One day through the forest of the Wayward Wood,
A prince rode his steed and wore a dark hood.
He strode away, far far from his castle,
Away from the marriage which he thought was a hassle.
A wife betrothed to, not chosen by, his hand,
To rule alongside him one day all the land.
When he chanced to ride past a maiden near a brook,
Who wept so loudly and violently that she shook.
“Excuse me, my lady” he approached near the stream,
“But those tears coming down make your eyes gleam.
What is the meaning of all this sadness?
Surely you can find a reason to rejoice with gladness?”
“I’m sorry good sir, that you must see me this way,”
She cried aloud. “I’m not having a good day.
You see I’m a witch and my coven cast me out.”
His eyes widened.
“What is that all about?”
At the question she wailed til it subsided to sobs.
“I apologize if my question is a burglar that robs-
If I’m overstepping by asking, if I’m being nosy.”
She shook her head.
“My my, your cheeks are quite rosy.”
“No sir I do not mind if you ask me my trouble,
Especially not after they burst my bubble.”
“What bubble is that, good lady, good witch?”
“That I’m ugly of course,” she said with a twitch.
“Indeed, with many a gruesome flaw.”
At that the prince dropped his jaw. “Come again?”
“I never fit in with the looks of my sisters,”
“They were able to land so many misters.”
“Is that so?”
“I haven’t a wart, a crooked nose or even a bulbous chin!”
“Thank goodness again!”
“Without such beauty, in life I cannot win.”
Depressed, she sat down near the stream bed
And left the hooded prince scratching his hooded head.
“Their skins are all vomit-green and bumpy,
Mine is smooth and in no way lumpy.”
“And that’s bad?”
“My teeth are all straight and white and even,”
“I can’t get them yellow no matter how often I clean them.
Their disgust and disdain powers their magic”
“You see, I find that quite tragic.”
“But they don’t- they’re happy and successful and active-
My sense of humor and personality are so unattractive!”
The prince removed his hood and went to where she sat
She looked at his crown and asked, “what is that, a hat?”
He took her in his arms and gave her true love’s first kiss.
He looked into her eyes and said, “What? Is something amiss?”
“Why did you kiss me, stranger? What did you do?”
“The witches must have put a spell on you,
To make you blind to how beautiful and wonderful you are,
Your light and your smile outshines any star.
It would be my honor if you rode with me.”
“Where are we riding?” she asked with glee.
“Away from something?”
“No. Towards it. Let’s go!
Together we ride, together we glow.”
And onward they rode and were happy ever after- no less,
And lived in love as prince and princess.
How to write about meaning without sounding cliche`? I’m more than tempted to explain how the world is a “topsy-turvy” place sometimes and fit in the idea that meaning is assigned, imprinted onto it by people, as well as derived from it by people in a “two-way street”. But all the tired metaphors and descriptions ring a bit stale and dull, no matter how true.
I’d like to focus on how we can derive meaning for children without preaching or boring them, knowing that their first impressions of the world they’ve inherited, if nothing else, are extremely important. As they navigate the world and learn its ways, the big lessons need to be written in shorthand, in a way easily understood for future reference. Novel ideas and perspectives can be complex, but utterly necessary.
When I think about creating a new story or poem for children, I imagine how they might reflect on it. I want them to think about it and be impacted in some way by it. I want questions to boil in their minds as they consider the little nuggets of thought-provocation planted in the story.
As an example I’d like to use the first story I blogged- Bugsy the Horsefly. It’s not going to win a Nobel Literature prize, nor will everyone like the story. But if everyone had the exact same taste in everything, chicken would probably have been extinct long ago.
It’s about a horsefly whose 9-5 “job” it is to “bug” the horses in the stable of a farm. Bugsy doesn’t like being annoying, but that’s his nature, it’s what he’s best at. He dreams of more, of being helpful. He doesn’t want to bug anybody. The horse he happens to be bugging is also a good friend of his- Sam. The horse suggests that Bugsy and all the other horseflies stop bugging the horses, and start bugging the honey badgers that keep stealing the beekeepers’ honey. It’d be a win-win-win situation: the horses stop getting bugged, the honey is safe, and they get to do something positive.
I meant for the story to have several elements to it that a child can ask about, and a parent or teacher could answer, guided by the story. One was the idea of sublimation, turning a negative into a positive. Although he didn’t like being annoying, Bugsy, a horsefly, was by nature annoying and therefore good at it. But instead of feeling sorry for himself and adding to the negativity, he made use out of it and helped out others in the process.
There’s also the concept of pooling resources. All the flies working together drove off the badgers that were stealing the honey. They’d all needed to work together for that one purpose in order to be able to succeed.
