Those 5 year olds

Mystical Hand,

I taught Mystical Hands to 5 year olds last week, at a progressive private school called Wheeler in Providence, Rhode Island.

We talked about the importance of our hands, how much we need our wiggling fingers, pinkies, thumbs and wrists. We traced our hands on cardboard and then collaged them with images I brought and carefully organized in baggies. And finally, we shellacked them all to a wondrous shine.

The profundity of the finished product was shocking. One shy girl glued deep sea creatures at the wrist, land animals at the palms, and birds flew up every finger. Us practiced adult artists have to work hard to be so tapped in.

Usually when I teach the class, I run around collecting up the art supplies and images so as not to make a mess. I was shattered from my novel-writing week, and just let the images there on the pint-sized white tables. After they finished their hands, some of the kids spontaneously grabbed sheets of construction paper and collaged the unused images. One boy named Boo, honestly that was his name, used a stapler to connect two sheets of paper, and the staples were like railroad tracks or some wacked looking quilting stitches and he collaged a massive castle surrounded by tiny people doing various types of work. It was unbelievable!

After this workshop, later in the week I had my weekly therapy session with Gordon. My cheap artist’s insurance will only cover therapy at these down and out clinics, full of beaten up rough looking tattooed men, and recovering crack addicts. I sit in the lobby listening to talk about baby daddies and hearing things like: ‘I’m going to get my kids back, you just wait.’ Many of Gordon’s clients are foster kids. He says I am a grown up version of his foster kids. Whoa!

We did an inner child activity. Truly, I hadn’t thought that this inner child activity had anything to do with the teaching of 5 year olds earlier in the week. Yeah, I was THAT tired. We put two chairs facing each other, and asked an inner child to come have a seat and a chat.

My 5 year old showed up in the plaid and white dress she wore for her kindergarten picture, bobby socks, patent leather black shoes with tiny buckles.

She wanted us to do projects together, like the Mystical Hands. She wanted a special folding table set up just for her. She wanted colored paper, a decorated soup can for colored pencils, a child’s pair of scissors, and any other bits and bobs, like toilet paper rolls, etc, that she could use.

Most importantly, she wanted to do art that didn’t need to be perfect, that didn’t need to be hung on the wall of some studio for passersby. She wanted to play. She wanted me to suggest ideas, but to back off and let her goof off.

I had a deep creative shift with this session. I realized that every Mystical Hands class I’d taught, up to this one, had been extremely controlled. I wanted the children’s hands to turn out professional and high end and, ridiculously enough, not messy and kid-like. I realized that this ‘perfectionism’ had been interfering with my visual art process for years. I thought I’d already learned this lesson.

What does this have to do with writing? The very next day, after setting up a folding table for my 5 year old with all the required goo-gahs, I coached writing clients and the way I coached seemed to shift.

I let go of working on finding the exact right vocabulary word with a client, of their path having to look a certain way. I loosened up.

I said, let’s stop controlling it all. Let’s stop editing so much. Let’s stop sweating the small stuff. Just tell the story. Just tell it. You’re a storyteller and you need to tell your story. The inner writer child wants to come out and play. Let her.

“It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.” ~ Pablo Picasso

I’m a writing coach:


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