Thursday, December 16, 2021

It's Them, Not Us, Who Are The Genius Humans

British comedian Russell Howard said that he writes lots of jokes, but they don't become jokes until he speaks them aloud in front of an audience. In fact, he says, often they don't become jokes until he's spoken them aloud dozens of times, tweaking them repeatedly until they elicit laughter, which is when they finally become jokes.

One of the most frequent non-early childhood questions I get from readers, especially readers who have their own blogs or podcasts, is something along the lines of, "How do you come up with so much to write about?" It's a good question. I've been writing 4-5 new posts a week since 2009, and while I've certainly spent my share of time staring at a blank page, I generally know what to write about by listening to the jingle and jangle of my internal dialog. There's always something going on in there.

Writing instructors, especially those I encountered in school, tell you to start with some sort of thesis or big idea, draft an outline, do research, and then begin constructing your piece with the building blocks of sentences and paragraphs. For me, that has always been the recipe for writer's block. My process is more like the one described by Russell Howard. Just as he speaks his jokes into existence, I tend to write my ideas into existence.

Usually I start with a sentence or two about whatever it is that is currently troubling, inspiring, or confusing me, or maybe with a quote from someone or a passage from a book I'm reading. Often, that first sentence is something a child has said or the beginning of a story about something that has happened around the classroom. Whatever that is, I work and rework that sentence or two until the next sentence presents itself, then do that again and again until I get to the end.

That's what I'm doing as I write this.

I'm guided by a line from the poet W.H. Auden who once asked, "How can I know what I think till I see what I say?" In other words, in the original spirit of blogging as a kind of online journal, writing for me is a process for thinking and, sometimes, understanding. The fact that people, no matter how many or few, will be reading and reacting to it, motivates me to be as clear as possible, which makes my thinking clearer, and that, I hope, makes my writing clearer. 

There are limitations and pitfalls in the process. I've left any number of posts unpublished because the process revealed fallacies or contradictions in my thinking, or, more commonly, led to trite conclusions. 

Writing instructors will also advise their students to imagine an audience. I rarely do that. What you read here is for me, again, in the spirit of journaling. That isn't to say I don't appreciate you or any sincere feedback you might want to offer me, but the reality of my process is that I'm sitting here very early each morning, in my bathrobe, in a darkened room, trying to figure out what that jingle and jangle of internal dialog is all about.

I don't know if any of this navel gazing helps anyone, but I'm coming to the place where some sort of conclusion belongs. As I re-read what I've written here, I have options. Sometimes there will be a big "ah ha!" at around this point, but more often, I'm still left with questions. At least they are different questions than the ones with which I started. 

Right now, the big question before me is how this process of waiting to see what I've written before I know what I think limits me, both as a writer and a human being. Here I am, locking myself into a box of 26 letters and a few dozen punctuation marks. Certainly the human capacity for thinking and understanding is bigger than that. I wonder if we, if I, rely too much on the tools of literacy. 

Indeed, most of the geniuses with whom I've spent time have been pre-literate children, humans who don't limit themselves to writing or speaking their learning into existence. They run it into existence. They jump, shout, cry, listen, swing, feel, cuddle, sing, taste, and see their way toward understanding. They are the ones thinking and learning at full capacity. What hubris to suggest that they must, too soon, put that all away in favor of the tools of literacy, or even language, for that matter. After all, it's them, not us, who are the genius humans. 


If you liked reading this post, you might also enjoy one of my books. To find out more, Click here! 
"Few people are better qualified to support people working in the field of early childhood education than Teacher Tom. This is a book you will want to keep close to your soul." ~Daniel Hodgins, author of Boys: Changing the Classroom, Not the Child, and Get Over It! Relearning Guidance Practices

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