There are plenty of other ways of looking at what happened in the story. And you’d probably be amazed by the kinds of questions a child might ask. “How could a fly and a horse be friends?” “Why did the horses allow the flies to bug them?” “Why did the flies care about protecting the honey?” They might not articulate the questions exactly like that, but whatever they’re asking is proof that they’re listening, and wondering. Remember that the answers to the questions are neither right nor wrong, but it’s the questions that matter.
So in short- how do we find meaning in the world, and how do we teach children about it? Well, I’m sure a long, complex answer may be most comprehensive, but the simple one suffices: ensure there are always questions to be asked. Some day without realizing it, maybe even in adulthood, they’ll still be thinking about it. As mentioned in cliche` earlier, meaning is half-created, and half-given. You can only create with tools. And you can only receive with the ability to do so.
I haven’t yet been blessed with children of my own, but as you may have read, I want to ready the world for their arrival. They’ll already have stories and poems to listen to as they get ready to drift off to sleep. Recently, I got to thinking about what the best philosophy might be on how to approach a child’s mind- what are the right techniques to expand it? Or, maybe there’s no real “right” techniques, but a set of “best” ones.
If you’re an avid news eagle, you know that the healthy habit you had last month has been deemed a poor choice this month. Then further research might bear it out as a good choice again. Only to have follow-up experiments disprove that once more. And so on and so on. In the end, a list of good attributes must replace a rigid set of rules as a proper guide. The best way children learn, and therefore the best way to teach them, is through imagination and creativity.
I think of the most creative person I know of- Albert Einstein. You might be thinking- creative? Not the first adjective that comes to mind when considering the greatest genius of the 20th century. But if you’re a physics buff, or a history buff, or are familiar at all with what Einstein accomplished and discovered, you know that his thoughts were way out of the box. He’d figured out some of the deepest truths about the reality of our universe through his use of “thought experiments”. His theories of relativity answered almost a child-like question: “what would I see if I could ride on a beam of light?”
Creativity is a pivotal force in math and science, as well as traditionally creative subjects like English and Music. Acquainting children as early as possible to imaginative thinking, breaks the boundaries set by the realities they know. In my opinion, it leads to constant growth and a cycle of bunker-busting throughout a lifetime.
Children like games, but what are games? They have a set of rules to be learned, and allow kids to employ strategies they can try out. Some of the best children’s stories can be some of the most far-fetched, stretching what they know and asking them to consider something else.
My advice, if I’m in any position to offer some, is to keep that in mind when teaching children anything. Keep them wondering. Maybe someday they can figure out what would happen if they rode on a beam of light. And who knows? Maybe someday they’ll actually ride one.
I’m Invisible, I’m Invisible! The girl I like doesn’t see me.
I’m invisible! What a thunderous woe it is to be me!
When I see her I melt
Like ice cream in summer.
If I told her how I felt
It might turn into a bummer.
I hope she likes me too!
Or learns my name at least.
Or notices my smile too,
Or says hello at least.
When I see her I always get nervous
The butterflies in my stomach all a-circus
Juggling and clowning and running and clowning!
She makes me smile, she gives me pain,
The ache of love is such a strain.
It tugs my heart ‘til it’s a noose,
And every bit of strength has broken loose.
I love her laugh and her beaming smile
I wish she would talk to me a while
We can chat about her favorite things…
I could look into her eyes,
Her beautiful green…blue…brown eyes?
Maybe I don’t know her as much as I think…
Maybe I don’t- doesn’t that stink?
I know she’s never a mess,
I love her striped…polka dot dress?
What is it about her that I love?
Her eyes, her smile, all of the above?
Through some hard thinking, I think I see
That maybe she’s the one invisible to me.
Love can be selfish, love can be kind
But maybe it’s a road I have to find!
I think each and every one of you would agree,
I have to see her before she can see me.
Floating, bobbing, flowing with the scene
Swimming, flying, through the colors of a dream.
Everything is possible and nothing is off limits.
A lifetime can be lived in only five minutes!
Magic exists in the centers of all places
In the breath of the air and in the smiles on all faces.
When you know you’re in a dream you can make the world bend,
And put things together in a well-fitting blend.
The power is great when you’re dreaming,
Contorting, twisting and scheming
So that things aren’t always how they ought to be,
Things are different in reality.
Then a rumble like a distant quake,
Sounds an alarm and brings us awake.
By the time we hit the Snooze
The dream we had has become old news!
But leaves us with a certain sense
That it hasn’t really left and hence,
It isn’t really gone,
But in our mind all along.
