Creative Wake Up Call with Shel Silverstein
When you look back on your life, your memories come in different shapes and sizes with varying intensity and a range of ingredients composed of your senses, your emotions, and your psychology.
Memories have multiple axes by which they are defined. Some are vague – like a feeling or a sense that you associate with a time in your life, a person or a place that is tangible but you can't quite describe it.
Some are crystal clear, like the first time you were conscious of your sexuality. Whether you fully understood it or not, it’s an awakening of your mind and body. Amongst my litany of memories is a subset of those types of awakening.
One, in particular, is what I would describe as a creative awakening. It happened to me at the age of 10, in 5th grade. I had a teacher who to this day remains one of the most influential people in my life. Her name is Barbara Fechter.
I can’t say for sure what it was that made her so special or so influential but at 20,000 feet: I just remember she made learning fun, and experiential and a level deeper. I had the sense that she saw me, that she was speaking to me personally and not at me. Her class felt like a mixture of birthday party and book club. It made me feel present and self-confident.
One of the many creative things she had us do was to pick an author that was featured in the elementary school book fair and to write our own book with a voice and style that mimicked the author we picked. I chose Shel Silverstein and the book was, as you might expect, Where the Sidewalk Ends.
It was a creative awakening for me on three fronts. First, the content of the book itself. I loved the lyrical bounce of the poems and the unusual mix soulfulness and irreverence. I would coin his style as Benevolent Mischief.
As an aside, through the lens of hindsight, that’s how I would define my core personality traits. Makes sense that he resonated with me.
The Second was Shel himself. There is a term in psychology called spoken emotionality (or maybe I made it up). To me, it’s more or less the vibe or energy you get from someone that goes beyond what they say or do. It's kind of like a subconscious read of their soul. You can get it from body language, from touch. Kind of entering a weird zone here, but it can also come from the smell and sometimes just from being near someone.
In part, because I saw myself in his writing - and in a more profound way, because his unspoken emotionality connected me to the world - he had deep insights and emotions that he delivered in little mischief-filled, delightful limericks. Shel Silverstein stirred a creative and emotional wake-up call in me that has informed the core of who I am to this day.
Lastly is the book I wrote, entitled Whacky Word. It was my attempt at riffing off Shel and trying to cop his feel. The big bang effect of writing this little book is indescribable. It was the first time I fully understood the buzz of personal expression through creativity. I'll share it with you one of these days, but it's enough to say for now that the feeling of making that book is was a buzz I have chased ever since.