We walked across Central Park to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The bright light of the November sun brought the yellow leaves that fell around us into brilliant focus. My sister in law, two cousins, and I entered the park’s wilderness known as The Ramble. We knew where we were going, but wondered how and if we would come out in the right place. This required some backtracking, but we got there.
Writing is like that.
My students walk in on Monday mornings full of soccer games, apple orchards, newborn baby cousins, and holidays. And they walk in with the young writer’s lexicon: Cousin. Friend. Sister. Brother. The stories can’t be told without these words and they can’t be lived without these people.
We walked into the Met and a security guard told us to hand over the mirth. We laughed and shook our heads. This is family mirth– ours by marriage and birth. He saw it and reminded us what it was worth. Sister in law. Cousins. Friends.
We made our way through the classical gallery to the exhibit of Vermeer’s Milkmaid. I was struck by the play of light and the vivid hues of blue. I read the text on the wall:
… the picture may resemble a photograph. However, the composition is exquisitely designed, as is evident from several revisions …
Vermeer’s painting captures a moment that has been seen and revised until the light of the ordinary shines through. I’ve been teaching revision to my third graders. It’s hard, though celebratory, work. Last week, as a first step, they combed through their writing to find the moment in their writing life they want to revise… to live twice.
I continued walking. A woman was explaining a Degas painting to children: “Notice how the arm of the dancer repeats the shape of the handle of the watering can that is on the floor. Notice the repetition of pattern.”
Writing is like that. Patterns emerge in the Writers’ Notebooks week after week. Children begin to see what they care about.
I moved on to another gallery. A college student stood in front of a Matisse painting and explained it to his grandmother. “Look at the fabrics in the painting. He collected bits of fabric in his travels in Morocco and incorporated their patterns into his paintings.”
Writing is like that. We collect scraps of experience. We incorporate patterns. We follow serpentine paths to the words we want to say; then we backtrack and revise those words into love notes to a moment and to the people who live them with us. We revise until the light of the ordinary shines through.