Deep inside of you and I
Is a world we make where we can fly
Where we sink or swim based on how we feel,
And both our fears and desires are real.
Wouldn’t it be great to always live there?
But would it be great? Would it be fair?
How would we know about light and dark?
How would we know without a spark?
Good and bad don’t live in a dream,
They live in the world, in every action and stream.
Where it rains and sun shines on everyone you meet,
Whether nice or not, on High or Low Street.
The world is where we learn what makes us happy or sad,
Sappy or glad, argyle or plaid, snappy or bad.
And when the day is done time comes to retrieve,
All the things that life gives us to trim and to weave.
Drifting off to ourselves, away it would seem,
To make for ourselves, for us a new dream.
Gabby the Ghost was a chatty enough spook,
She’d talk your ear off from here to Hanaluke
But don’t underestimate what she’s got to say,
It’s really important and she has to tell you today!
She wants you to know she likes having fun,
Although she’s more fond of the moon than of the sun.
She enjoys making friends with people like you,
And likes meeting nice people that are new.
So sad you can’t always see her unless she wears a sheet,
But she only wears one if it’s ironed and neat.
Getting ready to go from unseen to seen,
Getting ready to trick-or-treat this Halloween.
That’s right, you might not notice Gabby when you see her,
She might be tricking and treating next to your friend Peter,
Wearing a sheet so ghostly white,
She might just say, “Happy Halloween, and good night!”
In the spirit of the Halloween season, the next poem or story I will post will be about A. Witches, B. Werewolves, C. Vampires or D. Ghosts. Comment and the most votes wins!
Kenny Karate was walking back from karate practice. The day’s lesson from the teacher was “Appreciation.” This puzzled Kenny. He was used to lessons about focus, concentration, power, spirit, black belt attitude, tenacity- but never before did he have a karate lesson about appreciation. “What good does appreciation do in a fight?” he wondered as he walked several blocks toward home, past autumn trees just beginning to lose their leaves.
He could almost hear his teacher’s reply in his mind. She says the same thing almost every class. “Martial arts isn’t about fighting, it’s about overcoming yourself. If you achieve the best you can be overall, you’ll also be a better fighter. But that’s a side effect, not the purpose of studying martial arts.” He walked past some very nice houses with beautiful lawns. The owners of those houses must feel lucky. Flower beds were beginning to wither and shed their petals like a wedding ceremony. “Then why do we practice kicks and punches?” He thought. The whole thing confused him very much. Maybe adults are a little crazy.
Turning the corner, the streets got a bit narrower and the houses a bit smaller. Some had tiny lawns, some had none. All-in-all it was an uglier street than the previous one, but at this time of day, right before sunset, the light hit the trees in such a beautiful arc that Kenny had to stop and admire it. He thought to himself that the owners of these smaller, uglier houses must feel very lucky to witness such a beautiful sunset every day.
Kenny kept remembering the lesson, thinking about it over and over. A half hour earlier, the karate teacher, Miss Teresa who is a third degree black belt, sat all the students in a circle for five minutes. She had them close their eyes and sit with their legs crossed. She asked them to focus on one thing they appreciated about life. It didn’t have to be the best thing, just one out of many things that there is to be grateful for.
Some students blurted out, “my mom!”, or “my dad!”, or “my video games,” “my dad’s car!”, “my dog!” but Kenny couldn’t think of anything. He didn’t like the lesson. Miss Teresa had asked them to keep their eyes closed and keep thinking about that one thing. She asked them to control their breathing, deep breath in, hold, slowly let it out. In, hold, slowly let it out. In, hold, and out. For five minutes straight. This was difficult for some of the younger students, but it was good practice in focus.
Then she said softly, “Now open your eyes. Whatever you were focusing on, I want you to approach it in a new way, with a brand new appreciation. When you appreciate something, or someone, you want to protect them. You fight for them. Next class, come with more intensity, more focus, more spirit.”
“I shouldn’t have said video games,” one student exclaimed, looking sad. “It’s okay,” said Miss Teresa. “When you have five minutes later, just close your eyes and think of something else,” she smiled. “You can always find five minutes.”
Now Kenny crossed the street and walked down a block to the subway. This street had even smaller houses and apartments with no lawns. This was a poorer part of town. Kenny passed by a beggar down the street who looked ragged. You appreciate what you have when you see what some people don’t have, he thought. The thought drove Kenny to want to give him something. He’d had a full bottle of a sports drink and half of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The poor person took it and thanked Kenny very much.
He felt good in doing good. It was then that he realized the power appreciation can have. “It gives you the ability to act, instead of do nothing. Maybe it was a good lesson after all.” And he walked down the steps to the subway a better martial artist than he was yesterday.