Friday, October 16, 2009


If you ask me anything right now I'm likely to say "yes" just so you'll go away. "Mommy, can I have a vanilla milk box?" The Horizon ones that cost like a buck per ounce and are reserved for lunch boxes only? "Sure." "Mommy, can I have chocolate?" "Yep." "Mommy, can I watch Magic School Bus on the white couch with my wet muddy rain boots on?" "You betcha."
It's Friday afternoon and I am worn out. My day of driving people to and fro in the 41 degree, raining nastiness is almost over and I can practically taste the glass of red wine I will be pouring later this afternoon, I mean tonight. I just got home from teaching "Intro to Architecture" to Emma's kindergarten class. My throat is sore from yelling architecture at everyone.
It is amazing how tangential the kindergarten brain is. I held up a poster of Dulles Airport and said, "Dulles Airport is an example of modern architecture." And a little girl raised her hand and said earnestly, " dad was going to Dallas...." And then dozens of other hands shot up as her comment triggered a kindergarten thought cloud of Dulles airport related comments. "My cousin lives in Pittsburgh," said another little girl. "Great," I said. "I guess you must have flown to Pittsburgh to visit her?" "No, we drove." And this would pertain to Dulles airport how exactly? It would've been hilarious, except no one was laughing and the crowd was getting feistier by the minute.
The next poster I held up after Dulles Airport was of the Washington Monument. I asked if anyone knew what this building was. One little boy's hand shot up before anyone else's. If anyone knew the answer it appeared to be him. "Pennsylvania!" He said with total confidence. even close, guy. Maybe this was some continuation of the Pittsburgh comment? Ay yi yi.
Do you think they got the difference between Doric and Ionic columns? Has anyone ever remembered the difference five minutes after anyone has explained it to them?
I was not meant to teach little children things. I think my own little children have learned things by osmosis, but I'm not the type to sit them down and teach them things like Doric and Ionic columns and about Dulles airport. Even Teddy has already suffered the consequences of my lack of ability to transfer knowledge to young people. People keep asking him to high-five. For some reason everyone expects an almost-one-year-old to be able to high-five. When Teddy disses people, leaving their hand hanging there in the air, I am the one that feels like the loser. Why haven't I taught Teddy to high-five? What's wrong with me? Teddy can do all sorts of other things, but high-fiving has slipped through the cracks somehow.
Lately, I've been trying to teach Emma (and myself) how to draw. I bought this book and it is proving a very useful tool. Here are some of our first drawings:

My shorty horse

Emma's bird

We had signed up for a parent/child drawing class, but it was pretty lame. We went to the first class and I made the executive decision not to continue and just to do our own drawing class at home. So far, so good. And the twelve bucks I spent on the book certainly beats the $95 the class was charging. Plus, now I no longer have the bother of trying to figure out childcare at 5:15 on Wednesdays. Emma and I can do our class any time we want.

Maybe I need to buy a book about how to teach Teddy to high-five?

I have been enjoying the drawing book because I love the way it makes you look at the world around you. Basically, the book teaches you to look for the "five basic elements of shape" in everything you are trying to draw. The five basic elements of shape are: dots, circles, straight lines, curved lines, and angled lines. First you practice drawing these five elements, then you draw pictures that combine all the elements. When you break a picture of a horse into dots, circles and lines, it makes it seem so much simpler. You're not drawing a snout, or whatever you call a horse's nose, you're just drawing a curved line.

It's amazing how you can trick your brain into drawing something that you never would've thought you could draw. I see so many parallels to this in writing. Like, let's say I'm trying to write a scene where a little girl discovers for the first time she was adopted. My brain would typically want to write this scene very straight-forwardly. I might have the girl walk in her parents' bedroom, discover a letter lying on the floor, read the contents of the letter which conveniently details the specifics of her adoption, maybe the girl drops the letter in disbelief and runs crying from the room. Anyone could write that scene. Anyone's dog could write that scene. It's the most obvious, trite, boring way to imagine that particular moment in someone's life. But if you trick your brain, if you tell your brain that you're not writing about a revelatory, huge moment in someone's life, but instead you're writing about a swimming lesson they took once, the one where everyone was jumping into the water and swimming towards the instructor, everyone except your character. Maybe you tell your brain that that's all it has to write. No big life-changing revelations have to take place, brain, only swimming (or not swimming as the case may be). Tell what the bathing suits looked like. Were the children's eyes stretched into ellipses behind their goggles? Were the bathing suits saggy? Did belly buttons show through their one-piece suits? These are the writing equivalents of the five elements of shape. Pretty soon your brain will sneak in a revelation without you even telling it to. And the scene will feel truer and less like a dog wrote it than if you had tried to write straight on. And that's pretty much the goal of any writer: writing stuff that is true and doesn't sound like a dog wrote it.

Signing off for's a quick writing exercise before I go:

Write anything you want, just make sure it includes the line "and then there was a knock at the door." Write for 15 minutes or until Magic School Bus is over.


william said...

Hey aunt Elizabeth! I love your writing. It's almost ten over here, so I should retire soon. I have also been trying to force myself to learn to draw, and it really is amazing how much you can draw if you break a picture down. Keep writing,

Cannon II

Valerie @ Frugal Family Fun Blog said...

Love the drawings, and I love what drawing with her means to you.

Forget about high-fives... those were so 80's, and very over-rated. Now it's fist-bumps, baby! ;-)

trey hailey said...

loved this! Giggled when I heard you were "yelling architecture" at kindergardeners.....

A fun exercise I did with Elise was to design a new town. I asked her about places to live work and play. What kind of different families live in different homes. Fun!

Phillips Family said...

Ha!ha! I guard those Horizon milk boxes with my life at our house!

Children's train of thought can totally frustrate me and make me giggle all at the same time. Bless your heart for attempting to teach such young children about architecture.

Keep up the writing! It is excellent!

Robin said...

Your horse drawing is awesome! I'm very impressed and definitely want to check out the book you mentioned...I can't draw jack and Clara is really into it right now. Mostly people with three legs, but still.

Thanks for the writing prompt...I hope to get to that soon.

Oh, and I was worried when I first read your title! I thought you guys were moving to PA or something. :)


Elizabeth said...

I figured some people who knew me well would be reading to the end of the post with baited breath...waiting for me to announce we're moving to PA. We'll see...I almost want to move to PA just so I can stop wondering if I'm moving to PA. ugh.

Thanks for all the kind words, everyone! I love the encouragement. I read your comments over and over again. : )