My slice of life thought journey took its own path today. It has to do with the idea of wanting. During our second grade team meeting we were discussing introducing persuasive writing and our hopes for how the unit would go. One of the teachers brought up the question of elevating the work to go beyond “getting someone to buy me what I want.” The discussion went to asking, “What are things that 2nd graders can show they care about that would be motivating to write about?” We talked about whether 2nd graders would respond to approaches that would lead to topics related more to social justice. What would be stepping stones to developing the skills of persuasion while also fostering a sense of “what could we do to persuade others to act for the good of our class, our community, our world?”
It was a rich and robust conversation, and it made me think about children in general, children at my school, and even my own children. All children want things. I think I’ll even say, all people want things. Is it “bad” for kids to want things? Should we judge whether someone’s wants are worthy of wanting? That’s way too big a question for this moment, but I do remember my own children being very aware that our family didn’t have the “stuff” that their friends had. They wanted. Sometimes there was begging, cajoling, and pleading, even whining. We lived through it and even learned a few things along the way. Somehow we learned that wanting didn’t mean we were lacking.
Another twist on wanting. Tonight an essay in Naming the World (edited by Bret Anthony Johnston) caught my attention. “The Importance of Being Envious,” by Tom Robbins addresses the effect of reading on writers. Don’t we write because we want to say something? How many of us have read a phrase or paragraph and felt “oh…I wish I had said that?” Or, “that’s exactly right?” He says it’s writer-envy. It’s motivating. It makes us want to try again to craft words into powerful language.
In Robbins’ words: “Yes, we should never underestimate the valuable role that sheer envy plays in the creative process. Whereas in a romantic relationship jealousy is stupid and destructive, as a lubricant of the verbal brain machinery it can be highly effective. It’s elementary: you read a few pages (somethings a few paragraphs or even a line or two will suffice) of work of which you are in awe, and in minutes you’ll find yourself motivated–burning!–to try to compose passages of equal merit. . .By no means is this a case of competing for fortune or fame. . .In merely attempting, with every muscle in your envious psyche, to climb to that elevation–to be that inventive and amusing and tough and daring and true–you may well have mooned the drab angel of mediocrity, and if nothing else you will have let loose your juice.”
I know I’m just barely writing my way into this and many other topics, but I appreciate (so much!) this forum in which to try. Many of you have sparked “writer-envy” in me which really means I admire your work so much.
Time for bed.