Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child: Method Nine

Distract the Child with the Shallow and Unreal
“Modernity is a form of confinement: a way of life wherein we are free to ‘express’ ourselves, so long as the differences between one person and the next are not considered of any account. Everyone is different, and the differences make no difference; everyone walks in the gaudy wear of his own whims, and therefore everyone is a prisoner of the fads of the passing moment.”
Television is probably the first destroyer of the imagination that people think of. It’s true that TV is full of “moronic sales pitches for toys and toothpaste and luxury cars, appealing to lust, vanity, greed, envy, pride and various other sins deadly and disheartening.” It’s true that staring at the screen is easy—it replaces the physical and mental exertion required by reading or riding a bike. But have you ever thought that “every hour spent in front of the television [is] an hour not spent doing something else?...For everybody has to have some time doing something pointless, like playing cards. But the television engages the imagination in a false and easy way, as playing cards does not.” It requires no effort and then, when effort is required, the lazy, glutted imagination will not be able to give it. “You’ll still be able to play cards, but you will find it hard to listen to Beethoven.” Roald Dahl’s “Song to Mike Teevee” comes to mind here.

The real problem with television is that it is full of noise. This kind of noise is more than just decibels; it is “a kind of mental and spiritual interference, like the blitz of tiny explosions in radio static.” And it’s not limited to the TV screen. Anonymous crowds, billboards, announcements, pretentious posters pushing political propaganda, useless information immediately available on handy portable devices, slogans about slogans.... Eyes will be “trained to jitter with the skips and blips of visual distraction,” ears will “jitter along with incoherent wailings,” and minds will not rest on the beauties of even an actual stretch of sea and sky, let alone an imaginary sea and sky.

A life lived in a community of other lives will be a rich one. Every other person has the potential to broaden the mind because each one has a different set of experiences. But it takes time to get to know them and humility, too, because one must listen instead of talk, receive instead of offer. Too often what we have instead of community is crowds: herds of people merely performing functions for each other. The cashier at the grocery store is not a person with character and a story, she is just a cog in the wheel of society. Even the family is being dismantled: parents are being replaced by professionals who do their job efficiently, not lovingly. Life is deadened by routine without order, affability without love, rebukes without anger.

Does anyone else think that Facebook (dare I bring it up?) lends to this problem? As Esolen says, “We use the word ‘friend’ to describe someone we hardly know because the real depths of friendship are inaccessible to us.” Facebook relationships tend to be both “shallow” and “unreal.” Do they distract from the kind of friendship that bares souls and gives all?

So what shall we then do about all this?

In many cases, nothing, says Esolen.

The imagination is a natural faculty in man. It can be drowned out in noisy clamor, it can be scheduled and managed into oblivion, it can be squashed as its heroes are flattened, it can be muffled up indoors, but don’t make the mistake of trying to foster it. It can be so powerful on its own that sometimes all it needs to thrive is a bit of peace and quiet, some time to think, and something noble to think about.

True creativity can be thought of as a kind of receptivity to something that comes to us from without. Tradition has the poet as hearer before he is crafter of verses. “The Muse comes to him.” Milton, the blind poet, appealed to his Heavenly Muse to dictate to him his unpremeditated verse; Einstein daydreamed in the hills of Tuscany wondering about light, listening to the light’s whisperings; Elijah witnessed all the “pyrotechnics nature has to offer”—the whirlwind, the earthquake, the fire from above—but the Lord was in the “still, small voice.”
“In the deep quiet of the heart we hear things. We hear that the world as we know it is passing away. We are passing away. Yet the world is beautiful and good is no illusion....We [can] crowd many years into a single instant, or we [can] recall an instant years later, as if it were present now in all its power and life.”
As mothers we want to protect our children from the distractions of a garish world. We see them as so much putty in our hands, ready to be molded into something great. But maybe they are more like seeds which (as Toad had to learn) need simply to be planted, watered and then left alone to grow. No amount of playing music, providing light in the dark of night, or shouting “Now seeds, START GROWING!” would help them along. If our children are given silence, then—though they may be living in this world—it will be as if they know of an extra dimension or two invisible to most. They will be free: free to wander, free to love. They will be human, creatures against whom the empire of the masses will not stand.
“If our current empire is to survive, we must resist the temptations of the One whom Elijah heard in the still, small voice. For unlike the serpent in the garden, He really would make us be as gods and set us free. We prefer our bonds instead.”
You can read my "Ode to Silence" inspired by this chapter.

