Sunday, May 16, 2010

Keith Richards and Character Transformation

blog 71

Did you read the recent story about Keith Richards?

It wasn’t anything scandalous this time. No inappropriate behavior.

It was the fact that he’d always had a secret longing to be a librarian (see this Times UK article. )

The article reveals a whole other facet to Keith Richards that I hadn’t realized existed. Actually, I found this article much more surprising than his hospitalization in 2006 when he fell from a coconut tree in Fiji.

He has thousands of books in his homes in Sussex and Connecticut and considered professional training to learn to manage those libraries.

According to the article:

In his autobiography, Life, due to be published in October, Richards will reveal how, as a child growing up in the post-war-austerity of 1950s London, he found refuge in books before he discovered the blues.

There are hidden depths to every person, though. Old dreams, new dreams, hopes, fears, interests.

I’ve read quite a few sort of midlife-crisisy books where the protagonist realizes they’ve been going the wrong direction with their life. The book follows their voyage of self-discovery as they break from the shackles of their old life and pick up a new one.

I’ll admit that usually I don’t find those books really satisfying and I’ve never been able to put my finger on exactly why they’re not enjoyable for me. I enjoy these type of books when the book is a memoir or a biography--because the characters are real people who have overcome major obstacles in their lives to become better people.

In a novel? Eh. I just don't like them as much.

I think it’s because, although we do have these hidden facets to ourselves, it can be very difficult to change course in our life.

Imagine if Keith Richards suddenly decided he’d become a librarian, after all. Not, I’m thinking, going back to school and getting his Masters in Library Science, but maybe working as a library tech.

Think about how disruptive his presence in the library would be. There would be fans there—and paparazzi. The library is a public place, after all. It probably wouldn’t be the peaceful oasis he seems to be craving…because his old life, his celebrity, would intrude in his new one.

Maybe the life change is something completely different—maybe a character suddenly discovers his spiritual side and decides to become involved in a church or synagogue. Which is great…except maybe this character’s old buddies aren’t on board with his spiritual transformation and set up roadblocks for him so they can keep their relationship on the same course.

The same buddies could be there to sabotage their old buddy’s new marriage…undercutting her so they won’t lose the hanging out time with their friend.

I think many times life changes can create more conflict than not…even when the life changes are ostensibly good.

Of course, the story could go completely the opposite way. The protagonist makes a life change from a nonproductive course to a completely different one—she ditches her unhelpful spouse, gets in touch with her spirituality, discovers she’s a wonderful artist—and it all goes well. It’s a transformation story.

But where’s the fun of that? I think it’s not quite so easy. There are set-backs and conflicts between the old life and the new one.

Read any good life transformation/midlife crisis stories? Did the protagonist suffer many setbacks on their road to self-discovery?