Blog Randomness - nancy zafris

Kids Always Know

One of my favorite movie scenes and one that I revisit every December 24th happens in the Alistair Sim interpretation of A Christmas Carol (the best of the bunch in my irrelevant opinion).  As Marley lies dying upstairs, the undertaker and Cockney maid greet a dyspeptic Scrooge who brushes by them and hastens upstairs to the bedroom in the house that he will soon inherit. As his brief interaction with Marley lapses into raspy unintelligibility, Marley dies with his warning to repent on his lips. Scrooge drops Marley’s lifeless hand in disgust. He turns around from the four-poster, curtained bed: the maid and the undertaker stand watching from the doorway. “I always know,” the undertaker says in an unctuous, fey, self-satisfied British intonation about his ability to call time of death. If they gave out mini-Oscars, my award for best single sentence delivery by an actor in a cameo appearance would go to the undertaker in the 1951 version of A Christmas Carol.

“I always know."

Through life experience, a skill set learned and honed over the years, people begin to “always know” the thing that speaks to them in their field:  a carpenter doesn’t need a level to see that something is off by half a bubble; an elementary school teacher intuits on the first day which one of her very silent kids will be trouble; the designer perceives a knock-off right away; a car mechanic knows which noises are trouble and which are not; a good therapist tracks the lies that have fooled everyone else. They just know.

One area where certain knowledge is up for grabs, for debate, for continuing self-doubt is Story. The more people learn, the more they (sometimes) use their glossary of craft-isms to talk their way out dealing with the essentialness of Story. The more people learn, the more they sometimes unlearn what a good story is. 

Kids Always Know.

During my son’s elementary school years, I loved getting the opportunity to watch when the children piled into the library and plopped on the floor around the rocking chair where the librarian sat with the day’s book. The kids leaned forward in anticipation.  They scooted closer when the book was good. Their spines straightened if the book didn’t delight.  And they leaned back and scooted away if the story was bad. And how did they characterize a book that was poorly conceived and poorly executed, poorly everything? What craft perceptions did they rely upon to prove their point? “Multiple points of view? Again! Yuck.” No. They simply looked at each other and said, “I didn't like that story.” 

Kids always know. Their bodies tell the tale.  No matter what — no matter what kind of book we write — we must always strive to pass the litmus test of children sitting on the floor, their bodies leaning forward into the story’s embrace.