The Things We Learn From Kids

JOY by Symphony of Love

JOY by Symphony of Love

Not intending to downplay the words of wisdom my parents have shared with me over the years, but I recently realized that all you have to do is study a child to learn everything you’ll need to know about how to live. Truly live, that is.

I’m not talking about elements of survival like how to get your own food, but more about how to be happy.

Of course, when you’re a child the last thing you’re going to do is intentionally study one of your colleagues to learn a thing or two. The whole center of the universe thing can get in the way of that and is, perhaps, the one downside to my theory.

But before we chuck it altogether, consider what follows.

As an adult, I have been reminded about some of the essential ingredients to living a happy, fulfilled, compassionate life.

Here are just some of the things we can learn from kids:

Unbridled Joy
The Essence of Play
Anything is Possible
How to Live Creatively

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Mickey McKay & Frank Conifrey - Lenox Hill Settle't [i.e., Settlement]

Mickey McKay & Frank Conifrey – Lenox Hill Settle’t [i.e., Settlement]

“Words are easy, like the wind;
Faithful friends are hard to find.” ― William Shakespeare

As a boy, even with best friends, there’s sometimes very little distance between a fist bump and a fist fight. At least that’s how it was for me growing up.

When you’re seven, eight, even nine-years-old, it doesn’t take a lot to turn all that get-up-and-go fueling your youthful exuberance into scowling proclamations of “take that back!”

As adults, a fight between friends can often turn into something much more dramatic and much more personal. There also tend to be less split lips and more ugly words or all-out avoidance. Of course, when adult friends have a moment, it can also seem like nothing at all – no blood drawn, no feelings hurt, just a word or two, an honest reminder, a respectful, loving, setting straight.

I’ve mentioned it before, but it bears repeating. I’m a very lucky guy.

I have some of the most remarkable friends. Ever!

It’s true. Scientists and Historians are still shaking their heads in disbelief. A few of my closest chums have been friends of mine for two or three decades. That’s right, they’re slow learners.

I had some great friends as a boy too, before we moved. It’s that in between time that was a bit more problematic, so it’s no wonder that’s the time I tend to write about.

One of my absolute favorite things to do as a writer is create the protagonist’s friends.

Without consciously setting out to do so, I’ve found that I imbue these fictional sidekicks with many traits my childhood possessed and my adult friends possess. Characteristics like pluck, curiosity, empathy, spunk, humor, and perhaps a slight propensity for mischief (like Webb) or nerdy interests (like Swatch).

Here are a handful of my favorite quotes about friendship (see if you agree with them or disagree):

“A friend is someone who knows all about you and still loves you.” – Elbert Hubbard

“What is a friend? A single soul dwelling in two bodies.” ― Aristotle

“Silence make the real conversations between friends. Not the saying, but the never needing to say that counts.” ― Margaret Lee Runbeck

“Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.” ― Anaïs Nin

“We’ll be Friends Forever, won’t we, Pooh?’ asked Piglet.
Even longer,’ Pooh answered.” ― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

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New Harmony Writer’s Retreat

Creativity is a type of learning process where the teacher and pupil reside in the same individual. ~ Arthur Koestler by bitesizeinspiration

Creativity is a type of learning process where the teacher and pupil
reside in the same individual. ~ Arthur Koestler by bitesizeinspiration

“Creativity is contagious, pass it on” – Albert Einstein

What a great thing to pass on!

While I was in grad school I met (and made) a wonderful friend in fiction writer Terry Price. He’s the epitome of a Southern Gentleman: polite, kind, compassionate, and always ready to help others. I think I saw much of my favorite parts of myself in him (at least the parts I hope I possess), accept the dude has one awesome accent and so much southern charm all he needs to do is smile and he’ll sweeten your afternoon tea.

His nickname is Sunshine for a reason.

One of the first things Terry and I did, without any actual coordinated plan to do so, was interact with writers from all the genres at Spalding (poets, fiction writers, non-fiction scribes, playwrights and screenwriters) and try to bring them all together. It just seemed a natural extension of who were were (and are).

