This spring, in my desire to reconnect with the voices, visions and handmade work that have inspired and enlivened my past, I reached again for a book I first encountered as 2005 rolled into 2006. Beth Kephart’s beautiful Seeing Past Z: Nurturing the Imagination in a Fast Forward World was such a gift to me, when Joshua was five and Sam not yet three. Her book began with her, reading aloud to her son, and I recognized a kindred spirit in that gift of time, and the promise that over shared pages, seeds for my boys’ own acts of creation were being planted. As well, we were not yet immersed in the schedule of school or the whirl of activities that are sometimes more about competition and future chances than present day fulfillment, but we’d looked around enough to know that we were concerned about maintaining the reasonable pace and sanity of our lives. Beth’s words encouraged me that there was another way, a slower, more contemplative take on childhood, that allowed for mulling and making and being. It was as though she could listen in on my thoughts and questions and misgivings about taking another path with our boys, and shared encouragement from her own small house, her own kitchen table.
In April I returned to Beth’s book, now as a mother to an eleven and a nine year old, many thousands of read-aloud pages behind us, somewhat more confident that we do not, cannot rush from one activity to the next, still making a firm stand in the present moment. The misgivings I occasionally feel about our slow lane life still pop up sometimes as we are only more in the minority than ever, and Seeing Past Z encouraged me once again, to listen to these boys, to trust my gut, to go with what I believe. On this second reading, a few years later, with two independently- reading sons with their own passions and pursuits, I also noticed the gift of space Beth gave her boy as he grew. She gave him space in terms of time, space in their home, space for mental processing and space to grow emotionally. Writing scripts and stories, shooting movies, drawing comics, talking through books with kids on long warm summer evenings all take time, time not neatly slotted into fifteen minute blocks. Setting up action figures, legos, writing lots of drafts and staging whole projects can take up the floor of a room, or a kitchen table. Pacing through a difficult plot point, writing through a sticky place, experiencing the pain that can accompany doing something you love stretches mind and heart. And allowing that creative, out of the box child to dream big, to make plans, and to have some of them denied without springing in as a parent to mitigate the hurt can challenge the parent as much as the child. As Beth recounts these years with her son’s projects and proposals, she spreads the wide margin in home and schedule and soul that make them possible.
So I read it again. And exhaled.
After writing several memoirs, Beth Kephart turned her voice to writing exquisite young adult fiction, with sensitive character treatment and precise detail. I have to believe that some of the ingredients for this work developed on those warm evenings keenly listening to and interacting with young people over others’ words. Next month Small Damages will be released, and I’ll be waiting.
In finding her blog this spring, I discovered her same gentle and generous voice, and learned that the boy whose flying thoughts and fingers I’d followed in Seeing Past Z has graduated from college. As well, Beth is writing a book about writing memoir. I’m cheering her on, because I can’t wait to read it.
Living whole-heartedly lately, for me, has been as much about listening again to key voices from the past as about new inspiration. Rereading this favorite called me back to why I love mornings stretched and billowing with promise, and long hot afternoons. They’re where the magic happens, even, or especially, when the magic looks like a mess, and we can’t see where it’s going.