I heard somewhere that memory doesn’t begin until we’re verbal. Once we’re able to speak, we’re capable of developing memories. Only, so much of early memory is created, invented and claimed as our own, from photographs and home movies, moments captured and viewed from the perspective of someone else. Someone else is the storyteller, yet it becomes our story. We plagiarize our childhoods.
Yesterday Abigail told me she was an artist. “Obviously,” she said, “because even when I was a baby in my crib, I found a way to make art.” She’s speaking of the months she tormented me with her proclivity to make great works of art with her excrement. Doody Dadaism. Despite my attempts at Duct Tape Therapy, she was a resourceful student of the arts, finding her unsavory materials come hell or hand painting. She doesn’t retell the story with any sense of embarrassment–no, she says it with pride, as if it’s proof of her natural-born nature. As if upon seeing the accomplished work of one of her peers, she’d scoff and secretly say, “Yes, but you probably had to work hard at that. Whereas, I, dear friend, am a natural. My mama has the video to prove it.”
And it bothers me. As a child, I always lit up at story time, and in only fourth grade, I knew, deeply, that I wanted to be some type of writer. Drawing the picture, writing the story, I had this inner delight come over me, a giddiness, excited when I would be in the spotlight, able to share my story and illustration with the class. But I was always eager to improve, to learn any bits I could, anything at all–I still am. I work at it, keeping lists of words I like, highlighting paragraphs that inspire, learning new rules. The idea of taking a class thrills me.
Above: While all the other snowmen played by the rules, Abigail’s wore a bustier.
Abigail, Age 5, The SnowWoman.
Abigail mistakenly believes that her talent is enough. Unless it’s exercised and challenged, I’m afraid, it doesn’t work that way. When I attempt to teach her a new art lesson–creating the illusion of distance, for example, using proportion, or overlapping elements to give the sense of a foreground vs background–she turns away, certain that she doesn’t need direction, that inherently, she already knows. I’m sure she would benefit from taking art lessons from someone other than me, but Phil thinks, and maybe I agree, that it’s silly to spend money on art lessons, when I’m capable of teaching her. Wouldn’t music lessons or foreign language immersion be a better application of the money?
One idea is that when she refuses, I teach Lucas instead. She’ll overhear the lesson, at least, and maybe ask for help. Any advice would be helpful. I want to gradually but firmly establish in their minds that we’re born with gifts, but it is our duty to be prepared, to breathe life into our natural abilities. We’re given the sail, a patchwork of talents and strengths, but it’s up to us to work and position ourselves to catch the wind. Maybe I illustrate that very lesson and make it a bedtime story. “We get it already,” she’ll say.
Also, yes, I realize this applies to my writing, too. I am a natural born writer, with real talent, and it’s up to me to practice at it and breathe life into it. I wish I had more storytellers in my life. There’s an art to that, knowing when to let out the line and when to reel it in, how to spread the sauce. Dammit, I’m working on it! Also, tonight, I’m digging through the video footage of Abigail and her early adaptation of Dadaism.