Wednesday, October 24, 2007

the writer's life

I am enjoying very much Raising Lifelong Learners by Lucy Calkins. I just finished chapter 3, "Growing Young Authors." I love the many smart suggestions for getting children to love writing and feel comfortable with it. But my favorite part of this chapter was the second half entitled "The Lifework of Writing." Calkins quotes Katherine Paterson, who was called to the backyard one day by son to watch a cicada shed his skin. After observing this awe-inspiring event with her son, Paterson says, "As I let that wonder wash over me, I realized that this was the gift I really wanted to give my children, for what good are straight teeth and trumpet lessons to a person who cannot see the grandeur that the world is charged with?"

I quickly reserved a copy of Paterson's book, partly because she refers to one of my favorite poems.

I have always believed that a sense of reverence for the natural world is one of the greatest gifts I could give my child. The other day Lidia, Bernie, and I went for an autumn walk. Every so often Lidia stopped and exclaimed, "Look at that, Mom! Isn't that beautiful?" This close observance of detail and wonder at nature comes naturally to younger children like Bernie, who named one tree the "pig tree" and another the "bear tree." But Lidia is a big old girl now. I felt so tremendously pleased that in spite of that she hangs on to wonder.

What does this have to do with writing?

More quotes from the book:

"Pulitzer-prize-winning writer Donald Murray describes the writing life by saying that by writing, we see more, hear more, think more, feel more ... I let my children know that when they lag behind to peer closely at a little flower growing between the cracks in the sidewalk, they are living like poets. 'You are such observers!' I tell my boys 'It's what gives you your writing talent!' How proud I was when Evan's teacher told met that as the class walked across a school lawn together, Evan looked up at the willow tree and said, 'I could write about that tree. It looks like a girl with long hair falling all over her face.'"

"Writers do not live more significantly than nonwriters; writers just know how to find the significance in the backyards of their lives."

from children's author Cythia Rylant: "We are talking about being an artist every single day of one's life. It's about going fishing as an artist and having relatives over for supper as an artist and walking the aisles of Woolworth's like an artist."


Mama Ava said...

What you do so well, Calandria, is that what you think you "should" do for your kids is actually quite embedded in who you are and what your family is.

I often catch myself thinking "my kids should do..." or "our family needs to..." and then realize that it would probably fail because it would be artificial. I had a friend who always bemoaned the messes her kids made on their clothes or when playing (and believe me, they weren't all that bad)and wanted something different/cleaner. But she really didn't hold that value herself and spent so much energy trying to impose things. I, on the other hand, want a cleaner neater life, too, but know that it's really not "me" and deal with it.

Imagine if you tried to impose loving and looking at nature on your kids! Knowing what you stand for and what your family is about and doing things you truly love that furthers those aims is what it's about!

Calandria said...

Thank you, Mama Ava. I was a little surprised at first that I gave you this impression--that I act as a mother how I think I should. I laughed incredulously, in fact. It seems that I'm always, like you say you often do, thinking up some new fabulous thing we must embrace, only to end it all in either frustration or apathy. I think the friend you describe has been me in the past. I have the idea that I'm fairly orderly with my things and it's the kids who wreck havoc. But when I take an honest look I must admit that is not true. It's hard not to try to impose that because I feel so much better when things are neat and orderly. But I think, like you, it's probably not "me."

I've been thinking all day about this: "knowing what you stand for and what your family is about and doing thigs you truly love that furthers those aims is what it's all about." I was thinking, what if I could have children who took care of all their things and did not tolerate the least bit of clutter in their rooms. (We actually know such children.) However, they wouldn't find joy in nature or like to talk about books. It's not that orderliness and love of nature and books are mutually exclusive. I'm sure there are mothers out there who have trained their children to be perfectly neat AND voracious readers AND nature lovers AND gourmet cooks. Thanks heavens I know no such people. Anyway, I think you do have to choose what you are going to focus on, and playing up your strengths does seem like a winning strategy.

I'm always happy to see your comments! They always make me think.

dave said...

I think a related quality that writing helps to achieve is not only to notice but to be able to articulate. Eleanor Roosevelt had this great quote, "That is the great power of the artist, the power to make people hear and understand, through music and literature, or to paint something which we ordinary people feel but cannot reveal."

By the way, I finally got another Spanish vocab quiz up, in case you feel like impressing again.

athena said...

i read this post on my feeder and at first couldn't understand where you were going with it but reading it again now i can see. you were living the words!

what i like about photography (and something that has helped me immensely with my writing) is that it has made me stop to look at the sky or zoom in to nature to look at the hairs of a fly's leg. it's these little things that have given me more things to say.