Monday, 10 March 2014

The Future's So Bright

I seem to spend a disproportionate amount of time worrying.  I know it is a parent's right - I mean, when a warm, slippery, wailing bundle has been placed into your arms fresh from your womb it's a pretty powerful way to kick-start your protective instinct - but I hadn't realised until very recently quite how much energy I was investing in it.

Get a group of parents together and it won't take long for the worries to come out - whether it's about friendships, schooling or their ability to tie their laces.  We joke that as children grow older 'the challenges change' and the wild panic caused by attempting to find a toilet when your potty-training toddler "wants poo-poo" will be something you miss when you're faced instead by door slamming and "I hate you!".  And you'll miss it all the more when your daughter tells you she wants her boyfriend to stay the night (and then slams the door and tells you she hates you when you say no).

It had left this latent worry in the back of my mind, concern for what's to come and how to handle it, even dipping into a book about how to raise teenagers when we still have years to go - what on earth am I doing creating worries about problems that don't yet exist?!  And then I visited a couple of schools for World Book Day.  And then I got a wake up call of the most brilliant kind - I got to speak to some children.

The original purpose of my visits had been to read my stories for younger children (as yet unpublished but working on it!) but one of the schools asked if I would consider speaking to their Year 6 class (10-11 year olds) about blogging.  So despite feeling unsure of how it would go, I said "sure, why not?" and arranged to do it at both schools.  It turned out to be the highlight of my visits.

Turns out these ten and eleven year old's are pretty switched on.  Turns out they had lots of really insightful questions about being a writer ("Is it difficult to focus on writing when you have small children?"  "How do you feel when you see a piece you have written for someone else?  Don't you wish your name was on it?" "How do you stay motivated?") turns out that they are interested in the power of words and the power of social media to create movements that promote equality.  Turns out they're pretty opinionated when it comes to the treatment of women in the media.

In the second school that I visited, I was unexpectedly asked to read them an extract of Reasons to be Cheerful, Part One to give them an idea of my writing style.  I read them 'My Beautiful Friend', and it was as moving an experience as it was nerve-racking and I hope I get to do it again.  But what came next was even more incredible: talk over, the children lined up with their text books to show me a short story they had each written to accompany a dialogue-free video they'd been shown and the words spun up from the pages like I had never expected - dragons soared, decks creaked, wood smouldered and the smell of singed sails hung in the air and stung the eyes.  Tears fell 'like bullets' to the ground and a man tried to 'hammer away his pain', love, loss, worlds created and storms tearing them down.  There was movement and rhythm in their writing, and they wrote powerfully, freely, beautifully.  

Like the song says: I gotta wear shades...
I'm sure that behind those children are scores of parents worrying about them but oh my, how their questions and their stories have given me something to look forward to.  I try to always enjoy the moment and am not short on wonderful memories of the past (anyone else got about a million baby photos?) but in the absence of knowing what was to come I had created a big ball of worry about the years ahead.  Now thanks to the children at those two primary schools, I'm about to kick that ball of worry into touch.  They have inspired me to be more hopeful, optimistic and excited about the future and if they're anything to go by, then the future could be very bright indeed.

Soundtrack: The Future's So Bright - Timbuk 3

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