Teaching Curiosity

I think Curiosity is right up there with Creativity – it’s challenging to relay, with no guaranteed result, and yet is vital to the artistic process.

And honing it is weird. I think most stuff out there now is “how-to” with step-by-step methods of being creative, straight forward instruction of where to look for “ideas,” and what to do with them. Like school. School did a great job of teaching basic (how-to) skills. But it was our father who left some of our most influential nerd-shaped marks for which I’m grateful (My current regard for literature/writing, goals, life, etc. wouldn’t be as it is if he hadn’t made his nerdy efforts).

Good, Old-fashioned Wonder

When I was in elementary school, our father sometimes drove my brothers and me home from swim practice with the car radio always tuned to NPR News (classical music played at 6PM weeknights). One evening he told me to listen to a Tchaikovsky piece and tell him what I heard. I described the instruments.

“No, no,” he said, tickled, “When you hear this, what do you see?”

When I frowned, he described what he saw: movement, color, temperature – a scene (deer in a meadow, autumn weaves, windy). I didn’t see that. And it annoyed me because I felt that if he could see it, then I should be able to, too.

The Lesson: “Always wonder about things. Be curious.”

Wonder In Practice: Freshman in High School (2003)

After athletic practices, I sat by the main student parking lot to wait for my mom. The pool had been locked up, the weight room might’ve been closed and the JROTC teams had vacated. The exception was ladies’ lacrosse which was still on the field.

Master Chief (my naval science instructor) passed me on his way to his car and asked if someone was coming for me (like he always did) later followed by Senior Chief (who always asked the same thing; I didn’t feel convincing after the 50th time). After that, it was me and the squirrels.

Then a lone older gentleman with thin pearl-white hair and a bent back passed by me quietly like he had all the time in the world.

Alone With The Squirrels, I Watched Him And Wondered…

He was 6-years-old once. Kickin’ rocks, giggling at jokes and asking mom what’s for dinner, again.

The 6-year-old adapted to the role of a 12-year-old. He collected aluminum foil, played sports, listened when adults discussed wars overseas, paused among buddies to glance after the girl he liked. (Homework, rope swings, drive-in theater?)

He turned 18, had fun, then 21, proud to be a man. Thinkin’ he’s hot stuff, took advantage of privileges and opportunities (1st job, cigarettes, his father’s Chevy). Maybe he embraced the romance of serving his country. Maybe he flinched and ducked, wide-eyed, in camo and a helmet among his unit in the murky darkness hoping not to get too close to any Viet Kong, wondering how the hell he agreed to this, thinking he should’ve been a doctor. Maybe he lost army brothers and came home, maybe he never talked about it, or he did, maybe he got married.

Perhaps they had kids and those things happened called mortgages, insurance, and bills for the most ridiculous but necessary things. 6-year-old’s didn’t have to think about that stuff. (That’s okay; plenty of time.) The kids ate like horses, slept like rocks, and grew like weeds. His middle son liked to join him under the Chevy’s hood and help BBQ (that son married first?).

The 6-year-old’s still in there, and he’s suddenly 50. Maybe he had his first heart attack then (alone or with someone). Maybe he just realized he’s 50.

Maybe his kids are grown and scattered around the world, and he sees them on holiday, or doesn’t (maybe none of them call, or they all do, or only that middle son who also goes fishing with him every New Years). Maybe his wife still has her health despite being older and cooking exactly like her aunt (lard and bacon grease?). Has he buried his parents? Maybe only his father, and visits his mother in a nursing home because he can’t care for her himself, or not.

Now he’s 70 and stairs hurt his knees. He takes the Chevy to car shows and his siblings have mastered “old jokes.” Does his mother recognize him? (Or she stands at 4’8″, completes the New York Times crossword every week, and proudly bears the nickname “Bingo Queen.”) Maybe he’s the only one who remembers his best friend as one of the young hot shots grinning at enlistment. (Who’s left?)

80. That day he walked slowly down the sidewalk away from me and lacrosse ladies hurried by him in uniforms and high pony tails, absorbed in their world and oblivious to his. He was that way once. Maybe he hadn’t liked hanging out with old people because they were boring, or it’d never occurred to him (maybe he wished he had, or someone would). His wife isn’t with him. Where is she?

He’d stepped into year after year like a comfortable pair of shoes – maybe he realized time had rushed by like white water only after it was gone.

But he never stopped being that 6-year-old. In an aged package and with innocence molded by experiences, chiseled by choices, sobered by responsibilities and lessons continuously learned (the hard way or never grasped at all).

Maybe he wished he could return those privileges he’d grabbed at 18 and not worry about how much salt is in his creamed spinach or that his dentist stopped taking Medicare. (Maybe he’d like to walk home with his brother and bossy sister, barge into the kitchen where mom has three pots and a pan on the stove and ask what’s for dinner, again.)

What Did 14-year-old Me See Walking Away By Lot C?

A 6-year-old. And he just wanted to go home.  


[Note: details that I added to my 2003 notes of this memory were the Chevy, Medicare, Bingo, and the spinach. The rest is legit 14-year-old dork me, complements of one seriously beat up notebook that’s now hiding somewhere in my parents’ attic.]

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