A Tropical Playground Gift
As I digest ways Seneca’s Stoic philosophy relates to our modern, connective, bustling existence, my daughter, Sophia, and an entourage of friends take an intermission from playing in the park and enter the house. As girlie remarks are offered up amongst the bite-sized gaggle, a few snippets of sense peirce through.
“A gift daddy…” my daughter, Sophia, declares.
“Yes, it is Teacher’s day today” comes a friend’s voice.
“No, not just for daddy but also for mommy. Yes, a gift for both of you” asserts Sophia as if tripping between two essential thoughts.
As the dialogue unfolds, Sophia presents me with a rock, two Asian citric fruits, and two flowers, she declares her gift with a caring eloquence only my daughter exudes in such moments. She’s saying look at this beautiful rock and its accompaniments; I give them to you daddy. Where would you like to place them.
The intermission concludes just as abruptly as it began. Sophia and company dart out to continue playing as I place the assorted bouquet on the table. The randomness of this gift is, in fact, quite revealing. I’ve come to know my daughter as a sweet, caring individual who loves giving her precious, valuable hugs when greeting others. Every hug she gives is special to her because the hug comes from her. And even more telling is the fact that she invests her playful energy into creating a gift for her parents.
A Gift Emerges
As I reflect on this incident, I speculate on how this mundane, fantastic little gift found its way on my table, and in the photo above. In many ways, I see this playground bouquet emerging from basic stages of creativity (basked on John Spencer’s ‘Seven Stages‘).
Stage 1: Exposure
We are constantly inundated with stimuli providing the context and soil for our thoughts and actions. In this case, my daughter’s tropical playground (and the private gardens around it, unfortunately) exude flowers, rocks, and little fruits. All of this is within reach of a 4-year-old’s grasp. The simple act of exploring the playground (her environment) presents a bountiful view full of decorative fodder that her and her friends undoubtedly soak in as they dash between hedges, fountains, and concrete.
Stage 2: Active Consuming
The exposure to this lush playground of decorative fancies infused with a 4-year old’s impulsivity is too much not to explore. My daughter is engaging her surroundings and weaving together her joyous experiences. She picks the flowers, rummages through rock beds, nestles her toes in a playpen of sand, and screams with raucous girliness among her cohorts and friends. She’s finding an affinity for these surroundings that make up the tropical coolness of her day.
Stage 3: Critical Consuming
True, I doubt the word critical could be rigidly applied to a 4-year old’s thought process; however, an evaluative approach does come into play. I’ve often observed Sophia and her friends combing the rock beds for that perfect, beautiful rock or surveying the hedges for the fullest flower. Most rocks are wanting and get tossed away and flowers can be just as fun to cast aside, but lately, Sophia has absconded with rocks and flowers to display their beauty to others. Not at all something I’ve paid particular attention to until today, but nonetheless, there seems to be sort of personal, or shared, evaluative criteria guiding her and her cohort of friends.
Stage 4: Curating
For the past several months, my daughter has seemingly developed a fondness of decoration, arrangement, and patterns. Stickers are her favorite while decorating various household items, and she takes great pains to ensure the stickers are the appropriate color and size and are aligned (or misaligned) a certain way. This attention to detail displays a sense of organization. An organization she is very eager to share with others. She presents this playground bouquet with contents obviously chosen with the right combination of elements.
Stage 5: Copying
One of the great benefits of being a young child is licence to copy anything and everything you see without any regret (unless of course a peer is complaining that you copied them–and still that doesn’t matter all that much). In fact, copying is essential to a young child’s development and should be encouraged in almost all instances. When you think about it, young children learn language, other forms of expression, and social norms/roles at incredible rates simply by copying others. This particular day was Teacher’s Day, a special Thai Cultural day where Sophia and her friends observed and participated in giving gifts to teachers. Given a child’s tendency to copy and the fact that I’m an educator, it seems only natural for Sophia to give a gift to me, just as she did her teachers during the school day. Furthermore, I’m sure the collaborative discussion among Sophia’s playground peer group is rife with copying each other’s’ proclivities and tastes in floral, fruit, and quarry.
Stage 6: Mashups
Of course copying, while engaging, does not go far enough to produce a sense of accomplishment for my daughter. Simply copying someone else doesn’t automatically lead to a product that’s shared. It was only the repurposed, numerous elements coming together in the context of Teacher’s Day that spurred my daughter to share this wonderful gift.
Stage 7: Creating
As Sophia stands with her hands cupped and filled with the decorative arrangement, she is taking a risk. Yes, not a big one since she knows her father is trustworthy and willing to give praise when it is due. And herein lies the crux of creation, she took the time and the risk to finalize her gift and share it with someone. There are many philosophical arguments to be had concerning the point of creation and whether something can have been actually created without being shared (sort of like the tree in the woods). At any rate, putting the care to polish and present her creation, she took a step from remixing various things and made the product officially HER gift to daddy. The product emerges through her experience and is given to me.
The Creative Lesson
This post emerges from me to you via pondering Seneca, curating ideas on creative stages, and a 4-year-old in a tropical playground on Teacher’s Day in Thailand
This is Creation: Weaving together something that has simmered in you over time and sharing it in an expressive unique way. This could be a painting, drawing, song, poem, essay, formal talk/discussion/presentation, video, social media comment, GIF, blog post, etc.
So on this Teacher’s Day (January 11th, 2017), I reflect on how my daughter teaches me about mysteries in life. My daughter’s gift serves as the catalyst for the emergence of these ideas.
Can you find ways these stages of creation influence the products that come from your own experience?