A Thursday thought . . .

I was driving in our neighborhood the other night when I noticed in the vehicle ahead of me there appeared to be so much entertainment going on, it seemed to be more family-room-on-wheels than transportation.  Why anyone would need to watch movies on their way to soccer practice is beyond me, but I'm probably just getting a little old and cranky about all this newfangled technology.  However, it got me thinking . . .

I spent a great deal of time with my grandparents as a child, and that meant many trips back and forth between their homes and ours, ranging anywhere from 40 to 90 minutes.  I loved being snuggled in the back seat, watching the lights pass along the freeway, squinting and un-squinting in an attempt to create as many visual effects as I could -- blur, focus . . . blur, focus . . . craning my neck to see the stars.

And in the daytime, I loved watching the stories whiz by -- the lake my dad thought was bottomless as a child (even though there were reeds growing in the middle), the spooky abandoned warehouse with the yawning black holes where the windows used to be, the point of the mountain where the storms were legendary and the driving often hazardous, the shimmering mirages on the asphalt that always mysteriously evaporated as we approached.

I invented worlds around all of these things, and relished the combination of familiarity and possibilities inherent in the passing landscape as we drove.

I was teaching myself to see -- training my brain to make something worth looking at by arranging and engaging with the images in my mind as they went by.

There was music in the car as well -- my family sang together a great deal, and when my parents weren't interested, we kids carried on with a wide ranging repertoire.  My brother (who is now a renowned musician and conductor) recently told me that almost everything he knows about harmony he learned while driving in the car with the family.  I remember one particularly long drive during which he and I figured out the 4 part harmony to "Sweet Adeline" and then sang it over and over, each trying to cover two parts by bouncing back and forth.  To this day, when I hear music, I hear the harmony.

So I couldn't help thinking, as I watched the van go by in the dark playing 2 (two!) different movies, about what those kids were missing out on.  Because I developed creative skills as a result of entertaining myself in the car that continue to serve me well in almost every area of my life.

What you're seeing on a screen is someone else's vision, and no matter how entertaining or engaging the images, their brain did the work to give them shape and meaning, not yours.  Sure, you can benefit from soaking it up, assigning it emotion or importance and thereby making it part of you, but --

the initial leap from idea to image will forever belong 
to the mind that created it.

And how can the brain be expected to make those kinds of connections if it is constantly spoon-fed ideas --  pre-digested and already executed by someone else?

One of my favorite little coffee table books is this one:

Faces, by Francois and Jean Robert

I love it because you need only spend a moment with its images 
and the way you see is transformed. 

And then you begin to wonder how you didn't see these things before.

Which in turn makes you wonder what else you're not seeing.

But then of course, you have to look. 
At things, not pictures of them.

First-hand seeing and thinking, 
not second-hand . . .

(p.s. Small Works is featured on Fairytale Treasury today -- 
a lovely blog with a lot to see.  A celebration of people's ideas 
made real through the magic alchemy of craft.  Please stop by!)



Leenie said...

I agree the kids get much too much spoon fed entertainment. Although it must make transporting children over distances easier for the driver. I don't blame the parents for numbing their passengers into silence, especially since they are straight jacketed into car seats. But I agree they are missing out on the cool stuff out the window.

My daughter and fam went on a trip that was ended in the middle of the freeway by car trouble. The kids remained in their seats and watched their movie while a wrecker was summoned, their van was loaded on the flat bed and they were transported inside the car to their home. Upon arrival one of the kids came out of the video stupor to exclaim "Hey! how come we're home? I thought we were going to Grandma's?!" So why go to the expense of a vacation? Just sit them in the car and pop in a travel video. Much cheaper.

Judy said...

Well said. I SO agree with you. We used to read out loud or listen to books on tape on our long drives with our kids. I think reading is a lot different--and more interactive--than a movie on a pop-up screen. We also used to tell "round robin" stories, with each child adding part of the story as it progressed. Fun, fun. And besides, how will we teach the song "99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall" without the creeping boredom of long road trips?

luanne said...

When I was little, I always saw faces in the fronts (headlights/grilles/bumpers) of cars and trucks, and I assumed everyone else did too. Cars usually looked friendly, but trucks were sometimes quite scary looking.

What I can't pinpoint now is when the faces on vehicles disappeared, but eventually I realized they'd gone. Now, I really have to concentrate to try to see them the way I once did.

You're lucky to have such wonderful road trip memories.
Seems like now, people are so often in their own little techno worlds, both on the road and at home. It's a bit worrisome to think how family relationships will survive in this individualized context.

Allie said...

I LOVE THIS POST. I did the same thing as a kid - although I was an only child for 11 years, and my fondest memories of road trips are mostly in silence, listening to mum and dad speaking quietly and my thoughts roaming freely. Sometimes they'd be quiet for a long time, and when someone did speak, it was like hearing it through fog. I've never used anything like dvd's for my boys - I felt it very important for them to have some of the same experiences. I still don't understand the allure of the television. Although I've been known to quilt to Lucy dvd's for hours, lol. Did you know that your brain shows more activity when you're staring at a blank wall, than when you're watching television???

susan m hinckley said...

I LOVE THE COMMENTS ON THIS POST! Thanks for your thoughts and contributions -- I often wish that I could get other people's stories and experiences on Small Works and when I do, I treasure them. Because I usually put a lot of thought into the topic before I write, I really wish blogs were discussion groups! Thank you, thank you.

Chelsea said...

so fantastic mom. i feel the same way! our road trip up to the cabin this summer with aysia was pretty great for me. we were playing charlie brown and little shop of horrors and i had no idea if aysia was listening, but then after we stopped the music she said "that supper supper suppertime song is funny."

it made me so happy!

Amelia and Justin said...

Fantastic post!! I was sad to learn that not all families sang songs like Señor Don Gato while on road trips. What did they do??

I really hope I will have a home in which creativity is fostered rather than recycled (does that make sense? Sorry, it is 3:30 in the morning). I want my kids to be able to find the beauty and amazing things in the world around them - that is something that is so easily ignored nowadays.

susan m hinckley said...

I'm not going to ask why you're posting at 3:30am, Amelia -- I'll assume that has something to do with Boston!

But I loved that line about creativity being "fostered and not recycled" . . . jotting that one down.

And Chelsea, you have no idea how happy I am that you're choosing to do some of the same things we did with your own family. It must mean we did something right!

Amelia and Justin said...

I was up feeding Boston... That's why I was posting at 3:30. I was just waiting for him to fall back to sleep so I could do the same :)

Anonymous said...

I loved this post. Working with kids, I know first hand that the art of learning how to entertain onesself is mostly lost to children. And I think that is one of the most important things about kids...their ability to transform even the most mundane car-trip into a magical journey. Thanks mom for teaching us how to entertain ourselves. I have some of my fondest childhood memories in the car.

Blog Widget by LinkWithin