Tag Archives: children

Writing from the Heart

Last year’s novel was concerned with Memory and Mistake, and it’s greatest fault—and the reason it’s sitting in the vault, aging for a spell before I go back over it—is that it is largely written from a state of removal. From the first page, the “writer” states that he is writing about his writing more than he is writing about the life that his writing sprang from. And by the time the denouement starts to form, like a storm accumulated from the dust and wind and moisture of the traversed landscape, the Blackbird Variations, 3 retreats into a fractalling demurement of self reference, interpretation and critique that is so freaking dense and uncalled for that I’m sure anyone who made it that far would end up chucking it across the room, shouting: “What the hell is your problem, Benjamin? Why is it so hard to just tell a damn story?”

I let my mind guide my prose, and while some people can pull this off, I’m not one of them. My wheels spin so tight and quick that all too soon they spend the grist they’re fed, and begin to masticate their self-same mechanism.

Probably the greatest complement I’ve ever received, as an artist, was voiced 10 years ago by a four year old girl. She said to her mom, while describing the stories I would make up for her class while they ate lunch: “Benjamin tells stories from his heart.” And yet every time I tell a story to a blank page, my head steps all over the heart and tries to get the blood portioned out into a 42 fluid ounces, labeled and tested and siphoned of hemoglobin.

There has to be a way to cheat this.

Existentialism and Children’s Music

After reading an internet discussion about post-modern art appreciation, I began thinking about a song I had written, ostensibly for children, about tragedy and death — and I felt prompted whip up some thoughts on “suitability” and “morbidity” in children’s entertainment.

Here are the lyrics and a music player that should work. Feel free to skip ahead to the chatter, if poetry and music bog you down (there is no shame in this!)

Boom boom, shakin’ the broom
Upside mama’s tomb
It’s true she died too soon
Boom boom shakin the broom (x2)

Then my dad, he went mad
Had to wear a straight jacket
And in the ward he had a heart attack
And its so sad dad had gone mad (x2)

Then my sis, she got kissed
By a man who was like a tempest
She tried to run but he wouldn’t be dissed
And he took her to his mountain fortress (x2)

Then my bro, he got low
Sorta disappeared in the snow
And where he went I still don’t know
If you see him would you give him this note (x2)

And as for me, as you can see
I’ve avoided that tragedy
That has claimed my family
But I’ve been runnin’ til I run outta steam (x2)


The question is: is there a place for morbidity in a child’s diet? Is there a place for sadness, depression and anger? There certainly has been — it is only in this past century that fairytales have been spayed, neutered, dethorned, and shaved of all bristles. And while I’m not against pre-chewed food for those who can’t eat steak — I have always been a little edgy, in my relationship with kids. I chide, I kid, I say things how I see them, even if it is a bit brash. On the other hand, when I come into contact with children’s media that is more pessimistic (read: mean) than wry, I find myself thinking: “You guys can do better than that.” But it’s the bitterness and not the depth or tragedy that I dislike.

Who will say that a kid does not understand, even a bit, what loss is. Sure, they do not obsess over death like they would a favored piece of molded plastic, but from simple observation you can see that every child experiences every part of the emotional spectrum, almost as if they were required to. An autodidactic Emotional Education, where the playground is both the locker-room, shower and racetrack.

So the—not problem, but speed bump, maybe, isn’t the kids. It’s us, the adults: we put the moral weight upon not just actions but experiences, we approve or disapprove, steering them clear as well we can from death, abuse, calamities of the mind and isolation and everything deemed “heavy” and “difficult.” We assume that these experiences are the dividing line between innocence and experience. Between what makes the child “pure” and the adult “jaded”.

And I do not know if that’s really the case. I mean, I believe that it’s unhealthy to wallow and brood over shame and rage and sorrow, and yet when we are taken up in those states, when life brings hardship, it is necessary to fully feel those things. Not to run from them or suppress them, but, in the very least, to be present with them. Acknowledgement — an honest and exacting measurement of the state we are actually in — is the first step toward recovery. True recovery, not a temporal plastering of the levy, but feeling the full furloughing flood, and building the dyke back up when the waves have washed out.

(A Jung quote comes to mind: “Neurosis is the avoidance of necessary suffering.”)

So perhaps this song is a “special purposes” song, not for regular day-to-day use, but for times when consolation and commiseration seem impossible.

In summation: When the darkness is at its deepest, maybe it’s best not to ignore it, or forcibly drowned it out with faux-joy and psuedo-smiles, but rather to sing along with it, until a chance wind comes through and clears it away.