Currently reading Elizabeth Gilbert's creative-self-help book, Big Magic. I first caught wind of it through her podcast, and after a tardy (but enchanting) reading of Eat, Pray, Love, I figured her words of creative wisdom wouldn't be ones to gag on.
In it, she categorized children's literature as "easy" books to write, wishing a deceased author she admired had written one "just to get something out."
I found her reduction of the genre's literary merit a bit surprising. I, along with every other socioeconomically-repressed child I knew, were proof of the genre's significance. We paid close attention to the merriment as well as the moral of those parables. They engaged us while also granting permission to put them down and live out our own tales. They taught us; even saved us from time to time. And we all know saviors don't come easy.
Shel Silverstein was one such person.
When I was a kid, I didn't know he was from my hometown Chicago. I also didn't know he had other talents, other dreams, and I couldn't predict he would go on to win hella awards for his work, including a Grammy.
I couldn't tell you about his life and times, nor that he wasn't black — by the look of that thick, dark beard staring back at me from his headshot, I thought he was a bonafide black man. The short of it is, I couldn't tell you a thing about Shel The Man
But the art.
I could tell you that the art made me draw. Made me unafraid to craft ugly things, or to appreciate ugly things that were usually meant for boys. In Shel's world, all genders were equally grotesque and delightful.
I could tell you that the art started my love of writing. I kept a folder stuffed with wide-ruled, loose-leaf paper scribbled with my own poems and short stories. Within those pages, I found the connection between myself and God.
I could tell you Where the Sidewalk Ends was the first book I read independently — fuck Pooh, fuck the Golden Books and all of their Golden Bullshit, who cares what Brown Bear chooses to see or how greedy that damn Caterpillar is — by the time I could read alone, I was reading Shel. And probably cursing out those other books, too.
I could tell you I saw myself in his world. I saw an escape route from my own, through his mind. He made me believe I could write and draw my way into a life of my own making. I could tell you he made me understand I could be many things at once; I could be brave and afraid. I could be an honest liar (which ain't nothin' but a bomb storyteller). I could be a city kid ready to get the hell up out the city. And most importantly, all the magic I'd ever know I'd have to make myself.
You see — I could never agree writing for children is a gimme. It may in fact be the most difficult genre to write. That is, if you're trying to reach anyone with your work.
There is a place where the sidewalk ends
And before the street begins,
And there the grass grows soft and white
And there the sun burns crimson bright,
And there the moon-bird rests from his flight
To cool in the peppermint wind.
Let us leave this place where the smoke blows black
And the dark street winds and bends.
Past the pits where the asphalt flowers grow
We shall walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And watch where the chalk-white arrows go
To the place where the sidewalk ends.
Yes we'll walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And we'll go where the chalk-white arrows go,
For the children, they mark, and the children, they know,
The place where the sidewalk ends.
Yet and still, I'd be remiss if I didn't end this all with the admittance that Mr. Silverstein would have no parts of my commentary. As he said: "I myself do not believe in explaining anything."