When I Was Young, I Wanted To Be A Paleontologist

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By Will Kellock

My recent book acquirements have been somewhat different to purchases of past. Usually, upon entering any branch of Waterstones, I aim straight for the shelf containing Nietzsche, Tolkien, or anything remotely linked to the Gothic or Horror. However, recently, I’ve taken a turn into something slightly more obscure: a book on walking, a colouring book, and a funny little book of cartoons with a repeated use of the word ‘f**k’. These may seem like odd choices given my usual intake of literature, but they’ve led me to stumble across a rather profound realisation.

The first book, A Philosophy of Walking by Frédéric Gros, is perhaps the most academic of the three. It deals with the correlation between walking and critical thought, noting the walking habits of famous philosophers such as Nietzsche, who would hike for days on end. Reading it gave me an intense desire to be outdoors, to roam the land and explore nature in all her finery, something one does not often have time to do. We spend most of our lives cooped up in offices, slaving away to make someone else richer, or at home in front of the television set, where images of the outdoors serve to satisfy our minds rather than the real thing. It’s fast paced, has tones of underlying sarcasm and wit, and truly echoes the joys and splendour of the great outdoors.

The second book is a type of book I’ve not enjoyed in a very long time: a colouring book entitled Enchanted Forest: An Inky Quest and Colouring Book by Johanna Basford. Though I did not technically purchase it, I feel as if I would have done regardless. Given to me before a holiday to Spain, with the aim that it would distract me from the heat and humidity, it provided hours of ceaseless wonder at every turn. The level of detail in the designs, the joy of solving puzzles, scanning pages filled with glorious depictions of magical forests, enchanted castles and woodland creatures ripped straight from the classic fairy tales is all tremendous and beautiful. I think now, that, taking a normal novel would not have been nearly half as exciting as watching these wonderful drawings come to life by my own hand.

The third book is perhaps the strangest of all the books. A cartoon book. Well, not so much a cartoon book as a deep philosophical enquiry into the relief gained by letting go of control and being at one with the universe… with pictures drawn by an eight year old… and one-sentence-per-page guidance tips such as “say f**k it and eat it.” The Way of F**k It by John C. Parkin & Gaia Pollini (with the help of their two eight-year-old sons) is a  book based upon over 30 years’ experience of reading Eastern Philosophy, studying yoga, tai chi and qigong, all condensed into a book you could happily flick through in under 10 minutes. It’s silly, thoughtful, funny and surprisingly insightful. You could carry it around with you, flick to a random page, and the suggestion could very easily change your life.

On their own, these three books don’t seem to be particularly outstanding. Yes, they may change your perspective of things, but perhaps only for a short while. The first may reignite a passion for walking that may not extend past one Sunday afternoon stroll. The second may only provide a couple of afternoons of joy before daytime TV inevitably takes over. The third is amusing enough to inform a few decisions in life, but it’s comical and simplistic form may not lead to any deep and profound revelations. That is, until you combine the three.

Take a look at them. Walking. Colouring. Saying “f**k it.” All seem a little… childish, don’t you think? (Apart from saying f**k it, of course. No child should use such language). That these are all recently published books aimed at adults may seem contradictory to the above point, but as Nietzsche said it, “in every adult is a child who wants to play.”

The recent literature market has exploded with an influx of books aimed at adults that seem to promote childish and immature things, such as walking, colouring or letting life rule and making decisions on a whim without much consideration of the consequences. All in all, these books promote one, pure thought: the key to happiness is in not growing up.

When was the last time you just walked? Not as a means from getting from A to B, but just set off, in any old direction, without a care for where you ended up or when, or what you saw on the way. You just set off, fresh air filling your lungs, the sky above you and nothing under your feet but the open road. As a child, I imagine you would tear around the house non-stop, just relishing in the joy of motion. The great outdoors would fascinate you. The call of birds, splashing in puddles, the feel of sun on your skin and the scents carried by the wind. Remember those times?

When was the last time you did something artistic, be it colouring in, painting, graphic design, anything involving colour, mess and boundless imagination? Most of us, unless employed to do so, would never own a set of paint, a tin of colouring pencils, or a decent stock of drawing paper. I figure the most oft excuse used is, “Oh, I don’t have time to do that” or even “I can’t draw.” Be that as it may, filling in shapes in a colouring book is neither time-consuming nor strenuously difficult. The drawings are already there for you. Some of these books even tell you which colour to put in which shape. As a kid, colouring books were phenomenal. Everyone would have one, and they would come with us wherever we went. We would spend afternoons throwing paint at a piece of paper, rubbing our hands in it and delighting in the mess and chaos we made. Why does nobody past the age of 10 do that anymore?

When was the last time you simply said “f**k it?” Do you remember a time when you saw a cake in a window display and thought, “Ooh… I shouldn’t” and then walked away from the cake, possibly to go and purchase a salad for lunch instead? Has anyone ever truly enjoyed a salad? Has anyone ever walked away from a cake without the slightest bit of regret? As a child, we would simply eat the cake without a second thought if given the chance. We would gorge ourselves silly on all manner of sugary foods until we were sick, and it was glorious. Did we care about our weight? Did we heck! All of our decisions were based on “Will I be happy if I do this thing?” and, most often, we would be. Doing things for fun, introducing sheer, daft happiness into your life by letting life decide instead of trying to control life was the driving force of our childhoods. Being daring, doing things on a whim, running with a thought and chasing dreams. Saying f**k it and doing it, no matter what it was. Doesn’t that sound exciting? Doesn’t that remind you of your childhood?

I think it’s time to let the child out to play. When I was young, I wanted to be a paleontologist (I learnt that word when I was about 6 or 7). I wanted to travel the world and uncover dinosaurs. Many of my friends wanted to be astronauts, musicians, nurses, firemen, vets. Nobody wanted to be a Personal Assistant, a Planning Engineer, a Financial Advisor or Technical Support Administrator. Our dreams and ambitions were colossal when we were children. What happened to them? Why have we allowed ourselves as adults to downsize and reduce life into a little box from which we don’t dare think to escape from?

I ask you, dear reader, to consider life outside the box.

Don’t grow up.

Will Kellock is in the final year of an English and German degree at Manchester Met. He writes under the name The Purple Poet.

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aAh! Magazine is Manchester Metropolitan University's arts and culture magazine.

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