feed your head + find your soul
“I suppose some of my lyrics owe a debt to those naughty books.” — Cole Porter
My son loves Tintin. He can’t get enough of Tintin. He’s been working his way through all the Tintin books, reading them as fast as I can buy them (I told my boys a long time ago that they could have any book they wanted, as many books as they wanted).
“Tintin is kind of my role model,” he told me.
A friend of mine happened to be in the house during the boys’ daily reading time, and she wondered aloud if my intellectually gifted child shouldn’t be reading “something more challenging than those Tintin books. They’re, like, comic books –“
“Graphic novels,” I said.
“ – whatever. Shouldn’t he be reading real books? I bet he could handle To Kill a Mockingbird.”
“Look,” I said, opening up a box and lifting out the contents, “I got him a Tintin action figure.”
(This same friend would later see me holding the toy figure of a character from Game of Thrones, and ask, “Is that also for your kid?” “Uh, no,” I would admit. “It’s for my desk.”)
I’m perfectly confident that my son can handle ‘real’ books, and that he will come to Mockingbird in his own sweet time – probably for a school assignment – and enjoy it as much as I did (and he and I can then discuss the problematic ‘white redeemer’ trope). And I can’t deny that, hell, I would love to see him, at his age, waving around a copy of The Stranger or Crime and Punishment, mostly so I could brag about it on Twitter.
But the soul wants what it wants.
More than that: the soul knows what it needs.
James Hillman, founder of archetypal psychology and author of books like THE SOUL’S CODE: IN SEARCH OF CHARACTER AND CALLING, compares the soul to an acorn. It may be tiny, but it contains the complete biological blueprint of the particular oak that it will one day become, that it must become. So it is with the soul. This is the very essence of our unique and individual nature that, Hillman argues, can’t be attributed to nature or nurture but is instead an invisible force, a flashing mystery, that hides and weaves through both.
Robert Greene, who has made a study of seduction, power and mastery – and the formidable figures throughout history who serve as examples of each – noted a certain pattern in the lives of passionate high achievers
“…the difference between people who are successful and not are that those who are successful seemed to know from the age of 7 or 8, maybe older, they’re very in tune with what they love. I compare it to a voice inside their head, not literally a voice but something that says “you really are drawn to this subject” and they hear it throughout their lives. For me it was writing and books, since I was a kid. At any time I deviated from that love and went into something else, I was just so unhappy and I knew that I wasn’t doing the right thing. It’s just this voice that keeps drawing you back to what you really, really love.”
Socrates referred to it as his ‘daimon’, the deep instinctive sense that pushed him in certain directions and dissuaded him from others. The word ‘genius’ derives from ‘genii’, which the ancient Greeks and Romans regarded as protecting, guiding spirits assigned to individuals at birth to help them through life. These days we refer to it as our intuition, our sixth sense, or – for the more poetically inclined – our muse.
Hillman proposes that we are each bequeathed with a primary image at the heart of our identity, and that it is our life’s task to realize its imperatives. He writes: “Unpacking the image takes a lifetime. It may be perceived all at once, but understood only slowly.”
It will, if we only let it, drive us toward wholeness: when how we live and what we do and who we are converge.
Reading isn’t just about feeding your brain the “proper” intellectual nutrients. It’s a way to map the truth of who you are through discovering what sparks the fire of your imagination, what draws you back over and over. Reading is brain food, but it also serves as soul food. Soul food doesn’t care if its nutrients come from high or low culture, from works of the Western canon or tattered genre paperbacks; it either fits the soul’s appetite, or it doesn’t.
When it fits, we need to pay attention.
My son isn’t reading Tintin in order to avoid more “challenging” material. He sees, in these storylines and characters, the traces of his daimon. He recognizes, on some level unknown to his conscious mind, clues to a soulprint unfolding. It’s not for us to know (at this point) how this influence manifests itself in future. It’s enough to bear witness and call it for what it is: the mystery of who he is, of who we all are, tracking out the truth of our lives.