Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Moving through the World Like a Child

The other day I was thinking about how to help my students write in scene. Some of them put things that happen before they really happen. For example, "On the steps stood Marjorie Cooper" even though the narrator has never met Marjorie before and can't really be sure yet that this is Majorie since he/she hasn't been introduced.

I was trying to think of a way to help my students think about the scenes they are writing and help the writer to see and experience the moment as the characters see and experience in. Then I thought that the best way to write narrative, and also to travel, is to move through the world like a child. With a child's sense of wonder and surprise. To move as if you've never been somewhere before, even if you've been there a thousand times. As if you are experiencing everything for the first time.

This is actually something that my husband has often said about me, and not always in a complimentary way. Every village we travel through, every painting we see, every meal eaten. It is as if I've never done these things before or been to these places.

This summer when we were living outside of San Sebastian in a little fishing village and big boats would float past our living room window. Every time a boat went by, I shout to my husband, "Look, a boat!" It didn't matter how many times a boat went by, each time I was enthralled. And truthfully so was he.

So I was thinking about how to help my students and it came to me that this child's sense of wonder if a very good way to be a writer as well. To allow yourself as a writer to still be surprised, to walk into a room as if you've never walked into that room before. To meet a person as if you are seeing them for the first time.

Recently in the news I read the strange case of a man who could form no new memories. While I wouldn't envy this man, I do think it is an intriguing notion to wake up each day afresh, to do everything as if you've never done it before. I think it is that child's sense of wonder that makes for good writers and good travelers.

And, after all, children are people who are able to live very much in the present, unplagued by thoughts of the past or concerns for the future. Perhaps that's really the thing about travel - for me at any rate. It allows me to be in the moment, present, wherever I am. As if I am six years old again. And I am happiest when I am there. Tomorrow we head to Montreal. A place we've been to many times, but I'll see it with fresh eyes as if I've never been before.

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