‘We should let children dawdle and dream’ (R12)

says Lauren Child, children’s author & illustrator

She says, quite rightly, that society is too goal-oriented; she plans to use her new role to encourage youngsters to develop their creativity by ‘just having a go’. Children are often told what’s good for them, but she thinks they should just stare into space. In an age of prescriptive talk about targets and aspirations, she plans to make a stand against the theorising and goal-setting during her two-year tenure as Waterstone’s Children’s Laureate.

“Lost time is so lovely,” she says. “We have become too goal-oriented, so it is no longer enough to learn to play the Beatles’ hits on the piano, you have to become a great pianist. Why can’t children do something just for the sake of it?”

A thesis she will explain on a new website and in an inaugural lecture in London on 19th September 2017 is that it is vital for the young to daydream and dawdle if they are ever to develop a sense of their own personality [and essence].

“This summer, I have thought a lot about our need to be creative and how you discover it by accident,” she says. “It was such an exciting moment for me when my English teacher asked me to do some improvisation in front of the class and I made people laugh. So I would like to talk about making time for these accidents. We need to be aware that just having a go has a value. Chance interactions can lead to something bigger. And it is something children can do without having to join something, or start something up.”

…Lauren Child’s new website, Staring into Space, will invite young visitors to post details of odd things they have spotted. She plans to contribute with a daily blog about items she has noticed in the street. “There is always something amazing. Whether it is a single sock, or something you overhear people saying. I once found two raw steaks lying on the pavement. I write it down in a notebook, or on the back of envelope. Often it is a description of somebody I have seen, like a tiny woman in a velvet trouser suit walking along in New York, pulling a shopping cart. I can use her in a story one day. Ideas are made from these things.”

Discovering Things by Accident

This is part of an article in The Observer dated 10th September 2017. I was delighted to read it but wondered what flack she’ll get from New Educational Dispensations (The Academy as Preparation for Work) and it reminded me of some notes I’d scribbled about the way that life is a complete ‘accident’ – something that it suits the Power Possessors to ignore or smother to further their belief that there is some pre-existing order which they are determined to reveal and pursue in their own interests.

My notes go like this…

What are we but the reducers of otherwise unmanageable snippets of experience to some kind of personal order? Snippets that come to us pell-mell; torrents of them on a good day – bits from here and there, capture them as you can to achieve an emergent order. There is no order to start with – a kind of order emerges from the things themselves, events that we rub up against and vice-versa.

The idea of a pre-existing order is rather disgusting; it comes to us from the illusions of all the organising ‘gods’ we invented in the first place, from the misguided inventions of science, religion, politics & philosophy. There is no pre-existing order.

In fact, existentially, we simply capture snippets, a note here, a temporary vision there, a random image caught in passing, an old photo, a discrepancy well thought of, a sudden bend in the road, a mysterious artefact, something you have to rise up in the middle of the night to jot down, a creaking floorboard, the tick of a clock, the turn of a wave.

There’s a little throbbing in the still of midnight outside my study as the big cargo ship from over the ocean makes its way upriver with a lighted cabin where one like me writes deliberately at a cluttered desk feeling the floor moving to the rhythm of the water. It goes out into black night, preserving the chance of a lighted room. Mere chance. A figment of the imagination. The invention of order.

The idea of a pre-existing order is such a huge mistake. It spawns abstract notions like the Muses, their ‘inspiration’ that can so easily get blocked. It comes to us because there seems to be some ordered pattern to the way the planet spins round in space, to the way plants behave in relation to its orbit. It comes to us because Plato said so… Cosmic order – that is what it seems but only before you start contemplating the whole – that will all fall apart eventually; the sun will explode and where will Beethoven be then? It is all a little ragged event with its giant claws scuttling across the scenery, field by field, mountain by mountain, during all those trillions of what we choose to call ‘years’.

