Sunday, December 20, 2009

Little Kids, Big Babies

There's a definite interest in my house recently in the concept of childhood. Not children - I'm no pederast, dude - but the ways in which our early lives shape the people we become. I was reading the recent New York Times Magazine profile of my former future boyfriend Spike Jonze (he is seriously so cute, still, and was ridiculously easy to love in Three Kings), and what struck me was the the importance Spike and his team placed on replicating the sweaty, blurry, tearful and unsettling parts of being a kid.

It's not like I had a horror-show childhood - I hit all my developmental targets right on cue, I had loving (if slightly perplexed) parents, and was invited by several of the fifty-odd Jennifers I went to elementary school with to join in on book clubs and birthday parties. On the other hand, I remember almost none of this. Childhood, to me, is represented by a series of out-of-context moments: ice skating at the Calgary Olympic Stadium, for instance, or playing an uncoordinated fifth grade version of lacrosse. It's totally possible that most of my memories are dreams I had. Who knows? I remember the overwhelming flavour of being a kid was one of waiting: waiting to get older, waiting for adults to give permission/rides/meals/discipline, waiting for privacy, waiting for my taste in music to improve, waiting for the all-important control of the car radio. And then when I got control, privacy, and a Totally Hair Barbie, I promptly forgot that I had ever wanted for them in the first place.

So. When S.Jonze says he wants to replicate the experience of being nine years old on the big screen, I can only shrug my shoulders in bemusement. I'm not the only one who can only guess at the experience of being a child, because a couple of my pals will cop to the very same failing. I guess we're not destined for greatness, however, since total childhood recall seems like a requirement for any creative type out there. Coming to terms with, and representing, your own personal kunstlerroman, seems to be priority #1 for any budding auteurs out there, second only to the stop-motion music video. Artists, especially writers, are constantly plumbing the depths of their terrible/riotous/possibly imaginary childhoods for best-selling memoirs and slightly fictionalized stories. Even Maurice Sendak, the author behind the admittedly moving and gorgeous source material Where the Wild Things Are for the movie that scored Jonze that cover story in the first place, admitted that his children's fable was heavily influenced by his own childhood.

This type of magical thinking will usually earn the pontificator a big fat Bronx cheer from yours truly, but I like Sendak and Jonze and so I'll give 'em a pass. I'll defend my childhood-non-remembering honour by positing that childhood comes in a variety of forms, and in some ways, I'm still a little girl. I'm still afraid of spiders and the dark. I still hate green soups and sandwich crusts. I'm still shy around new people and not exceptionally great with change. I still revel in goofy things like great names or creepy fancy dolls. I'm not alone in my recalcitrance: I have friends who are into their parents' music or pirate ships. I have pals who basically live in treehouses. Hell, I still refer to people as "pal," a term last seen in an Archie comic as Reggie was threatening Archie with a sock in the jaw.

The fact that my vocabulary is equally influenced by Riverdale's best-loved playboy and David Foster Wallace means that I don't have to rely on my childhood recollections (and lack of same) as the primary focusing lens in the creative process, and I wish that media sources would lay off the assumption that the Peter Pan complex somehow engenders a striking creative vision. It's possible to be creative and still get over your childhood. I believe in the power of the creative adult to speak the language of, you know, grown-ups.

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