Everything in the life of my four year-old son is about interacting with the physicality of things, seeing how the outside world impacts on his body.
His small feet stampede like those of an elephant of much bigger size. He hurls himself on to sofas and bounces off beds. He mixes things, swirls things, and squashes things. He sticks things together and breaks them apart. He constructs giant towers, and then sends them flying.
He also talks non-stop. If he can’t think of something to say in one of the three languages he speaks (English, Dutch, French) then he talks to a teddy, a plug or a half-eaten carrot, in the language he informs me that it speaks, revelling in forming as yet untried shapes with his mouth. And so it goes on, relentlessly, until, at last, he sleeps. At that point I give a huge sigh of relief and nearly give up the ghost with exhaustion myself.
At school he is learning his letters, and about how, when put together, they make something called ‘words’. Where we might ask ‘what does C-A-T spell?’ He asks ‘what happens when you mix a C and A and a T? ’ Or ‘what happens when you stick them together?’ Or ‘what do they do when you stand them next to each other’. They are physical substances to be explored in the same way he plays with every other aspect of life.
Listening to him, and watching his endless striving to get to the core of things, I was reminded of the words of Italian journalist and writer Italo Calvino. In a letter to one of his critics, as published in Italo Calvino: Letters, 1941-1985, he explained how to view his work:
"In every piece I write, I believe, one can see parts that are more written and parts that are less written, the former where the commitment to writing is at its maximum and the latter which are like bits that have been merely drawn beside bits that are painted.
The written page is not a uniform surface like a piece of plastic; it is more like the cross-section of a piece of wood, in which you can see how the lines of the fibres run, where they form a knot, where a branch goes off.
Now in these more written parts there are some I call ‘written very small’ because when writing them it happens that (I write with a pen) my handwriting becomes very small, with o’s and a’s that have no hole in the middle, and are reduced to tiny points; and there are others that I call ‘written big’ because here instead my handwriting becomes broader, with o’s and a’s where you could put your finger in the loop.
These parts ‘written very small’ I would say are those where I tend toward a verbal density, toward the minutely descriptive. For instance, the description of the cloud of smog, or the window in the boss’s office. . . .
The parts ‘written big’ on the other hand are those which tend toward verbal rarefaction. For instance, very brief landscapes, almost lines of verse: “Era autunno; qualche albero era d’oro” (It was autumn; some of the trees were golden.)"
This morning my son marveled at my computer screen. ‘Why do you write little words, and so many?’ he asked. I sighed. If only he knew just how many I write!
Now I’m exploring my relationship to words. How can I stay connected to my physical, embodied, and emotional experience as I write? How can I prevent myself from becoming a robot in my execution of them? How can I unearth their full potential as it reflects my journey to reveal my full potential as a human being?
Time to feel along the grain of the wood of my page, a newly awakened person following the grooves of the story hidden within.
The Monthly Writing Prompt
You’re going to work with just one sentence for this exercise. So, take time time to choose a phrase that has meaning for you. It might be question about your direction in life, a statement that is emotive or empowering for you, or a quote that touches your heart when you read it.
Now play with this sentence. Write it big, write it small, write it backwards and upside down. Write in in different colours. Use art materials or natural materials to construct it in 3D. Get inside it, circle it, and look at it from all vantage points.
As you play with the form of it, note any thoughts or emotions that arise in response to it.
- When does the emotional response get stronger and when weaker? Can you choose to alter that?
- What ideas, images, and words arise?
- Which ways of working with the words as physical materials make you feel most creative?
- Which engage your interest, and which lose it?