I don’t get much time to do anything these days but play with my daughter, teach her how to live is what I’m doing and it’s the most important job anyone can ever have I think. I used to love a song where the line ‘Show me how to live’ echoed to me and now I’m doing just that, I’m showing someone how to live.
So when I stumbled upon this blog entry by Nick Harkaway the other day obviously I started thinking about children and creation (it’s one of the curses you are dealt in my position, it becomes very hard to think out of the babybox you’re sitting in).
My little girl turned 20 months old yesterday. She is lively little girl who is exploring everything around her at such pace that it knocks you over completely and leaves you breathless.
Harkaway proposes that coming up with ideas isn’t a single action but a “group of skills acting together in a concert so well-practiced as to appear inseparable”. And I think he is correct.
My daughter isn’t yet playing imaginary games to any extent. This doesn’t happen right away. First you need to learn about reality then you can start to pretend about it but there is a pre-stage and that’s where she’s at. The pre-stage seems to consist of mimicking what others do to learn how to do things. The grown up pretends to be a cat and meows and the child follows suit (she finds this utterly silly and refuses to do it!) or you role a small car on the floor and pretend it’s driving around – she does it because she’s seen you do it – not because she really understands the connection to real cars yet, I believe.
To be able to pretend-play you need to have a good long term memory and the first sign I saw in my daughter was when she pretended to answer the telephone (she uses a remote control or her tiny little plastic phone) as she’s seen us do. You watch life and you do it too to be able to learn how to do the things grown ups do.
And I think a little part of the answer to the question “Where do your ideas come from” lies in watching the little ones learn about the world. Their curiosity is infinite and the world is such an amazing place (it seems) when you’re almost two years old. First you watch, then you mimic, then you live and then….. you write?
Is it the same curiosity that makes people write? I never saw myself as a creative child but I started to write at an early age (I found an old typewriter in the basement, I would give a LOT to still have that machine). I wrote simple, silly anecdotes and then long plays that basically were about things I wanted to be experiencing.
This doesn’t, of course, answer where exactly the ideas come from but I think Mr. Gaiman and Mr. Harkaway answer that question well enough in their blogs. However I think this tells us something about the process of making-things-up.
When I give my daughter crayions to play with I show her how to draw simple things (I’m a stick-figure drawer myself) she watches me and then she takes the crayon and rapidly makes a few lines before she throws it away and turns to the next color. She is more impressed with the lines on the paper than the figures you can draw with it (beside the hand-coordination has to develop obviously).
And isn’t that where we all get our ideas from? We see something, it fascinates and we want to know more about it. Writers and other artists they write it out, they play with it in their heads with words or colors on paper. The idea is often simple (a girl meets boy) but it’s the execution that’s fantastic. The drawing of the lines, connecting reality and the ability to imagine things that aren’t there and never have been that’s fantastic. We want to know more about the world and the possibilities it gives us.
I might have to fill in the blanks when my daughter becomes older. When she starts to spin stories of her own. We aren’t there yet. We’re at the basics of creation now. Creating real things, things that are there in reality, tangible. Later we move into the fantastic but I’m sure the key to these questions lie in the learning process. How we perceive the world and how we teach ourselves to learn about the world. We learn through imagination, we learn that a cat meows before we’ve seen a cat (at least in modern society!).
Now she points at everything and tells me it’s a “cat”. A dog, a waffle, a shoe – not because she doesn’t know that it isn’t a cat. She knows a cat from a dog and a crocodile from an elephant. She just does it because she can.