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Children

Mid-day and it was so warm outside it felt like summer. I broke from the computer and went for a walk into Central Park with my walking sticks. I passed the community garden on my street, still fallow from the non-winter we have had, much less a non-spring, then into the upper reaches of the park where I have worked in years past on Saturday mornings with the Central Park Conservancy. The terrain was familiar: I had cleared out debris, hacked and chopped bushes, made piles for mulching, raked and planted. Down by the pond a few geese and ducks were enjoying the free flowing water. The air was clear, a cloudless sky. Where do the clouds go, I thought to myself. And then kept on walking. A group of small children were standing on the eastern edge of the pond with three adults and I could hear their chattering as I approached. I stopped to listen to them and to talk to them. Their guardians stood watching over them warily but did not ask me to mind my own business. And so the questions and stories began: Why did I need sticks to walk? Couldn’t I walk on my own? Where are the swans? Are those geese birds the swans? Are the geese afraid of the dark? After all, they have to stay in the park at night, and so on.

As most children, this bunch of 4 and 5-year-olds from a local Montessori school were bursting with language, inventive, ebullient, curious, and adorable without affectation. I could have stayed talking with them all day but they had to go back to school and I had to get back to work in my atelier. Fortunately, it is high up and flooded with light. I can see the cloudless sky, feel the wind off the river, descend to earth to teach or run errands or buy food or socialize. But how to be as free and fresh in my observations as these children? Is it possible?

I think every artist and writer who does not work solely with an eye and ear to the marketplace attempts to remain child-like in their enthusiasms and point of view. Although some may be naturally blessed with a freedom from constraint, most of us are not, or perhaps we are some of the time. Much has to be unlearned before this can happen. And it takes courage.

Once a student admitted to me that he went to the bar before writing or kept a glass of scotch on his desk. And though it is true that alcohol and drugs have, historically, been lubricants for writers, they have also caused many problems—illness and early death, truncated careers. Fitzgerald wrote one masterpiece—“The Great Gatsby”—and he eventually got sober, but it was too late. And his wife, Zelda, authored one formidable book, “Save Me The Waltz,” before she was institutionalized with, more than likely, an alcohol-induced insanity.

Better to find ways to tolerate the vulnerability and pain that surfaces as we work without pharmaceutical or other enhancements. Or, simply, to allow ourselves to be children again.


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