Ode To Silence

Inspired by Ten Ways To Destroy Your Child's Imagination, Method Nine

When I was young there were always younger siblings needing naps. I remember the quiet that would settle over the whole house when the baby went to sleep and for two hours out of every afternoon we would have a sacred Quiet Time. Mom would sleep too, no one would converse (if we did we would involuntarily whisper), we were either reading or pursuing some quiet activity.

It’s nap time now as I write this. Someone upstairs is practicing music, Mom (she no longer has a baby to put to sleep) has just returned from an errand, I can hear footsteps, cupboards creaking. But all these sounds are distant, part of someone else’s life. Here, in our little home, Lucy has drifted to sleep next to a pile of picture books. Esther is stirring, but she has been told that it’s not time to get up yet. I can hear Joshua’s legos tinkling in the box as he searches for the right piece and the keys of my keyboard make muted clicking noises. The calm, the quiet, is almost tangible, like a quilt that we are snuggled under as we rest from the labors of the morning and get ready for the labors of the evening.

Usually our church is bustling with people. A hundred “how-do-you-do’s” are exchanged as we all find our seats but then the cheerful cacophony is united in song and confession. Even during the sermon, as the pastor’s voice brings the word of God, there is a soft, quiet rustle as children color, parents hush, and Bible pages turn. But if you happen to go into the sanctuary when all the worshippers have gone off to their various daily lives, you will encounter another tangible silence. In that silence you can hear without hearing the echo of hundreds of hymns sung by thousands of voices throughout the ages. If you listen to that silence, pausing for a moment from whatever errand you might have been on, you will know that this passing life is not all there is.

New York City is a place of hustle and bustle if any place is. We saw Times Square, alight with one glitzy advertisement after another. We rode the subway with hundreds of people hurrying hither and thither. We were on the Empire State Building as the sun set and millions of lights began to blink on—lights in houses, street lights, traffic lights, and head lights on thousands and thousands of cars. In the midst of Manhattan, many people find sanctuary under the trees, in the meadows, and along the paths of Central Park. But my favorite place that we visited in the City was the Trinity Church. The old church is right in the financial district, mere blocks from the Stock Exchange. There were no signs instructing curious tourists like ourselves to be quiet, but when we walked in, the place itself made us involuntarily respectful, reverent. We didn’t rush from one informative plaque to an other, we didn’t point out curiosities to each other. No, we sat, gazed a little, and listened. A place like that takes you beyond yourself. The eternal touches the present and we know that a home is prepared for us Somewhere Else.

I Was A Fun Mom Today

It was 11:30—an hour and a half till nap time, that oasis in a mother's day. I had already been for a walk, made breakfast, cleaned up from breakfast, dressed everyone, started two loads of laundry, read a story to the kids, worked on letters with Joshua and supervised Lucy's workbook activities. As we sat at the table drinking tea, I suddenly remembered that I'd been wanting to make cookies with the kids. As they sipped their hot beverage I gathered the ingredients for my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe. Instead of just getting it done as quickly as possible (you know, the sooner to eat the cookies!) I let them help. Lucy dumped in sugar, Joshua tried his hand at mixing, and they both unwrapped the butter. Sure, I did most of the work, but they felt included, especially when the mixing was done and the "nibbles" of dough could begin going around.

Waiting patiently is so hard!
Too late!
Finally, we could enjoy the fruits of our labors. Yummy!
Picking out the chocolate chips, of course.
Isn't that how you eat them?
Yes, they really were that good!
Eli, if you read this at work, let me assure you that
there are plenty waiting for you when you get home.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

An Early Spring Walk in the Woods

Since Exodus is closed on Monday Eli gets to spend the day with us. This week we took the kids on a walk through the Mount Talbert Nature Park. It's a small butte just down the road from our home with very nicely maintained walking paths. Mostly it's used by joggers, but I love rambling through it with the kids. There's lots of birds, ferns, and moss, and in the summer the sunny meadow is full of blooming daisies. This time we even caught a glimpse of two deer just before they bounded away into the trees!

I like to call it "the Golden Wood." With the sun streaming through and all the yellowy moss on the trees, it takes on a warm, golden hue that is almost magical.

The first time we came here we brought our new stroller with its snazzy all-terrain wheels. But it was no match for the roots and rocks that we encountered at certain parts of the path. This time we knew better, but we should have planned some sort of transportation for an unsteady and quite slow eighteen-month-old.

I think she enjoyed the trip from her comfy perch up on Daddy's shoulders.

This is Joshua's senior portrait pose.

Just kidding! He's still just a little boy!

