My sister’s house in rural upstate New York burned to the ground a few years ago. It was a devastating loss of almost everything her family owned. While it was fortunate that no one was injured, when they sifted through the ashes, nothing was found intact except my brother-in-law’s guns and a few clumps of papers that somehow only got scorched on the edges.
On a recent visit my sister presented me with one of those surviving documents. It was a booklet that she and I had written when I was seven years old or so. I remembered the title clearly – The Smooglepoose Book. The book has a crude hand-drawn cover and the text was unskillfully typed on a very old manual typewriter. Its several pages consisted mainly in fake, humorous (to us) tips for raising this mythical beast we created, the smooglepoose. I still recall how much fun we had creating the book and showing it to our siblings and parents. Writing was sheer joy.
At that age I didn’t know I was forging a life-long relationship with writing – I was just having fun. My sister and I were completely absorbed in the creative process, delighted with the unusual and silly ideas that emerged, and very proud of our weird little book. When The Smooglepoose Book was presented to me with its scorched margins, it occurred to me that those same impulses that absorbed us as children still exist, and are essential to the writing I do today.
The playful and beautiful creative impulses that we spontaneously express and enjoy as children often get buried in the ashes as we grow up and alter our lives to deal with the realities of our families, schools, jobs and culture. Throw in the unavoidable personal firestorm or two and we might think they don’t even exist anymore. The Smooglepoose Book’s miraculous survival and discovery was wonderfully tangible evidence to me that even a terrible disaster isn’t able to eliminate that pure, simple, beautiful, clump of creativity residing in all of us.