I had this really great talk with Abbie. She's eight. She was miserable that day. We sat on the concrete steps at the back of the building. It was cold out; frozen asses; we sunk down inside our coats and huddled against each other. I shooed everyone else away.
We talked about when there are lots of people around and you should be having fun but instead you're miserable, the loneliest you ever get, in a crowd. And the opposite, when everything that happens is crap and you should be angry or pissed but somehow it's ok and you are able to brush it off and laugh.
Abbie. Listen. You know how grownups are always telling you I Know More Than You Do So Here Is A Life Lesson? (yeah. she knew.) And you ignore it? (yep.) Well, good. They're usually after something. Abbie, you know you can trust me, right? And you know I'm not just telling you this so you'll behave or shut up. There are some things I have figured out, and they make things easier, sometimes. One of the big ones is, The only person who can make you happy is you. Like: You have the power to change your day into whatever you want it to be. And you can do that to your whole life, you know? Once you grab on to that power, you have a lot more good days. Abbie. My mom's got cancer. And I'm doing ok. I really am.
Sometimes you only get a brief window into a child's attention. Like being on a cellphone you're sure is going to cut out any second. You say it fast and cross your fingers. Can you hear me?
Abbie looked at me, and she smiled. She didn't say anything. We sat there for another little while.
Jeannie drew me this great picture last week. She's four. I said, Wow, lots of colors, I like that. Is this a butterfly? (yes.) And this is a flowerpot? (yes.) Through the middle of this jumbled heap of somewhat-recognizeable images ran a long squiggly looping line. I looked at it, and I knew, and I leaned in secret-close to shy Jeannie and I said, Jean. Was it fun to do that squiggle?
She lit up. She grabbed me. Yes! I love to do those lines like that!
It made me think about how much of the importance of a piece of art is contained in the moment of making it. Not about showing it to someone later. Just sitting there, by yourself, getting such a kick out of what your hands are doing to the paper / screen / clay / cookie dough.
To all casual observers, I am a happy dynamo these days. Most days I come home from my arts and crafts-centric job and immediately go to construction paper, or cardboard, or the kitchen. I'm a verb; I do things. It is busywork. It is something I do to prove I am awake. It looks like fun, doesn't it.
I have a friend who recently found me out and he says I should not do these things as escapes, I should not do them unless my heart is really there. I laughed and said, sometimes, this stupid construction paper is what enables me to get out of bed. It was a pauper's laugh. It was what I could afford.
Talking to kids is nice because you have to simplify things, which makes it easier to fool yourself into thinking anything might really be simple. Maybe tomorrow I will pull Abbie aside and say, Kid, you're pretty advanced for an eight-year-old, but you've got no fucking idea what is in store for you. What I didn't mention the other day was, once you realize you're in charge of your own mood, you've only got yourself to blame when it goes to shit. I can tell you about things your brain will do that won't let you sleep for weeks, or, better, will trap you in hour-long lucid nightmares in which you are helpless at the hands of a monstrous man, which, in the dream, puts you into a panic attack. your ragged heart your ragged breath. you rip awake into the same panic attack; being awake doesn't solve anything. you walk around your apartment in the dark talking to yourself trying to get past all the gravel cruel fucking hours before there is light in the sky. the tub faucet is dripping and you can hear it even with the door shut.
life grinds down. like a dirty tired rusty broken tired filthy train. put it up on bricks; leave it; an eyesore.
There's nothing left, so I go to bed early, to listen. It happens really, really slowly. I can hear it grinding itself into pieces like an iceberg. It makes little brittle pops and clicks. It keeps me awake for a long time.