Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Child's Other World

In a room overlooking Spring Street in New York's colorful SoHo district, I am drumming to help twenty-four dreamers call up the right dream to play with - or play with them - on a wintry Saturday morning. Everyone has sketch paper and crayons, because the first thing we'll do is to turn the dream that comes up into an instant drawing. Adult kindergarten is great. It brings out the child in each of us who is a natural creator and knows the magic of making things up.

At the end of the drumming, I rough out my own picture. It shows a figure whose head and upper body are those of a giant salmon, and whose lower body is that of a woman. She is the Salmon Speaker. She has stepped through a holo-screen to lecture a council of world leaders on their responsibilities to Water, and all that lives in Water. She is a being from Dreamland, the future society of my deeper dreaming, in which dreamers speak for the planet.

Other pictures are bursting to life all around me. It's time for introductions. I ask people to introduce themselves briefly by stating their name, their intention in coming to the workshop ("Writing from Dreams") and the title - just the title - of their dream pictures. I spin the drumstick to show us where to begin, inviting the play of coincidence. When coincidence is in play, a woman in the circle said to me earlier, "you feel the fingers of the universe are on you."

Some of the dream titles are so juicy and inviting that I pause the introductions more than once to have people meditate on a phrase or simply write a few lines from it, jotting down the first things that it releases in their minds. One of those irresistible titles is, "The Child's Other World". We can't see the drawing the comes with it very clearly across the room, but we don't need to; the phrase transports all of us into places of memory and imagination, into an enchanted apple orchard or through a green door no one else can see.

In her child's other world, Margaret wrote, there is "the joy of touching, smelling, feeling, playing with, hiding in the sun-hot dark dirt between the strawberry plants of our big backyard, alone and breathing in the tangy grass."

In that other world, Yuliya found herself "floating on the clouds, very light, dissolving, feeling lifted into the sky."

Miki found herself stepping through a dream door: "exiting a spaceship onto a planet where it is night, there are trees and hills on the horizon but in front of me only a cleared space. To my left I can turn to a swingset, as yet motionless, and to my right is a stationary park bench. Everything is blue, including the light. I am confused but not unhappy in this solitary dilemma."

In the child's other world, Lori "played imaginary chess in the park and rolling bodies down the hill - it was a new world for the child opening up doors to new realities and possibilities."
For Lauraine, the other world of children "is seen through the kaleidoscope of their eyes. The patterns and colors transfix them to the magical possibilities of the coming day. Flights of fancy, rainbows and dreamscapes interweave seamlessly into the sidewalks, trees and buildings around them."

Suzanne's first glimpse of the child's other world flowered (in a later timed writing exercise) into a beautiful narrative, with the magic of true fairytales:

by Suzanne Smith

I am hiding in my fort surrounded by forsythia, waiting for The Giant to come and get me. I hear his footsteps. The cars on the road are all getting out of town. Leaving as fast as they can, while I am left alone to fend for myself. I know his toenail is bigger than a boulder. He will crush me. I take a chance though and run as fast as I can to the fire bush in the front yard. He has seen me, I know it. I scrunch down underneath the bush and wait, but all I hear are cars speeding past. Maybe he is back at my fort waiting for me. I take another chance and run back.

He is ten times bigger than the spruce tree in the front yard. He isn’t coming though. I know he knows I’m there. Why doesn’t he come get me? Maybe he is nice and we are allies. I want to run though. I want someone to chase me.

I walk over to the stream and throw my orange plastic pail in it. I watch it get dragged along by the current. I stand still and then run at top speed to get it before it goes into the culvert. I run to the back yard, closer to the woods and look for green slimy frogs eggs on Daddy’s pool cover. Daddy says the pool cover is important because everything under the sun has drowned in the pool. He says that’s how he spent most of his afternoons, dragging dead things out of there , before we had the pool cover. One time a deer got in there but didn’t drown. My Daddy also says that if we ever have a big flood the safest place to be will be our pool because it doesn’t hold any water-it’s always leaking. The frogs eggs are so yucky but fascinating. Our parents let us play with them but they shouldn’t.

Uh-oh, the Giant is coming again. He is carrying his club and is causing earthquakes with each step. He is walking slow but one step is a fourth of a mile for him.

I run down the hill , get on my swing and call on the Pink Fairy for help. The higher I swing, the faster she comes. She wraps the special pink cotton candy around me for protection. She whispers in my ear to run to the pink tulips and lie face down in the grass for five minutes. I jump off the swing and run to Mommy’s circle of tulips-my circle of friends. I lie perfectly still but worry that I may have go to the bathroom. All sound stops as I breathe into the grass. I feel the ants on my hands and they feel like my brothers who are tickling me. I pray and my heartbeat shakes my body. I sprint back to my fort after five minutes is up.

For me:

The child's other world is a world within this one. Its cloudy skies are the sheets I have pulled over my head as I lie in bed. Grown-ups can't understand that the world inside the sheets is bigger than the one outside.

The Fairy Pool: The illustration is by British artist Steve Niner, and is available from him as a digital print. You can contact Steve at steveniner@


Robin O’Neal said...

Magical prompt! Thanks, Robert's Dreaming Writers...
This "child's other world" is clutching fiercely to strands of mane while flying through shimmering skies on the back of my strong lion companion. Minty breezes brush my cheek and tickle my hair. Weeeeeeeeeeee!!

Nancy said...

