All That Is Right

We’ve been homeschooling my youngest son, Sawyer, lately, and I have taken the role of Language Arts instructor. In my class, we write stories. Because Sawyer can turn any task asked of him from tying his shoes to taking a shower into work – and therefore a requirement, and therefore not his idea, and therefore something joyless he must finish as quickly as possible so he can get back to those things that are his idea – I wanted to make the experience of writing as much like the pretending he has been doing all his life. To that end, I typed the story while he dictated. I would handle grammar and punctuation and such, which, while necessary to produce a polished piece of work, are entirely secondary to what writing actually is. Moreover, I asked questions. Sawyer would dictate: “My house was horrible.” I would ask, “What do you mean? Why is it horrible? Prove to me it’s horrible. Look around the apartment and write the horrible things you see.”

Sawyer would get still, his eyes acquiring the inward focus of true imagining, and then say, “The walls have grease on them with flies swarming around. And there’s an old painting on the wall, a cheap replica of the Mona Lisa. It has . . .” And I could see him counting. “It has five tears in it.”

And so on. Sawyer could always see the story he was telling, and with me handling the dry business of making it correct there was no threat of being wrong, something he worried about often. We wrote our first story over several days and each session went effortlessly. Except for one. As I said, we were homeschooling him. The pressure of being wrong so often at school had finally caught up with him and he was acting out in ways we could no longer ignore. So we pulled him out.

But his teacher and vice principal wanted him to return to school once more so they could tell him they cared for him and that they understood he needed a break and that they did not think he was wrong at all. Nice as their intentions were, Sawyer was very nervous about the idea of walking into that building again. And so, when we sat down to write his story, and I read aloud what we had written so far and asked, “So what happens next?” Sawyer shrugged and said, “I don’t know.”

I might as well have asked him what the capital of Kentucky was. We squeezed a couple paragraphs out that day, but our writing was in competition with The Future, and in that game The Future will usually win. I saw again what an insidious siren The Future really is, pulling all our creative attention out into the black hole of what is not. Try as we may, the future will always feel unknowably wrong, lacking as it must the one critical ingredient in all that is right: Life.

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