My Old Greek Master

Bunter Brown (rest his soul somewhere), used to say something like this: “You see, gentlemen, if you found a watch in the road, you would never assume that it was there entirely by accident: somebody dropped it and somebody made it; so it is with the whole box of tricks, the universe. Somebody dropped it on us and that same Somebody must have made it.” None of us privileged six (he always called us ‘gentlemen’) were quick enough to ask who made the Somebody, old Noboddady; we could have said he must have been made by somebody who must have been made by Somebody – infinite regression that can only be stopped by the realisation that we ourselves made the lot of them in our imagination. We, posing as God, created all the myths, the whole myth; we continue to imagine that we are involved in a Purposeful Order of events unless we can get our minds round the notion of Meaninglessness & Existential Absurdity.

“Order, order!” shouts the speaker of the House of Commons, a talking shop which William Morris said would be better used as a manure store. What possible order could he impose on a random collection of vicious fascists, thoughtful dedicated old men, old stagers who’ve seen it all before, young women who are bold to tell it exactly how it is, and mealy-mouthed halfwits who peddle abstractions like there was no tomorrow? What possible order, in a den of ghosts, animals & pretenders and a few truth-tellers who pit themselves against a speaking place where the Power Possessors always win?

A ‘Terrorist’ and His Pre-existing Order

The idea of a pre-existing order to the promoters of which one can ‘convert’ is just so absurd. Since we have mentioned Parliament, take the case of the so-called ‘terrorist’ who left four dead and many injured in an attack outside Parliament in March 2017. He is said to have persuaded his daughter to convert to Islam, sparking furious rows with his ex-girlfriend. It seems that Khalid Masood – born Adrian Elm – persuaded his daughter, now aged 24, to change her name and wear a full burka after converting to Islam himself. This caused conflict between him and the mother of his two daughters, businesswoman Jane Harvey, who had previously separated from him following his convictions for GBH. A friend of Ms Harvey said: “The elder daughter converted to Islam and is living in Birmingham. She wears a full face veil and I think had changed her name. It was her father who had helped convert her. He wanted the younger daughter to convert but Jane was against it and there was quite a family struggle. I know Jane was very upset and wanted her to stay at home and continue her studies.”

The former Kent schoolboy reportedly met Ms Harvey in 1991 and they separated nine years later. The family said, “It was a very nasty time and the police spoke to Adrian on many occasions; Jane was very glad to get out of the relationship. We were all very happy for her.”

A nutcase in a fast car ploughs into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge (with its ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples, etc) and is described as a terrorist, carrying a gun, because that’s the prevailing wisdom. A man disappointed with life, unable to get his own way with his family, upset that his imagined pre-existing order cannot be imposed in the way way that he hopes, goes off in a blaze of horror. It suits the mechanical world order of the Power Possessors to describe him as ‘terrorist’ and, following like sheep, the Great Terror Organisation called Daesh says he’s one of their ‘soldiers’. The order of events is rebranded by the Power Possessors to add to the current clamour for general disposing of immigrants.

We impose our own sense of order to suit ourselves, to give ourselves meaning & purpose. When we are told what to do instead of being encouraged to ‘dawdle & dream’ we conform to an imposed order. But a consciously created, freely developed sense of order is another thing altogether. Staring into space gets you a piece of music, a poem, a painting. Pattern-making from snippets is what life is about. I began systematically ‘staring into space’ when I was about 4: when I heard a piece of music (“Mum, what does ‘opus’ mean?”) on the radio (Schuman springs to mind for some reason), I set about wondering how I could compose; when I read a poem I wondered what it would be like if I wrote a poem; when I saw paintings (Ben Nicholson, Paul Klee and so on) I set to and made paintings. It was, and still is, just ‘for the sake of it’, something I have to do.

Wallace Stevens wrote about it. It is we ourselves (not external events) we hear the sound of, see the patterns in. We fashion ‘reality’, not some abstract outside agency. We make the songs, we collect the snippets and fashion something new. We are the ‘single artificer of the world’ in which we sing, with a ‘rage for order’, noting the ‘dark voice’ of what’s out there.

