A young person was at my house the other day devoting a great deal of attention to the words that live on my refrigerator. I have unfortunately ceased to see these words–that’s what happens with words, you get used to them, take them for granted, stop working at the relationship. Seeing her kneel in front of the words and arrange them so lovingly was a blow to my conscience. As penance I assisted her with locating the sundry conjunctions and prepositions she requested, handing them to her like scalpels to a surgeon.
Earlier in the day we’d trudged through mud to chop down a tree and bring it back to my house and festoon it with entirely unnecessary decorations. Sometimes this is how writing feels to me, an unnecessary festooning, except then I remember the part about the tree being both lovely and comforting and how in the dead of winter, in the dark of winter, it doesn’t actually feel unnecessary.
One of the greatest obstacles to writing well is the necessity of simultaneously forgetting everything you ever knew about language and remembering everything you know about language. It’s the complicated business of being every age you’ve ever been all at once, knowing and unknowing all the things you’ve ever been ignorant of and then learned. It’s a strange trick you have to play with your mind and it doesn’t work, not often, not well, not for most of us. Knowing and forgetting, dreaming and being aware. I think it can sometimes work better for children because they have learned less and forgotten more. But that might be my romanticism speaking. Or my continual yearning for beginner’s mind.
refrigerator poetry: Sophia S., age nine