Sunday, September 24, 2006

fresh eyes

The British writer Evelyn Waugh once said, "I think to be oversensitive about cliches is like being oversensitive about table manners."

I tend to agree. The alleged sinfulness of cliches--a book in the high school English gospel along with the Infallible Five Paragraph Essay and the Vital Topic Sentence--is something I never really bought into. Cliches are appropriate in the correct context. They feel awkward in realistic fiction because they ring false in dialogue and description; in non-fiction, they can convey humor and voice; in long form articles, they can ground and simplify unfamiliar topics.

One cliche I have always hated, however, is the phrase "through the eyes of the child." An example: "His near death experience renewed his sense of wonder and his lust for life, enabling him to see the world through the eyes of a child."

Bullshit. I don't recall possessing a greater degree of awe or reverence as a child; if anything, I was more irreverent as a little girl. On our various cross-country treks between military bases, my parents forced my brother and I to endure countless trips to this country's monuments, musems, and parks. When I try to remember these experiences, however, the only memories that come to mind are things like gift shops--a blurry mental filmstrip of a glass vial of ash from Mount St. Helens , a Yosemite coloring book, and my Grand Canyon snowglobe. Fuck the Badlands: I wanted the Badlands t-shirt.

This afternoon, as I walked home on Lynwood Place, I felt unusually attuned to the physical details of my surroundings. I'm not sure why; it may have been because the early autumn weather was so beautiful, and I wasn't in a hurry, and the leaves were turning and falling. But lingering on mundanities like wind-beaten, gnarled wood, grass sprouting through cracks in the sidewalk, and a satiny beetle crawling over a branch makes me feel more like my childhood self than anything else.

In actuality, seeing with a childlike perspective is not a matter of greater reverence, or less intellect, or innocence--it's a matter of scope. As a little girl swimming in hand me-down overalls and huge white sneakers (see picture), the end of the street delineated the farthest bounds of my vision, both physically and metaphorically. The minutiae of my neighborhood--the fenceposts, drains, climbing trees--were the objects of my knowledge, a tiny kingdom for a six year old queen.


PEG said...

Wait, weren't you discontinuing this blog? Or did I miss something?

(I'm not complaining, mind you, it's a pretty good read.)

elmrockcity said...

Yeah, this is a very old entry...I was just trying (and failing) to standardize the font.