My mother’s good friend Marnie, a creative inspiration in my life, loves to tell the following story of my little brother. When Jack was perhaps 6 or 7, he spent the day with “Aunt” Marnie making things – forts, crafts, recipes, etc. When he came home, our mother asked what he had been doing all day. He looked up at her with a very serious expression and pronounced, “Important work!”
How true. The act of playing and creating is the most important work a child can do. It means more to their cognitive development, mind-body awareness, and emerging sense of self than any Baby Einstein video or Kumon exercise. For it is in the act of creating that children truly learn to engage the world around them – to use their imaginations, to exercise their curiosity, to open themselves up to possibility and explore.
If there is one thing I wish to teach my children, it is this sense of connection to place, person, and to the task at hand. This is why I take my children out to find seeds in the woods (science), and why when we get home I suggest an activity of arranging them (art). These activities not only teach them to look at things in different ways, they help them to do the important work of engaging the world around them. (Oh and BTW, they also help me to stay engaged. It’s an on-going process.)
To me this word “engagement” is very important for it is the main component of what it means to be Creative with a capital “C”, literally “to create.” (A definition, you’ll note, that is not restricted to “the arts.”) When we create something, whether it be a garden, painting, novel or the theory of relativity, we cannot help but be completely focussed and engaged.
I don’t presume to know the secret of happiness, but I believe that being engaged is central. And the more we practice it through the important work of creating, the more we can exercise it in other aspects of our life: when we enjoy the sunset or read a book. There are those who seek a constant state of engagement. But for most of us, that is simply unrealistic. (And maybe too much work.) But I believe that the more moments of true engagement that we can string across the ups and downs of our hectic lives, the more we can knit it all together into something resembling a life well-lived.
When I removed the seeds from my pockets, I gathered them on one of Solvi’s school works sheets that happened to be on my desk. I liked the rather serendipitous juxtaposition, so again I wound up photographing them as they lay.
Note the intensity.