Even today, we both agree, some of the best parts of our time at Spalding were those hours spent mingling with such a mix of creatives.

At Ucross, I was able to experience something similar, only this time I was able to engage with artists who worked in other media (visual artists, musicians, as well as writers). It’s difficult to convey how electric and invigorating that is.

In addition, at Ucross, I got a taste of just how succulent this thing writing is when given uniterrupted time and space to devote to it. I can’t even express how wonderful that is, but imagine being given a chance to just immerse yourself fully into that one part of yourself that calls to you the most (often the part you tend to ignore or put off or not listen to as much as you’d like).

Terry and I started the Round Table on Facebook in an attempt to encourage other creatives to pursue their dreams. We had been throwing down our own gauntlet back and forth and we decided why not include others.

Our intention is to spark others into being true to themselves and into giving themselves permission to follow their calling (if not full-time, at least some of the time).

Shavasana During Morning Yoga

Shavasana During Morning Yoga

Three years ago we decided to create a retreat that offered time and space for writing (and for other creative endeavors), while also sharing some of the techniques and tools that have helped us make our creative life part of our everyday life.

They really are the same, after all, we just tend to learn by the time we reach adulthood to block out that call to create.

And that can lead to a sense that something’s missing, feelings of frustration and of being unfulfilled, as we unintentionally ignore an essential part of who we are.

As Picasso put it, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”

That’s what the West of the Moon Retreat is all about. Providing fellow creatives the opportunity to remain (or to return to being) an artist as a grownup.

There’s time and space to write, morning yoga to get you into a flow, an abundance of creativity energy, and a wonderful spirit of community.

Check out the new website here. And if you have any questions, contact Terry or me through the contact page. Regardless of whether or not you can attend a retreat or create one for yourself at home, give yourself a little time to listen to that deep down part of yourself. And keep after it!

Creativity is a type of learning process where the teacher and pupil reside in the same individual. ~ Arthur Koestler by bitesizeinspiration is used via the Create Commons License on Flickr

Writing Sample from Xero

Closing Doors - Rusty Knob #2 in Black and White by Bitzcelt“Every artist dips his brush in his own soul, and paints
his own nature into his pictures.” ~ Henry Ward Beecher

Nearly the entire time I’ve worked on my Middle Grade novel The Short Bus, I’ve thought the story has had little do with me personally. Recently, however, I realized that it has everything to do with me.

When I first started writing the book, I wondered what it would be like to be the most ordinary kid in the world. So ordinary that you were almost transparent. So average that you were forgettable.

Most people, after all, have at least one thing they do well. So what would it be like, I wondered, to be the kid who didn’t seem to do anything well?

In some ways, like Xero, I’ve felt invisible at times. As a boy, sure, but even as an adult.

Even recently, I experienced this very thing, at the same time, it turns out, that I was coming up with the idea for the novel. Like Xero, I wanted someone to see the one thing I did best. I tried to show it every way I could think of. In the end, though, that someone didn’t see anything at all.

The novel is about a boy who thinks it’s what you do that makes you extraordinary. He hasn’t learned yet that it’s really just a way you are. Sad to say, I don’t think I understood that myself until Xero showed me.

The following is a very brief writing sample, a short chapter from my Middle Grade novel, The Short Bus.

Bear in mind, it’s a chapter that didn’t exist until, well, just now. It’s brand new. In other words, it’s a rather rough draft. Still quite raw. I hope you enjoy it though.

Oh, by the way, since this is an excerpt from later in the novel, you might need a little backstory:

Xero is thirteen. He and his best friend, Webb, have made friends with a boy they call Knee Boots (an older boy named Kevin who suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury four years earlier). John is Knee Boot’s father and Mick is Xero’s brother. There was a recent confrontation at school between Xero and Mick and Knee Boots happened to be there. Witnessing the conflict upset Knee Boots due to what happened that terrible day in his past. Xero has gone to check on Knee Boots. To make sure his friend is okay.

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