Jane Addams and self-expression

Pollock Self-expression takes on forms that can be observed in a multitude of ways. It can be applauded for its creative enterprises, or it can be avoided for its too outlandish expression. Artists, which include visual, literary, theatrical, and musical alike, are often revered for their self-expression, which can develop into an acceptable style either due to its conformity or it can put up a fight, demonstrating a more nonconformist approach regarding societies norms.

These latter examples are a quick look at adults who find themselves in the pursuit of self-expression. But if we were to observe the younger population, children, the degree of self-expression is curious. Its eloquence often mimics informal play, in comparison to that which is formal, regimented, and scheduled. Let us take the instance of receiving a gift. Perhaps the wee one, say at the age of four, is given a grand birthday present…does the child play with the tricycle or does he or she take this plain ordinary, rather large carton it was delivered in, and transform it into an imaginary rocket ship? But, if the child takes to the trike, perhaps their self-expression is reconstructing their persona into the form of an imaginary race car driver…although we can’t see it, the little mind is rushing about and the feet are peddling as quickly as they can.

Children’s freedom from inhibitions take flight at an early age; like a player on stage, they will light up a room with a fairy wand or capture the most notorious crook as a pretend policeman. They will sing the latest song, dance the latest dance, and demonstrate a magic act without any real props; happily emulating those who reign and command our many forms of entertainment… from video apps to the “silver screen”. Self-expression is the unique part of us all…it is the secret place that emerges like a rainbow behind a cloud…it can brighten the grey sky or distract another rain storm. For within our lifetime we take the role of presenter, sometimes the play is a success and other times it may be a flop…fortuitously, ones self-expression is malleable; like clay it has the ability to take a shape and then again be reshaped…and unless an artist is unyielding and allows it to harden without being true to the form, self-expression can be an asset, a performance that explores the self and for those who are lucky enough to be in the audience, it too can enrich the spectator.

Jane Addams 2 Today’s blog returns and explores the words of our esteemed thinker: Jane Addams, a progressive and tireless worker who is recognized as the leader in the profession of social work in the United States. As the first American woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931, she championed progress for public health and reform, which included both world peace and the woman’s right to vote.

I invite you to take a few moments to reflect upon some of her thoughts from her book, The Spirit of Youth and the City Streets. I give you Ms. Addams…

“…To the preoccupied adult who is prone to use the city street as a mere passageway from one hurried duty to another, nothing is more touching than his encounter with a group of children and young people who are emerging from a theater with the magic of the play still thick upon them. They look up and down the familiar street scarcely recognizing it and quite unable to determine the direction of home. From a tangle of “make believe” they gravely scrutinize the real world which they are so reluctant to reënter, reminding one of the absorbed gaze of a child who is groping his way back from fairy-land whither the story has completely transported him.

“Going to the show” for thousands of young people in every industrial city is the only possible road to the realms of mystery and romance; the theater is the only place where they can satisfy that craving for a conception of life higher than that which the actual world offers them. In a very real sense the drama and the drama alone performs for them the office of art as is clearly revealed in their blundering demand stated in many forms for “a play unlike life.” The theater becomes to them a “veritable house of dreams” infinitely more real than the noisy streets and the crowded factories…

…The few attempts which have been made in this direction are astonishingly rewarding to those who regard the power of self-expression as one of the most precious boons of education… The Children’s Theater in New York is the most successful example, but every settlement in which dramatics have been systematically fostered can also testify to a surprisingly quick response to this form of art on the part of young people…It would also be easy to illustrate youth’s eagerness for artistic expression from the recitals given by the pupils of the New York Music School Settlement, or by those of the Hull-House Music School. These attempts also combine social life with the training of the artistic sense and in this approximate the fascinations of the five-cent theater…”

First image: Jackson Pollock, Number 1A, 1948, Oil and enamel paint on canvas

William Carlos Williams and the short story

williams Being succinct is often more difficult than being lofty. This is the realm of the short story writer; for the task of such an author is to come full circle; to satiate with a satisfying balance of beginning, middle, and end… all the while maintaining a full and open throttle…driving the plot in a degree that it sustains the interest of the reader while not diverging off course. Take no side trips, no matter how lovely a place they could lead you, for the short story is like the plane on a scheduled fight…we don’t wish the pilot to deviate from the flight plan.

And so I must confess that this blogger likes to read and write the short story even though it sometimes appears to have lost its momentum in the 21st century… yet I maintain that it is still alive and kicking…you just have to go into the gardens and weed them out…

Which brings us to today’s post where a path was cleared away again for our esteemed thinker: William Carlos Williams; poet, writer and defender of the modern literature and art movement in the 20th century. From his notes so aptly titled A Beginning on the Short Story, I have plucked from his writing a portion for us to ponder. I give you, Mr. Williams and the short story…

“… One chief advantage as against a novel- which is its nearest cousin-is that you do not have to bear in mind the complex structural paraphernalia of a novel on writing a short story and so may dwell on the manner, the writing. On the process itself. A single stroke, uncomplicated but complete. Not like a chapter or paragraph. Thus bearing a possible novel in mind, if you will, you can play with words as materials. You can try various modes of writing-more freely.Try all sorts of effects. The short story is a wonderful medium for prose experimentation. You may, economically try devices- varied devices-for making the word count toward a particular effect. … And be careful not to imitate yourself-like how many others. Remember: the imagination! The short story has all the elements of a larger work-but in petto. Dash off a story in an evening- any old way, try to follow the action of some characters you can imagine. Sit down blind and start to fling the words around like pigments-try to see what nature would do under the same circumstances –let ’em go and (without thinking or caring) see where they’ll lead you. You may be surprised-you may even end up as a disciplined writer…”

Ray Bradbury and writing

details Writing is not something you have to do, but rather something that stirs and courses about so- much- so that you have a yearning to release it… much like a firefly in a jar buzzing around, hitting the sides…all lit up flitting up and down… so pretty to look at but we know it must be set free. Writing is not something you talk about doing but rather you just do because it feels right.

And as a writer one is an observer… taking note of this or that… things that are ordinary, but presented in an often unordinary way. And then you store them up and at the right time, they (these observations) are liberated not unlike our firefly. Perhaps this is how we feed our imaginations.

And so today I bring back our Esteemed Thinker: Ray Bradbury during his early years as a young writer (1938). Let us take a few moments to admire his youthful intuition as an observer….

“I am not the keen plotter of life. That will come later, too, I hope. But instead I love the small description, the things we all notice, but never notice, the things, the minute from and the beauty of things that are stored in the subconscious and only conjured forth infrequently in life. These things must I write about.”