Crumbs From the Corner: Adventures in Woolgathering

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Big Picture

“The truly innocent are those who not only are guiltless themselves, but who think others are”
-Josh Billings

"Owl?" asked the child softly. We were at our friends' home and I had charge of the little fellow for a short time. His fingers clutched a pen, and it was pointed at me.
I deduced rightly that he wanted me to draw for him an owl. He had no foreknowledge of my lack of accomplishment in the art of sketching and no inkling of my self conscious nervousness as I accepted the pen with much dread.
I hardly knew what I was doing but I began, anyhow, with two little circles for the bird's eyes- to my own it was a pitiful and unbird-like sight. I imagined that the child could probably cast a better image than I of an owl.
As I enclosed the eyes inside another, larger circle for the owl's face, as I cringed inwardly, there came an unmistakable murmur of approval.
He whispered a single word: "wow."
A dash more inspired, I completed the task with a flourish, and subsequently was requested to draw a baby owl, which pleased me enormously.
That lone word had floated on a prolonged sigh that carried no hint of doubt.
The child considered my drawing to be a beautiful thing.
He thought this not because of the perfect and aesthetic quality of the picture: rather, it had to do with a purer quality that assured him I could do no wrong. He trusted me wholly, being mercifully yet immune to the lack of confidence and self-judgement that causes creative people to destroy their efforts in a moment of unfounded criticism.
The child beside me was oblivious to the notion that I could not draw.
We grow up, we leave childish thoughts behind us, and then we habitually shake our heads in wonderment at children's capacity to marvel at simple things. We excuse it under the assumption that babies do not know any better; that the world, being fresh to their eyes, seems all amazing until they learn to properly discriminate and find otherwise.
So far as that child knew, I was equipped with a pen and paper, hands and eyes and knowledge of ordinary small creatures: why, then, should he doubt my ability to form a rudimentary illustration of an owl?
The real question is this: why should I?


Beth said...

I love this story. I am also very self conscious about my drawing ability but love to sketch and love to admire art. I never show my sketches but they give me some pleasure. I love that the sighed wow gave you confidence.

Tom the Piper's Son said...

Perhaps, whether we have "talent" in an area or not these happenings can make us stop and be thankful for being human (ie. being able to draw at all!). A child's wonder is always something to relish.

To take an odd detour - to riff off of the "owl" subject:
For sometime my girlfriend have i have tried in vain to find ways to drive away the pigeon who esconce themselves over our open carport and "bomb" our cars back to the Stone Age, as it were.
We are very remiss to harm animals in anyway but we bought these spiky things and attached them to their perch spots to prevent them from perching. After a few days they found ways of getting around them and even perched in very narrow areas between them.
Last week Laura brough home a 3ft tall wooden owl (complete with realistic eyes and a twistable head).
Dang if this wooden critter hasn't completely driven our pigeon friends away for the last 8 days!
We shall see......

Great story as usual by the way!

tangobaby said...

I tried to read this post through the eyes of the little boy that asked you for the picture, and for a moment, I said "wow" too.

I think it's possible to recapture a little bit of that wonder from time to time, if not the innocence.

I was looking for a quote today for a friend as it is her birthday. I found this one and it seems more perfect for your story than for her's today:

"Growing old is mandatory; growing up is optional." ~Chili Davis

PS. of course, your story also reminded me of the pilot drawing for the Little Prince, always my favorite part of the book. ;-)

Pauline said...

exactly! I'm glad you drew the owl without excusing yourself - that wow might never have been uttered. And after all, wasn't the child right? And didn't you love hearing it?

Pappy said...

Very nice. I'll bet those were two really nice owls. That is a pleasing quality in young children, but at times in their honesty and innocence they can proclaim the "truth" we may not wished to be announced to the rest of the world. :) Pappy

polona said...

ah, this was so sweet! sometimes, perhaps, we underestimate our abilities and if something is done from the heart, it can't really go wrong even if it doesn't turn out the way we would like it to..

Phyllis Hunt McGowan said...

Beth, I imagine you have a good eye for sketching because you're extremely observant! That, and enjoying the process indicates you're probably better than you think.

Tom, exactly- it didn't matter whether I had talent, or could draw a good owl or not. The innocence of somebody who saw a good drawing because he expected to- that was most amazing.
And the "odd detour" was most interesting- birds are fascinating. They're so much smarter that we give them credit for. I hope you remain pigeon-free after this! What a good idea. I wouldn't want to hurt them either. I can't even kill ants. I scoop them up in a pan and throw them out the door. I suppose they come right back inside but I can't kill them.

Tangobaby, I do like that quote a lot. It's all in the mind for the most part, how we see things. I remember the scene from the book, but particularly I love the drawing right at the beginning with the elephant/snake. It's an amazing book.

Pauline, I think he was right, because he was happy and that was the test. It was wonderful to hear it. We hesitate too much, I think, and then the moment is lost. I wish I could capture that "wow" exactly how it was said... just as though everything were perfect. It was such a great moment.

Texican, I was thinking about that as I wrote- children's honesty can sometimes not be what we want to hear! But we appreciate it anyhow, and sometimes it makes us feel better. I completely agree with you. It can't be turned on and off, they just say what they really think and we have to accept that. In this case it was good :) and perhaps, perhaps my owls were all right. I did get the commission for the second one, so I suppose it was a good sign.

Polona, it was done from the heart and also seen from the heart, so there was absolutely no way to go wrong :) All that mattered was that he was mesmerised.

Nan said...

Oh, what a wonderful post. I loved it, and I love how you wrote it, sentence by sentence as it was happening.

Phyllis Hunt McGowan said...

Nan, thanks for such kind words! I like hearing how it unfolded to the person reading. That matters a lot to me when I write. I like people to almost feel they were there :)

mermaid said...

Oh, I'm smiling. My daughter thinks I'm the world's greatest artist. Little does she know. Maybe she just loves whatever I do, and thinks I'm a magician:) Maybe she knows more than I do!

Phyllis Hunt McGowan said...

Mermaid- a magician- I like that :) if she thinks it, then who are you to argue! She knows what she likes, which is why children are so blatantly honest.

mouse (aka kimy) said...

in this story I find that the child was a good teacher and you are a most wise student as the last line shows that you learned the lesson! delightful post.

Phyllis Hunt McGowan said...

Kimy, when he said "wow," I thought: what am I worrying about? Just draw it. So I did.
He was so happy with so little. I definitely learned from him.

julochka said...

oh do post your own picture, i so want to see it! i bet it was great! and much better than the one i carved into an eraser a couple of weeks ago to use as a stamp. :-)

great story and a great lesson for all of us!


Barb said...

When does that beauty and innocence disappear? When we stop looking at the world and ourselves as perfect. Oh to be a child again for just a moment to relish that feeling before it once again is condemned to dissolution..... B

Phyllis Hunt McGowan said...

Julie, I can't! I'd love to but the child owns all copyright :) I really didn't keep it. I could do another one though... ;)

Barb, you are so, so right: "When we stop looking at the world and ourselves as perfect." If we only could see what a loss that would amount to, we'd be better off. Nothing is ever perfect but we're so self-consciously hard on ourselves about so many things we wouldn't know perfection in ourselves if we met it on the street.

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