Last night I went to see the Regent’s Park Theatre production of J.M.Barrie’s Peter Pan. It was a spirited event. Wendy was good at being an unsentimental mother. Peter was good confidently flying to Neverland and back. Tinker bell, a hand-held fairy muppet, tried to be good for her operator. Hook was good at his cursing and hooking. And the children were all good at being responsibly naughty. Lots of First World War soldiers kept running on to the stage to strap Peter and co. into their flying harnesses. When they were not doing that they sang Great War songs. (Not sure the soldiers worked at the end as ‘the lost boys’ surviving the war, to marry, settle down and become responsible parents.)
‘Peter you won’t forget me, will you?” were not Wendy’s final words but ‘Of home…to the awfully big adventure.’ Wendy’s probably right that we have to grow up and accept our adult world. Nevertheless I would have liked some doubts about her domestic certitude.
In psychology circles people are defined as being in a Peter Pan or Wendy syndrome. Such Jungian formulated, out of control, boyish Peters’ and highly controlling mothering Wendys’ sound pretty awful. Un-nuanced case histories. I’m sure such people exist. Yet I’m more interested in those smaller Peter and Wendy traits in myself; people I’ve encountered and how we can deal with them. No sensitive person has fully grown up, doesn’t reflect on some horrible adult actions, tries to keep childlike, and not childish.
It’s time I inserted a poem. This is an old bad poem of mine. Very juvenile doggerel. Apologies. Yet it still makes a crude point about keeping a child’s view of the world.
‘Don’t grow up. Don’t grow down. Stay this size. Always clown. Always laugh. Always sing. The bell is in an old grey place. Don’t stop when your hear it ring. It cries for a child to lose its face. It cries to stop you playing, join grown-ups who stare. But they see nothing in air. Don’t, don’t grow up. Don’t grown down. Roar ‘I’m a child!’ and play out of town.’
It’s balance I mean. That it’s healthier for the growing up adult to take time out as a kid. We are all growing up since birth and only fully grown up just before we die. The level of maturity we achieve being dependent on many genetic and contingent factors. Some of us gain much insight. So of us very little. So long as we have the time and emotional intelligence to sift through it all: then act, in our best interest, without harming others.
‘Consequently not any self-control or self-limitation for the sake of specific ends, but rather a carefree letting go of oneself…Not caution but rather a wise blindness…Not working to acquire silent, slowly increasing possessions, but rather a continuous squandering of all shifting values…This way of being has something naive and instinctive about it and resembles that period of the unconscious best characterised by a joyous confidences: namely the period of childhood.’
Rainer Maria Rilke
I love Rilke’s idea of existence as ‘a wise blindness.’ Unfortunately we can be childishly blind. When I don’t act on my intuition I’m annoyed that some stupid inhibition got in the way. Either my parental adult voice said NO to a positive childlike impulse. Or a timid child inside of me said YES to parental constraint, and I let the opportunity go.
Yet what annoys me more is people being supposedly uninhibited. Too often I find them to be either drunk and/or being a bully. That they have a childish propensity not to cultivate a Neverland but destroy it. I once had a line-manager at work who would get at me with her Wendy bullying. She perceived me as being too laid back. This was aggravated by my simmering silences. I never let a showdown happen and have the fight she wanted: preferring my passive anger to dismiss her ‘authority’, which wound up her sense of wanting to control.
I suppose I colluded in her mis-perception of me, by adopting a Peter Panish cavalier approach to parts of my work. Whilst other jobs were done in a sober (Bank manager father of Wendy manner) that equally confounded and frustrated her. Most people in the office thought her a good manager who got things done. I inwardly dismissed her as lacking in social skills and asserting herself to be uncritically liked. She was obese, in her late thirties, wasn’t in a relationship and lived with her elderly mother. I heard that the mother was often unwell and could be very demanding. If only my line manager had occasionally got drunk and relaxed the Wendy imago inside her head.
Shakespeare’s Falstaff is an obvious example of a huge rampant character whose hedonism is quasi Panish. He indulges in a untrammelled sensual existence. Adult responsibility’s kicked out the window. Eating, drinking and whoring being his routine in a time zone as ‘endlessly’ long as a modern child’s school holiday. Neverland desires are transformed into an Everland of Rabelaisian excess.
If I remove the womanizing then a friend, of a friend of mine, fits this image. He would probably claim that he achieved ‘a wise blindness.’ That he was squandering all shifting values with a philosophical relish. Alas, it was apparent that he just squandered his talent and ambition. Or he’d never wanted to develop a project, in the world, beyond his ego being in a state of alcoholic delusion. The man has a super-human liver, the constitution of an ox and never gets ill. His fraternal outpourings draw you in, asking to praise drink and the world. It’s a repetitive invitation from a man who never confronts change and matures. Not that I’d wish him to grow up locked inside Wendy’s house. More he was sensibly sober in a Voltaire managed garden.
Barrie’s Peter Pan came a few years after my own Littleland encounter with Enid Blyton’s Noddy and Big Ears. Both experiences being on the cusp of change – the violent scrapes of Popeye and rebelliousness of Just William were round the corner. Today the boyhood I’d like NOT to grow out of is more Richmal Crompton than James Barrie. Instead of flying through Neverland I want to be naughty and reveal adult hypocrisy in my own William-Land.
‘Why should not old men be mad?’ said W.B.Yeats. Why not an old man as a mad kid again? Defeating his imaginary Peter in a friendly fight. With a reconstructed Wendy, and her Darling parents, looking on in the shadows.