“Every person has a hero or two that had given them the drive to try something new. We all aim to take on the best attributes of those we admire.”
Gerard has three heroes. Three people with a specific quality he wants to acquire as well and he believes that, in order to do that, he needs to travel.
So he leaves his cubicle, says goodbye to his family and takes off on what will be a six months long trip.
Grow Up: Life Lessons Away From Home is that trip in book form.
To learn (Dad)
The first of Gerard’s heroes is his father. He connects his father with the ability to learn, but what he really looks up to his dad for is his ability to connect to people. Gerard believes that in order to strike up a conversation with a stranger and actually be entertaining as well, he needs to talk about more than The Simpsons and video games. He needs life stories to tell.
And what better way to accumulate those than by traveling?
To love (Billy Connolly)
Gerard’s second hero is comedian Billy Connolly. As Gerard has once heard that the way to a woman’s heart is being funny, he admires Connolly’s ability to keep on telling stories in front of thousands of people and making them laugh while at it. But just as the ability “to learn” was actually about connecting with people, the ability “to love” comes down to something else: meeting women.
Gerard is a young guy who, just as many other young guys (so I’ve heard and read; I’m not a young guy), finds it difficult to talk to women and, one step further, to seduce them. He knows he’s not a casanova, but with all the tales he’s read of backpacker love he hopes that travel will get him in the game.
To live (Henry Rollins)
The last hero Gerard is inspired by is Henry Rollins. This musician has his own spoken word tour in which he addresses topics related to culture and cultural differences. Living in the rather isolated city of Perth, Gerard feels like he lacks an understanding of other cultures. By traveling he wants to get “feet-on-the-ground” knowledge, and be a more understanding person”.
It’s not at all clear while reading Grow Up for the first time (at least I thought it wasn’t; you might be more clever than me), but if you look at these three abilities they can actually all be summed up into one: to connect.
Gerard is a writer, but he wants to be able to connect to people “live” as well. He wants to be able to talk to strangers, tell interesting stories, impress the ladies and connect with other cultures. All these things are related to each other. By telling stories he’ll be able to entertain people, including women. By having the guts to talk to strangers he’ll be able to learn about other cultures. Gerard has mastered the written word, now he wants to travel the world to practice the spoken word.
So, does he Gerard acquire these three abilities? Does he learn, love and live?
Connecting with strangers
By staying with family he hardly knows in Canada, sleeping in dorms and meeting other travelers he is forced to have other conversations than the ones he’s used to. Travel helps him with this as he can always talk about his home, the places he’s already visited and the places he still plans to visit on his trip. It’s typical travel talk but it gets him started and just a third into the book I already had the impression that Gerard had learned to connect with strangers. Maybe not always that elegantly or deeply, but what can you expect when a lot of connecting is done at parties and clubs?
Loving, or meeting the ladies?
As I mentioned before, Gerard’s “to love” really comes down to “wooing the ladies” and this might have been the one part that bothered me a bit about this book. Again, I’m not a young guy so that might have something to do with it.
During his trip (or so it seems from the book) Gerard put a lot of focus on partying and hooking up with girls. I find that a bit of a shame because, as we saw, there is more behind his journey.
It seems as if he has set out, both on his trip as with Grow Up, with clear goals and ideas, but one of those went to dominate the others. (I try so hard not to say anything about guys and what body part they think with). This is more so in the first half of the book than in the second, but it stays very present until the end.
At a certain moment Gerard meets Carol, a girl who might be more than a one-night fling. Only, we can’t really be sure of that. While he chases her around Europe his main motivation seems to be the “all-inclusive” trip she’s promised him and not the fact that he might be smitten by her.
Now that’s all fine of course. Just know that his quest to find love is more about getting comfortable and confident around girls than it is about finding a partner.
Isn’t that what we all want to do? Live life and not feel like we’re being lived? Well Gerard has definitely lived during his trip. Even if he’s partied a lot, he has also discovered new cities, met new people and connected with other cultures. I’m sure he’s still telling those tales today.
I received a copy of the book for review purposes.