My three kids, all smiling for the camera for once!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Ten Ways: Method Eight—A Female Perspective

Method eight in Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child is full of examples from history and literature and Esolen also uses many anecdotes from his own childhood. He is definitely writing from the point of view of a man who was once a boy so the illustrations of girlhood and womanhood are (understandably) a bit thin. As a woman who was once a girl, I thought I’d throw in my two cents worth of childhood memories.

When I was almost seven my family joined a church that spent nearly all of every Sunday together. After the service we had a fellowship meal together and after that we would have a short communion service. We were meeting in the school building belonging to a Seventh Day Adventist church. There was a gym, a long hallway (with mysteriously closed off classrooms hiding behind each door), a large covered porch, a playground, and a big field hedged at the back by blackberry bushes which bore fruit for us to eat and make into "ink" in the summer. When the weather was even sort of descent (I don’t think our mothers invested in fancy church clothes) there would be children of all ages roaming that property. The big boys would do back flips off the swings to the amazement of all of us younger kids. Boys would find frogs or snakes or they’d collect pinecones to be used (you guessed it) as projectiles. My friends and I alternated mostly between princesses and pioneers. After I read the Misty books we played that we were wild horses a few times. We also gathered pinecones, but they were the provisions we took with us on our journey to the Oregon Territory.

Then we all discovered freeze tag and almost every Sunday for a year or more you could find a group of maybe ten to twenty kids (boys and girls) running around the playground and the field. If it was too close after the meal, at least one or two would be collapsed on the ground with an excruciating side ache. But even though we played together, there was still a divide between the boys and girls. My friends and I would come to the game together and leave together. We would congregate on “base” together. There was definitely a sense of mystery such as Esolen refers to. And yes, there were glances back and forth.

Still we grew. Civil War re-enacting became vogue. The boys made or acquired uniforms (mostly Confederate gray), they collected rifles and they marched off through the woods to shoot at each other and die as realistically as possible. Then they would sit around their campfires and drink water out of canteens or (preferably) maple syrup jugs that would look amusingly as though they contained something a good deal stiffer. We girls got to be nurses (pale and shaking) during the hospital scenes, which always included amputations. We sewed dresses out of colorful calico, we baked pies, we crocheted. In the evening we would dance. Then the distinctions between boys and girls (not yet men and women, but getting close) were preserved and even sharpened. We would sit on the side and wait to be asked. They would ask and they considered it an honor (or they said they did, anyway). They would lead us on and then lead us off again.

I don’t remember the division being weird or forced. No one told me not to play with the boys or to only get so close or to only talk for so long. It was natural and I think it did result in a greater respect for each other when we did get together.

Of course there has to be balance. We don’t want our children going all Victorian and prudish, especially as they get older. But they should understand and embrace the differences. Then as they mature they can begin to wonder and marvel at them.

Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child: Method Eight

Level Distinctions Between Man and Woman
“We human beings wherever we go will always have one frontier right before us, one source of wonder, precisely for the fascinating strangeness of the land. Women will have men and men will have women.”
The imagination, unless it is stifled early, is restless. It longs for the faraway, the separate, the unknown. The previous chapter demonstrated how love ignites the imagination; this chapter suggests that the way to keep men and women from falling in love—beholding each other with wonder and reverence—is to flatten the children. From an early age they are to be given both a superficial familiarity and an impenetrable ignorance of what makes men and women so strangely, uniquely, marvelously different from each other.

Superficial Familiarity
An easy way to dispel the mystery of the sexes is to herd kids together whenever possible as if there’s no reason to keep them apart. Boys and girls routinely thrown together will not learn the wonder of love but rather the boredom of familiarity. They may still develop friendships in that situation, but the primary focus will be who is eyeing who and who is going to who’s party. But boys and girls are different. Even when they are at the same activity, they don’t go about it in the same way. Keeping them separate is healthy for their intellectual and emotional development and makes it possible for them to try their hand at this and that without the distraction of (and the fear of being embarrassed by or in front of) the opposite sex. A divide wisely and judiciously set up will feel natural and will be respected by both the boys and the girls. It will allow boys to be boys and girls to be girls and each will feel like that means something. There will still be glances back and forth, but they will be glances of wonder and esteem.

This chapter is full of examples from history and literature and Esolen also uses many anecdotes from his own childhood. He is definitely writing from the point of view of a man who was once a boy so the illustrations of girlhood and womanhood are (understandably) a bit thin. As a woman who was once a girl, I thought I’d throw in my two cents worth of childhood memories. (read more...)

