6.13.2010

fighting writer's block - bringing back the aesthetic

some time in graduate school, i purchased this book: The Writer's Block: 786 Ideas to Jump-Start Your Imagination.  the 2-d image to the left doesn't fully capture the block-like structure of this book.  it was a 3"x3"x3" cube - a block of ideas intended to jump start the creative juices.  when i was a kid, an adolescent, a youth, i was never at a loss of things to imagine or write.  my blocks always came in the form of how to take what was "up there" (pointing my to head) and get it to look right "over there" (gesturing to where a piece of paper might be on the table in front of me).  was this an easier issue to solve than the kid who is at a loss for what to imagine?  this, of course, is a false question because it presumes that there are some kids without a thought in their heads.  this simply isn't true.  take a minute to observe, without judgment about what isn't happening, what a kid in the park, subway, apple store, cafe, sidewalk... is really doing.  before kids are able to form words to communicate, we pay attention to how they are looking and taking in the world.  maxine greene, in her infinite wisdom, reminds us, "before we enter into the life of language, before we thematize and know, we have already begun to organize our lived experience perceptually and imaginatively."  i love this quote because it not only evokes freireian notions of reading the world before we read (or write) the word, but the significance of imagination is anchored to the origins of our being.  with elementary school ends the physical markers of school's acceptance of that embodied sort of imagination implied by greene: the rug to stretch out on; the author's chair to take on the mantle of author with an audience to share your stories with; recess, whether on the tarred surface or greener environs, that was a time to travel to distant lands, times, and assume absurd roles; picture books! enough said.  some middle and high schools provide access to these aesthetic spaces in the form of extracurricular activities (literary magazine, newspaper, yearbook, band, orchestra, theater, etc.).  but what about the schools that do not have the resources to provide these outlets?  and, perhaps more urgently, why is the aesthetic essence of writing and literacies not vital to the composing that is taught and expected "in school"? 


when i write now, as an adult, i am forever stimulated aurally (a set of goto music mixes), visually (why wifi is so important while writing), physically (hence, my persistent search for the perfect cafe context in which to compose, and the requisite eats and drinks to accompany this orchestration of words, ideas, and meanings); yet we establish stifling conditions in which kids, youth, adolescents must create their compositions.  if we really value their words - and in large part, i believe we (teachers, researchers, adults of all kinds) do - then could we find ways to create spaces that cultivate the imaginations that children bring with them to elementary schools and throughout their schooling lives?


amidst ongoing dialogue about digital literacies and online spaces it can be easy to forget the physical.  sometimes, that trunk of old dress up clothes and wigs has just the thing to dislodge our blocks and get us writing once again.