Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, January 2, 2015

On growing


Vic Fleming

Dear Judge Vic, In last week’s column, you wrote, ‘A repeating scene in “Breaking Bad,” which I’ve now watched twice, involves the protagonist’s birthday.’ This was a sly segue into talking about your birthday. (Happy birthday, BTW, belatedly!) My question is, Did you watch the repeating scene twice? Or did you watch the series twice? /s/ Muy Curioso.”

Dear Muy, I watched the whole thing a second time, starting a year or more after watching it the first time. Just as I did with “Lost” and “Sports Night.” And as I’ll do with other shows in time. No different than watching reruns on regular TV, right?

I frequently read a good book two or more times. I’ve read Kafka’s “The Trial” once a year since 2005, the year I summoned up the courage to teach it in the Law and Literature seminar. Why shouldn’t I re-watch a TV show that I find compelling?

My take on the process is that when I absorb something that I enjoy a second or third time, I sense that I am growing. Growing how? Growing where? I’m not too clear on that, actually.

It feels, though, like I might be getting nearer to wisdom, which I hope someday to attain. Most days I don’t feel wise at all. Especially on Saturdays, when the Times crossword kicks my rear.

I was trying to remember a quotation about growing the other day. I was making a point with some younger people at an event in Southeast Arkansas. I said, “Growing is mandatory. Growing old is optional.” As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I knew I’d messed up the quote. The listeners nodded politely, then walked to the bar.

“Growing old is mandatory. Growing up is optional.” That’s the quotation I was groping for. I’ve found it online now, and when I try to pinpoint the source, I see it’s attributed to no fewer than five people. None of whom I’ve even heard.

Hypothesizing, then, that people are lifting this quote and claiming it as their own, I begin to question its wisdom altogether. One of my favorite poems is Anthony Abbott’s “Growing Up,” which begins,

Why do they call it up? Why not growing out?

or older or colder, but certainly not bolder.

The theme that plays out in Tony’s poem is that growing up is not necessarily such a good thing. Balance may be achieved by remaining in touch with one’s inner cartoon characters. Many of whom are named in the poem.

One of the reasons I continue to teach Law and Lit, generally, and Kafka, specifically, is that I like being in contact with law students. (You thought I was going to say cartoon characters, didn’t you?) Another reason is the belief that I can influence a few students per year to seek balance in their lives.

Any professional school experience can be interpreted by students as an insistence that they take everything as gravely serious. Through lessons taught by literature, I try to stress that one must take oneself with just the right amount of seriosity—no more, no less.

I’m sorry, Muy, but what was your question? /s/ J.V.

Vic Fleming is a district court judge in Little Rock, Ark., where he also teaches at the William H. Bowen School of Law. Contact him at vicfleming@att.net.