I remembered that Pete had once suggested that I apply my linguistics knowledge toward working with disabled children. He had said this a month or so before he died. He himself had intended to make computerised equipment for people with disabilities. At the time, his suggestion held no appeal for me. I was not particularly fond of children, except as objects of research, and I knew nothing about disabilities.
But once I quit my doctoral program, I found a job listing for exactly what he had in mind: a language development specialist for a county program serving children, newborns to five years old, who had developmental disabilities. At the interview, it was as apparent to the administrator as it was to me that I was both overqualified and specifically underqualified for this job. When the interview ended and I stood to leave, I heard Pete telling me that I should simply tell this woman my motivations in applying for a job with exactly these challenges and unknowns. And out came my story of Pete’s death and my pledge to do with my life what he had intended to do with his. Ten minutes later, I was hired.
It was my job to observe the children, informally assess their communication skills, and then work with parents and teachers to devise a plan and help them carry it out.
I remember the first talk on language development I gave for the parents. I mustered all my knowledge, prepared a detailed examination of the steps and processes entailed in language acquisition, and delivered an impressive one-hour lecture to a dozen parents, many of whom had just been told their babies had Down’s syndrome, cerebral palsy, autism, or some rare congenital disorder that would lead to an early death. At the end of my talk, a mother came up to me and said, “You are so smart.” I never felt more stupid. You just have to learn how to learn, I heard Pete say.
After that, I would listen to parents as they discussed their hopes for their children, and then together we would cry before we set out to find new hopes. With the kids themselves, I learned to play, to discover what made them laugh, what they could not resist watching or touching or reaching for. I found myself observing not deficits but the qualities of souls. Over the next five years, I had opportunities to work with more than a thousand families, and from them I sensed the limitlessness of hope within the limits of human beings. I learned to have compassion. It was the best training I could have had for becoming a writer.
The drawing found its way on to the page whilst listening to Philip Pullman read fairytales from his retelling of the Grimm tales. He wore shoes with red shoelaces.
“Argue with anything else, but don’t argue with your own nature.”
“As Jane Austen might have put it: It is a truth universally acknowledged that young protagonists in search of adventure must ditch their parents.”
“I have stolen ideas from every book I have ever read.” ― The Amber Spyglass
“Stories are the most important thing in the world. Without stories, we wouldn’t be human beings at all.”
“Even if it means oblivion, friends, I’ll welcome it, because it won’t be nothing. We’ll be alive again in a thousand blades of grass, and a million leaves; we’ll be falling in the raindrops and blowing in the fresh breeze; we’ll be glittering in the dew under the stars and the moon out there in the physical world, which is our true home and always was.” ― The Amber Spyglass
“I feel with some passion that what we truly are is private, and almost infinitely complex, and ambiguous, and both external and internal, and double- or triple- or multiply natured, and largely mysterious even to ourselves; and furthermore that what we are is only part of us, because identity, unlike “identity”, must include what we do. And I think that to find oneself and every aspect of this complexity reduced in the public mind to one property that apparently subsumes all the rest (“gay”, “black”, “Muslim”, whatever) is to be the victim of a piece of extraordinary intellectual vulgarity.”
“When he’d sworn at her and been sworn at in return, they became great friends.” ― The Golden Compass
“I am a story teller. If I wanted to send a message I would have written a sermon.”
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
He was tall in bed and I could see the silver through his eyelids. His soul sat up. It met me. Those kinds of souls always do – the best ones. The ones who rise up and say, ‘I know who you are and I am ready. Not that I want to go, of course, but I will come.’ Those souls are always more light because more of them have been put out. More of them have already found their way to other places. This one was sent out by the breath of an accordion, the odd taste of champagne in summer, and the art of promise-keeping. He lay in my arms and rested. There was an itchy lunch for the last cigarette, and an immense, magnetic pull towards the basement, for the girl who was his daughter and was writing a book down there that he hoped to read one day.
Drawing inspired by this TED talk.
Hutia te rito o te harakeke, If you pluck out the centre shoot of the flax,
Kei whea te korimako e koo? Where will the bellbird sing?
Ka rere ki uta, ka rere ki tai. It will fly inland, it will fly seawards.
Kii mai koe ki au, If you ask me,
he aha te mea nui i te ao? What is the most important thing in the world?
Maaku e kii atu, I will reply,
He tangata, he tangata, he tangata! People, people, people!
Women expert in flax weaving explain to learners that the rito, the central shoot from a flax root, is a child, issuing from and protected by its parents and, beyond them, by uncles, aunts and grandparents. The three centre blades should not be cut for weaving or the root will cease to put out new ones.
(Joan Metge’s analysis)
While Dora and I drafted I walked the room, or the garden if the day was bright, and she sat over her writing pad, flipping the pages around their coil of wire. People often have to be alone to think or to write, but being with Dora wasn’t like being with another person. We rarely made eye contact. I orbited her chair, eyed without seeing how her hair was cut soft into her nape, the gloss of it. To be with Dora was to be relieved of the burden of my self. This is the trick to creative work: it requires a slip-state of being, not unlike love. A state in which you are both most yourself and most alive and yet least sure of your own boundaries, and therefore open to everything and everyone outside of you. The two of us threw ideas and words around until we had carved a new way forward for the world – clearer and surer and nobler than had ever been done before. Then, elated, we went to bed, whatever the time of day.