Robert, thanks for this. I had 2 thoughts on reading it:
1) The "other world" is THIS one, looked at with a child's eyes, or really listened to, or smelled/touched/tasted. It's always right here if you just pay attention.
2) A single sentence can be spun into an entire story (like one of your card games). I choose "Everything under the sun has drowned in the pool". What's the starting sentence analogue to a closing snapper, a grabber, maybe? This sentence (& many of the others here) makes me want to continue spinning a yarn.

Robert Moss said...

Fly on, dear Robin, but don't forget to keep your quill in your hand.

Nancy - You are absolutely right on both counts. The sentence your chose is irresistible - to write from, and even to paint.

Wanda Burch said...

I certainly understand the dream-y world of the only child where every leaf, clover, stone, tree root, moving ant, and spear of sunlight becomes a magical companion from the Other World. How delightful!

And I just returned from visiting my grandchildren armed with a refresher course on Other Worlds. My almost-eight year old grand-daughter, very much into "fairies" in this visit, shared her version of the elaborate labyrinth of spaces and weaponry at her command for nightmares and named a small grouping of "inner buddies" - including various colors and kinds of fairies - who are ready and able to take on anyone "bad" in the Other World. She knew who the King of the Fairies was - did I know that then? This gang of Inner Buddies also defend her favorite dolls and Pooh Bear when they wander accidentally into the wrong environments; but they are fairly forgiving and lenient toward her brother who enjoys turning every adventure into war and space/time travel battles.

ElvenWolf said...

Someone with a lot of crystal stones came into the shop to tell about them. I was drawn to the one stone that didn't sparkle, the one she didn't talk about, the one that lay there inviting scorn amidst the attractive multicolored crystals.

When her class was finished, she picked up that one stone, held it out to me and left the room.

My left hand closed involuntarily around the stone, it came alive and took me through space to a crystal city deep within a planet close to the dog stars. I was standing on a crystal balcony looking out at the city beneath a strange bluegrey sky.

The stone lady came back in and exclaimed "You're sitting in a rainbow of colors!"

Now I know what Stonehenge is for and why it was constructed. That stone was given to the lady years ago from the ground of Stonehenge. There can be no doubt about reality when you enter the dreaming.

Patricia said...

I am outside on the play ground trying to encourage this little 3 year old to climb and slide. As I am wondering why he is so timid today, the 5 year olds start coming up to the fence.
"Patty, Patty, I'm a turtle." "I'm a dog." "I'm a lion." As they are shouting the little 3 year old walks up to the fence and gets a hug from the turtle, roars back at the lion and runs away and starts climbing.

Of course, I was too busy thinking of his sensory integrative deficits, I forgot to be the lion with him.


Simon Vigneault said...

Great story.
I can relate to the draw of climbing underneath childhood's long blanket, where we all have a license to employ infinite creative resources; where we can, even if we find ourselves inside a box, playfully dream up everything we need that is supposedly outside our box.

Anna said...

Yes, the universe is hidden within the unconscious, the unconscious is therefore an amazing place, as for the collective unconscious, well, what can I say? The universe within.

Robert Moss said...

Wanda - Yes, good time with a young child can always be "a refresher course in other worlds". I love your granddaughter's catalogue of dream allies.

Elvenwolf - Thanks for your vivid reminder that we can find a world within a stone (even when it doesn't come from Stonehenge). A cool way to honor dreams and keep their realm accessible is to choose a stone to be a talisman or even a meeting-room for future encounters with dream people.

Simon - yes we want to remember how to pull the "long blanket" of childhood wonder and imagination over our adult senses.

Robert Moss said...

Patty - What a glorious account of the rich menagerie of the young child's imagination! Thanks for the good work you are doing to feed that imagination.

Anna - Jung spoke of the "collective unconscious" and the term is exact as far as it goes, since we and our ordinary colective mind are usually unconscious of the riches it contains. But I sometimes think a more accurate description would be the conscious universe of which we are unconscious in the ordinary mind. Or the Field - as in the quantum information field - from which we are usually unplugged. As usual, we grope for words to explian what is beyond the reach of linear thought - but not beyond the imagination and travel abilities of the child in each of us.

Diana said...

I love the reminder to open our child eyes so our hearts will open wider to see everything brimming with LIFE; tulips are friends and cotton candy protects as well as armour. Thanks for the beautiful sharing.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for that story. Isn't it grand to see life through the eyes of children at times?
I would also like to add that the painting depicted on the page with this story is very similar to my portal for entering my dreamspace. Lovely. Seashore.

Anna Busser said...

I love the idea of expressing ones dreams as paintings. The more ways of expression the better.

Nicola said...

Poo Bear is still alive and well, I saw him there last year in Ashdown Forest in Sussex. He regularly has tea with my old art school buddy and her friends Bracket, Ellie and Custard who live on the edge of the forest.
I am wondering Robert, if you had any regular imaginary childhood friends.

Robert Moss said...

Hello Diana, Seashore, Anna and Nicola - Lovely to see so many voices celebrating the riches of the child's imagination. H.G. Wells tried to acclimatize the German "Wunderkind" to Anglo-weather to evoke this - as "wonder-child", a term I love but has not yet really found a place in the English language. The wonder-child makes wonder-tales.

Nicola, when I dive back into childhood memories, I find "invisible" rather than "imaginary" companions - ie companions invisible to others, And I recall all those floor-fulls of my toy soldiers that would become whole worlds of living characters, involved in dramas far beyond battles.