Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Artist in All of Us

I learned today that there are certain portions of my brain that are just plain mush. I never use them, so trying to get them up and running is like spending 40 years lying non-stop in bed, and then trying to jump up and go jogging. Ouch.

One would think that I have the capacity to do what was asked of me: my 8-year-old asked me to play LEGOs with him. One would be wrong. Jacob has about 9,000 of these bricks, and is forever playing with them, building ships, planes, guns, forts, you name it. The other day he built a LEGO version of the robot Wall-E that we had just seen in the movie, and it was a really good representation. My son explained to me how he does it. He gets an idea for something, pictures it in his head, and then sets out to recreate it in a drawing or painting or, more often, with these little blocks. He's 8. How hard could it be for me to do some similar creating?

Pretty hard, as it turned out. What's funny is, it sounded remarkably like what I do with words. I am a builder, I figured, I just use words as my bricks. I'll take an idea, play with it, write it out, mold it, shape it and usually end up with a pretty fine piece of writing when I'm done. I can even hear a song in my head and recreate the melody on the piano. But words and music require a different lobe than paints or bricks. LEGOs are all about visual relationships and spacial coordination; indeed, there is an art to it.

What I learned is that, if I envision a place or an object, building it out of little plastic pieces is just not going to happen in a way of which I'll be proud. I gave it a go today, building something small in a very rough and clumsy manner, and I was happy that no one was watching but my son (who offered tips on how to make it better).

But what I also realized is that, regardless of the process or medium, I love these moments of learning from my children. It's not just about seeing their strengths shine through though; it's about their willingness to bring me into their world and teach me what they know, with love and patience. I may not be very good at building things out of LEGO bricks, but hopefully I'm doing an OK job of building some fine young men.

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