July 21st, 2011
I heard it when I volunteered in my daughter’s kindergarten class last year.
“Dogs must be colored brown or black,” her teacher told her as Toots reluctantly put down the blue crayon.
I rose from the table where I’d been organizing glue sticks and went to my daughter’s desk.
“At home you can color dogs any way you want,” I whispered in her ear.
And after that, I made sure she knew I meant it.
“Dogs can be blue,” I told her later. “And suns can be purple, and not even round if you want, and skies can be brown and on the ground and trees can float and draw whatever your heart tells you.”
I’ll be damned if anyone is going to tell me or my daughter that dogs have to be brown or black.
Because you know what kills creativity?
SHOULD. MUST. HAVE TO.
And you know what kills me?
Putting those words into a creative child’s soul to fester and bloom into crazy perfectionism and self-editing and shame when she is old enough to think she should know “better.”
When I was in my 20s, I noticed that one of my work colleagues wrote strange. His words slanted to the left, were choppy, and nearly illegible. He gripped the pen awkwardly, and seemed to hyper focus on his fingers as he drew letters and words. One day I asked him about it.
“My first grade teacher thought I shouldn’t write with my left hand,” he told me. “So she tied my left hand behind my back and made me use my right.”
My stomach churned. Even now, I conjure the anger I felt at his explanation.
“I still use my right hand, but…” he pointed to the paper in front of him, “improperly.”
My friend had gone to a Catholic school as I had, and apparently nuns considered left hand usage “evil.” So rather than allow a child to write as he were born to, the teacher tied his hand behind his back. And now he writes unnaturally.
Luckily, my school’s nuns didn’t see the Devil in every child’s soul or hands, but I had my share of hand slaps at wearing a hand painted shirt, flowered hat, and unsanctioned Halloween costumes. Which, in some cases, I get. There are rules in schools that prevent harm, ignorance, and general anarchy. But when it comes to creativity? I think every school should encourage self-expression, even if it means blue dogs.
My very favorite sorts of people are those that buck the SHOULD, MUST, HAVE TO system. Those that don’t care to please nuns, teachers, the Devil or even God. Those that live to create without thought to living within lines, or drawing using accepted color palettes. Those that don’t fight what comes naturally. Because to deny what bubbles from the soul is like death.
I aim to teach my children this, and wish more teachers — and anyone who helps mold our childrens’ brains and hearts — would follow suit.
But for now, my friends? May your suns be purple and your dogs any fucking color you want.