Ok, I know there are certain traits you probably shouldn’t carry from childhood into adulthood with you, like the tendency to throw yourself on the floor and howl when someone asks you not to pull a chair onto your head. But does there really come a time when you have to put away your toys and ‘grow up’?
I’m not sure. Putting away your toys doesn’t necessarily mean you become a grown up: it seems to me more a sign that you’ve closed down your thinking and decided that you know how things are, and that the time for experimentation and play has passed.
My nearly one-year-old daughter is doing something new. I say ‘new’ – it’s been done by every single baby since babies began. But she has discovered it for herself, and it’s got me thinking about the usefulness of ‘childish’ things. She’s learnt the words ‘hat’, ‘cat’, and ‘tractor’, and she’s begun trying to figure out what they are. Hats go on people’s heads. Cats are alive. Tractors have wheels. Which means, logically, that if you put a book on your head, it must be a hat. If a man walks towards you, he must be a cat. If the vacuum cleaner has wheels, it must be a tractor, and so on.
She’s a baby, so I get it – there’s a whole lot of context she just doesn’t understand yet. But it also makes me play with silly ideas. What if that vacuum cleaner hoovered up potatoes? What if that man really is a cat, in disguise? What if everyone used their favourite books as hats and walked around wearing them, and you saw someone wearing a book you loved or hated?
What if we lived in some bestselling dystopia, where wearing books was the law…?
Endless questions. Mostly inane (apart from the last one, that’s my next novel). But I like toying with silly ideas and I always have, since I was a child. At the heart of it is both a desire to remove myself from the everyday, and a desire to understand what the everyday is, in relation to all the other things that it could be but isn’t. I suppose this isn’t a particularly childish desire, but it manifests itself in childish ways – I wish I could still play those endless games of ‘pretend’ that I acted out with friends in the playground at primary school, and which required no work, no polish and no finesse, just endless streams of new ideas.
|Baby At Play With Very Hungry Caterpillar Hat|
My daughter also empties a box, puts it on her own head, and tells herself it’s a hat. In time, I’m sure the box will become a car, then a pirate ship, then a moon rocket. One of the best things I did at the Charney Manor retreat this summer was Helen Larder’s excellent workshop on the lawn – a group of grown-ups playing kids’ games (trying to steal ‘treasure’ while capturing members of the opposite team was a great one) and having a riotously brilliant time.
Again I wonder – why is the act of physically playing something that we grown-ups reserve for special, organised situations? Why don’t we do it more? It would make writing so much easier. When I was a child I wrote my stories everywhere – in cars juddering along tiny lost roads, trailing up hills swishing sticks, playing those endless games of ‘pretend’. Now I sit at a table with a pen in my hand. Mentally, it works. But physically, it isn’t exciting.
I know that there are inevitable consequences of growing up. The luxury that I had as a child to trail along behind my parents on a walk imagining families of mice living in the dry stone walls was only available to me because somebody else was reading the map and making my sandwiches. But it seems a shame that alongside the adult’s increase in responsibility also comes the adoption of a more ‘adult’ persona, sometimes against our better desires. Those childish things we loved made us into the creative adults we are – why should we ever feel we have to put them away?
Of course adults do play – actors certainly do – but very often under somebody else’s direction, or in an organised group. How many adults still play with Lego, acting out all the lives they’ll never get to live? Reading a book is basically creative play, but it’s still someone else’s world, delivered to you. Writing a book is creative play, and it’s entirely your own world, but sometimes even the act of writing gives creativity a purpose that I’m not sure it always needs.
Maybe there is a time for putting away childish things. But I think there’s also a time to consider taking them out again, and just seeing what happens.