit to you blog, loved this post!

As has been said already, write it. :D