The Idea of Order at Key West

She sang beyond the genius of the sea.
The water never formed to mind or voice,
Like a body wholly body, fluttering
Its empty sleeves; and yet its mimic motion
Made constant cry, caused constantly a cry,
That was not ours although we understood,
Inhuman, of the veritable ocean.

The sea was not a mask. No more was she.
The song and water were not medleyed sound
Even if what she sang was what she heard,
Since what she sang was uttered word by word.
It may be that in all her phrases stirred
The grinding water and the gasping wind;
But it was she and not the sea we heard.

For she was the maker of the song she sang.
The ever-hooded, tragic-gestured sea
Was merely a place by which she walked to sing.
Whose spirit is this? we said, because we knew
It was the spirit that we sought and knew
That we should ask this often as she sang.

If it was only the dark voice of the sea
That rose, or even colored by many waves;
If it was only the outer voice of sky
And cloud, of the sunken coral water-walled,
However clear, it would have been deep air,
The heaving speech of air, a summer sound
Repeated in a summer without end
And sound alone. But it was more than that,
More even than her voice, and ours, among
The meaningless plungings of water and the wind,
Theatrical distances, bronze shadows heaped
On high horizons, mountainous atmospheres
Of sky and sea.

It was her voice that made
The sky acutest at its vanishing.
She measured to the hour its solitude.
She was the single artificer of the world
In which she sang. And when she sang, the sea,
Whatever self it had, became the self
That was her song, for she was the maker. Then we,
As we beheld her striding there alone,
Knew that there never was a world for her
Except the one she sang and, singing, made.

Ramon Fernandez, tell me, if you know,
Why, when the singing ended and we turned
Toward the town, tell why the glassy lights,
The lights in the fishing boats at anchor there,
As the night descended, tilting in the air,
Mastered the night and portioned out the sea,
Fixing emblazoned zones and fiery poles,
Arranging, deepening, enchanting night.

Oh! Blessed rage for order, pale Ramon,
The maker’s rage to order words of the sea,
Words of the fragrant portals, dimly-starred,
And of ourselves and of our origins,
In ghostlier demarcations, keener sounds.

‘We should let children dawdle and dream’
and help them to understand the meaning of this poem.

Lauren Child is completely right.

I wonder whether the drift of her two year tenure will be acknowledged.


2 thoughts on “‘We should let children dawdle and dream’ (R12)

  1. “Cosmic order … that will all fall apart eventually; the sun will explode and where will Beethoven be then?” Beautifully written, as always, Colin! Nice to have this new post from you.


  2. Wonderful Colin – nice to see you, so to speak.

    Just to say – the house of Commons is already used as a manure store,it’s just that too few people are aware of it or are willing to tolerate it.

    Idling – or “down time” is a direct route to the insightful right brain and therefore invaluable. Lets hope Lauren Child is suceesful in her attempts to slow kids down.

    At the moment, it seems to me from observing my Grandchcildren that they are so overstimulated their brains have no room to just idle and land upon something interesting. Education currently would seem to be about measuring the schools performance in terms of churning out kids who can pass exams and reach certain standards, so every school, in my opinion has a unconscious bias or even a conscious one, toward making sure it appears that this happens for the sake of the Inspectorate even if it doesn’t quite.

    Noticeably some children on the autistic spectrum suffer greatly because of over stimulation, simply too much information coming in and no ablity to filter. One such person, whom my daughter in law works with, simply opts out and “notices” the patterns on the ceiling or the ticking of the clock in order to absent himself.

    Perhaps we should teach all “normal” children to do that too!! For they are certinly over stimulated all of the time by both schools and parents struggling to be the best parents in competition with their peers.

    Twas never like that in my day – whenever that was. Said she of the creaking bones.

    Thanks for sending Colin – its nice to have the little grey cells activated.

    As for Cosmic order – Perhaps we could play the Moonlight Sonata – sorry Tom!


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