Impenetrable Ignorance
Children are herded into anonymity at earlier and earlier ages and as they grow the homogeneity continues. Boys are not led into “manhood,” girls are not ushered into “womanhood,” and neither are led to believe that the two are at all different. Instead they merely “grow up” into “adulthood,” as do animals and weeds and with about the same significance. Modernity, putting on a veneer of intelligence, scoffs at traditional ideals by pinning any easy stupidity or immorality upon the men and women of the past who exemplified them. Never mind that these conventional men and women—possessed of virtues modernity would ignore—tamed a continent. No, the only ideals children are given to seek after are lots of money, a sharp wardrobe, and a glamorous career—things that “glut the soul rather than whet its longing for what is beyond our immediate range of sight.” Not very inspiring or elevating, but quite necessary to drive the economy. On the other hand, the concepts of manliness and womanliness give young people a recognizable ideal to strive for and grow into—and it’s not one of their own making. It’s something that has been done by all the boys and girls of ages past who became the men and women who made history. It’s beautiful and bracing, significant and noble.

When children are herded into big, controlled crowds they can neither enjoy the bliss of solitude nor form close friendships. Friendship exalts the imagination and when boys hang out with other boys and girls gather with other girls, they are free to develop the kind of companionship that is unencumbered by feelings of attraction or shyness. This “brotherhood” and “sisterhood” will allow the boys and the girls (who will eventually become men and women) to accomplish the great and the glorious. When you have a real friend you remember and treasure the past. You love the friend and suddenly the concerns of the masses fade into unimportance. “Pals we may have, in the flatlands of contemporary life. Political allies, sure. Coworkers aplenty. But not friends.”
“Wherever such friendships persist, there persists the possibility of imaginative leaps that threaten the comfort of the banal.”

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child: Method Seven

Reduce All Talk of Love to Narcissism and Sex

Containing many beautiful examples from literature and poetry, this chapter is a tribute to love—love that exalts, love that is mysterious, love that is selfless, love that “touches the ordinary so that suddenly we see that it is not ordinary after all.” Love takes the earthly beauty around us and gives it greater meaning and a heavenly splendor. It makes us hunger for the good, the true and the beautiful. This kind of love goes beyond physical desire; it does not reduce its object to animal attraction or to material accidents such as a pretty eye or a fair cheek. Not that it doesn’t appreciate the beauty, but it is on a quest for something greater than mere copulation. It desires to possess that beauty all the more and in its noblest form: companionship bound by a mutual rivalry of noble deeds and consideration of the good itself. This kind of love becomes merged with our longing to know the highest truth: to contemplate the beauty of the Creator.
“What exalts us is not the poetry, nor even the haunting melody to which it is sung, but the call of love that leads us, in imagination, into a world of desire and beauty and disappointment. It is a world as old as man; and can be put to death only by the abolition of man.”
The abolition of man is exactly what mass-entertainers and mass-educators are about. Instead of ennobling poetry about selfless love of another, we get self-infatuated drivel. Love now has to do with “whatever makes me happy” not with whatever makes me see beyond myself. “It is an emotional itch, that is all.” But it’s not really love they’re talking about at all—it’s lust. Lust not only ignores the heavenly things, but also reduces even earthly things to “dunghill thoughts” and cannot imagine anything other than the urge of animal desire. The glorious mysteries of manliness and womanliness are dispelled or papered over and ignored and when that happens, “we can no longer appreciate why men and women were ever fascinated with each other in the first place. We lose the poetry and music of love.”

Modern educators reduce “manliness” and “womanliness” to the capacity to engage in sexual intercourse. The qualities traditionally associated with good men and good women (service and support, respect and submission) are merely conventional: they can and should be otherwise. “The passage from girlhood to womanhood, from being a child to being capable of bearing a child, is reduced to twaddle and giggles.” Measurements and functions are all love is, without the least connection to the being of a woman. “Manhood” is not something into which a man could lead a boy. Delicate matters of human desire and attraction are shrugged away with a laugh. The whole subject of sex has to do with controlling the hardware and keeping it clean. Not much happens when a boy and a girl fall in love except that they eventually get around to wondering when they should “go further.” Modern educators set up a pasteboard world where virtue, duty and the momentous giving of oneself wholly to another have no part. They are not interested in the mysteries of love, only in mechanics and hygienics. “What is love? No concrete answer can be given, so why bother asking?”

People with a strong sense of being embodied creatures rather than bundles of appetite provided with the machinery of a body will blanche at genetic engineering, homosexuality, the raising of children by institutions... Such a person would not drag the distinctive qualities of manliness and womanliness over the ground of the other because he would give each the greatest respect possible. He would glimpse with awe the unfathomable mystery of each, whose bodies—when they unite—produce “that one-flesh union that allows us to link one generation to the next.” Retaining a sensitivity to the mysterious and holy, he would not be so easily assimilated into the world of the masses.