The beauty of being a beginner (or at least acting like one)

Sage CohenProductive writing5 Comments

As my son climbed out of his bed in the morning, I noticed a strange, misshapen lump where his diaper would normally be.

Theo, let’s take a look at what’s going on in those pajamas, I proposed dreamily (it was 5:30 a.m). I stretched the elastic of his bottoms and sort of leapt back.

Duct tape! I shouted.

On my son’s left hip, connecting the front and back of the diaper, was a fat piece of black tape.

[Name of Friend] didn’t know how to do my diaper, explained Theo as I peeled his lumpen, yet in tact, diaper from his hip.

My extremely-responsible-but-inexperienced-with-young-children friend had babysat the night before. She’d helped my son with pull-ups previously and I had forgotten to give her a lesson in application of the overnight diaper. So, as was reported to me later, first she panicked (as did my extremely by-the-book son). And then, she improvised.

As I was teasing this friend about the shock of discovering her duct tape, she pointed out that her lack of skills or knowledge with such things as diapering allowed her to come up with a solution that no mother would have thought of. Because, of course, mothers make a point of knowing how a diaper works. But more to the point that my friend was getting at, we have our preconceived notions about how certain things should go with our children–and in any realm where were are deeply entrenched and quite familiar with the terrain. So, we are less likely to think beyond the solutions we know. Then she suggested that I could probably tie this somehow into the writing life on my blog, since I seem to like to write about everything under the sun and then insist that it has something to do with writing. And she was right.

While I do not happen to be in the market for diaper adhesive alternatives, my friend’s improvisation reminded me that things can get pretty interesting when you have more imagination than experience. There is a kind of purity of revelation to the person who is new to a practice. I remember the thrill of handwriting poems and weeping into my notebook on the bus in transit to my administrative job at age 22. I had yet to even admit to another person that I wrote poems. I had no idea what I was doing. And it was the best thing in my life, this strange and unnamed journey into the center of something reached only by words, yet still incomprehensible.

What if we were to approach every piece of writing like we were discovering what it means to write a poem, an essay, a story for the first time? What if we could exit the loop of expectation that a piece of writing is going to be created in a particular kind of process or have a certain shape, tone, impact? How could we approach something as familiar as pajamas and make ourselves (and our readers) leap back in surprise with the actual revelation that awaits us?

And what unexpected concoctions might we come up with from the tool box, the kitchen cabinet, or the back yard hold it all together?

5 Comments on “The beauty of being a beginner (or at least acting like one)”

  1. Sage it’s a great post. You always offer a feast for thought.

    I too have used duct tape–as an experienced mom. My kids would go through a diaper shunning phase and I’d use duct tape to keep those suckers on. Necessity is another solution finding opportunity.

    As an experienced nurse I’ve seen what you are saying in action. Sometimes new nurses offer solutions to things we’ve been frustrated with for years. I like the fresh perspective they can bring. No baggage, not jaded, they are full of wonderful potential.

  2. love it! Being a novice myself, I guess I approach every poem as a beginner, I have no rhyme or reason to each piece, they just kinda take form. Don’t know if that’s good or bad.

  3. I have no idea what your’e talking

    Your post reminded me of the book by Suzuki, ‘zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind’. “The mind of the beginner is open and free of the habits of the experts, ready to accept, to doubt, and open to all possibilities.”

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