Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Harold and The Purple Crayon and the Search

For the longest time, I wondered why purple was my favorite color. I figured there must be some reason, and that it was probably unconscious. Remember back to a previous post where Timothy Wilson had posited that "it is not the environment that influences people as much as their constructs of the world--the stories we tell themselves." It seemed reasonable that maybe something in my environment had influenced the way I constructed the world and that "purple" was a short-hand for that.

This past year we were talking in class about why some books seem to "enter us" and forever become part of our pyschic landscape? Think about this for a bit. You probably can come up with some books (or movies) that you have internalized in such a way that they act almost like "goggles" that determine and focus, in part, what you actually see (and don't see) in the present. The books that people come up with-Catcher in the Rye, The Little Prince, Harry Potter, Where Does the Brown Bear Go?-are fascinating and remarkable glimpses into the way people are, or perhaps the way they were when the book "spoke to them."

Vivian Gornick has explored this process of "internalization" in her book, The Situation and the Story. She writes, "Writing enters into us when it gives us information about ourselves we are in need of at the time we are reading. How obvious the thought seems once it has been articulated! As with love, politics, or friendship: readiness is all...The inner life is nourished only if it gets what it needs when it needs it." But what does this have to do with the color purple?

The book that I found myself volunteering in class surprised me because it seemed to come from nowhere. When I was three years old, Crockett Johnson published a picture book Harold and the Purple Crayon. This is one of the books I remember most vividly from my childhood, and I think it may be part of the reason that Walker Percy's comment about "the search" (see previous post) was so striking to me. As you can see in the video (click on the link for a movie version of the story), Harold is on the search in a big way. He sees himself as the author/drawer of his own learning and, as a result, he creates experience after experience.

But the search seems to be something that we are willing to lose, or give up on, or to resolve far too quickly. And, of course, sometimes circumstances conspire to make the search more difficult. I am wondering now what the reasons are for not engaging in the search. What skills, attitudes and dispositions foster being on the search and which ones annihilate or retard it? In the meantime, I try to keep a purple crayon handy at all times.

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