I got a "C+" for a paper in school digging deeply into Emily Dickinson's angst-oozing winter Poem by the same title. It took me many years to get over the arguments I'd had with the English Department Chair, who didn't see it my way. The thing about subjectivity is that you don't have to get my drift, People don't need to agree -- One just has to make a solid case for their position, or perhaps not at all. There was the rub. In a class, I was under duress to convince an academic sophisticate to look at this "another way". I'd cited all sorts of books on "seeing" and aesthetics, but the department believed that, (my) "way of seeing it was wrong". I've kept that maudlin bit of Mid-January in my rear brain for more than a few decades, and still it brings unrest. I've spent the gap years showing others how we own very little but subjectivity and creativity belong to us. Your Creativity and Subjectivity, are not things which you have to share, but the world can be a better place when you do. Take the case of this certain slant of light, Most assuredly not Dickenson's intended imagery, but just the same a theme which may evoke a different interpretation for each beholder. Primitive shadow puppets may be the first animated theater, but if you cast a long enough shadow, you'll note that the dark spaces makes for interesting conversations. Such that it was with Emily Dickenson, who seemed to cast quite a long dark shadow, struggling to breathe clean air above troubled water. May we all be more joyful than she. It seems rather easy to out-happy Dickenson. In fact even if we dwell in the "little things" as she did, what we cull out of their nuance can be the cup half full. Children can have more fun with a cardboard box, and a pile of sand than any moulded plastic figure you can buy them. Thorough Danish Studies Published recently, and shared here prove that kids are happier when they spend time in nature, and so it makes sense that earthbound is not housebound. A glowing screen version of a sandlot, doesn't substitute the real thing, and the long shadow of the sun before dusk cannot be substituted by anything in the basement. Sure you can shine a flashlight over your hands and cast the shape of a heart, but there is no supplement for the impending danger of darkness, or the thrill of pushing the bounds of being scolded for staying out past the street lights. Thrill comes to us in nuanced forms, from the surprise, and elation of doing even the simplest things which we'd thought impossible, to the freedom to be dangerous. Its perhaps not surprising that spending time outdoors makes kids more happy and happier as adults, if we understand what being outdoors provides, that the indoors cannot.
The graph above is a map, which can be tough to follow unless we just look at the left column numbers which are higher for kids in the city, than the country. Lets, also consider that all kids spend way too much time indoors, so we need to skew for the heavy effect of being shut-ins in general.
Danger as an Elixir:
Outside has plenty of danger, and danger, and risks bring both fear, and exhilaration. It's taking chances, and calculating the risk of jumping from this rock to that, or climbing a tree, that you can't fathom how to climb down from, that stimulate us toward happiness. The fallout from jumping from one roof to the other, provided the outcome was positive, will be Thrilling. Being thrilled seldom comes from a screen, or in another Two-dimensional form. Slip off a rock and skinning your knee before dragging one foot under an icy river current is a tough sensation to bring about in a VR rig.
Dirt, and all things which make us dirty,
make us happier. Happier to be clean perhaps; But filth is the Yin to the Yang of clean Pajamas. For kids this dualism, of our interconnected/ interdependent world gives more meaning to a balanced life. Nobody needs to be a buddhist, to understand the primary chaos of material energy, everything has energy. The proof can be found in a hug, even hugging a tree. Dirt has energy, and knowing clean may follow, makes that energy more potent. It seems strange that something so elementary could be true, but consider the Prince who is pampered, carried, chauffeured, and quaffed…, is it surprising that the description brings to mind someone’s Bichon? An idealized description of that one lady in the elevator, as dolled up as her dog, but her pocket-pooch is adorned with ribbons, painted nails, a Longchamp sweater, and a rhinestone collar… In animated films that is the most miserable dog, barking anxiously at anything to compensate for being emasculated in this way. A pet kept to this standard would certainly like very much to eviscerate that squirrel, but decorum forbids this. Being over-maintained separates pets and people from primal grounding elements. Some of these come in strange form from Mud wrestling, to Pottery class, Color Runs, Finger-Paints, A sandbox, The Beach, Camping, A Mosh-pit, We have opportunities to get filthy, sweaty, exhausted, and we exit the other side of that experience somehow more whole. I don’t pretend to know why, but it seems true that if we don’t get dirty or feel some strain, then we lose reference for comfortable contentment.
The Glowing shimmer of space:
Shimmering sunlight and the vastness of space. Everyone cannot travel into space, but every kid can wander there or wonder about vast space by looking toward it. Playing in the sunshine, is immensely underrated. Going someplace dark to see the stars, the vast galaxies of stars, which boundlessly shimmer above us every night is an increasingly rarified experience. Children and adults generally have little face time with the cosmos, our moon, and even the sun. The long cast shadow that the sun creates before dusk and after dawn is invigorating because every object we thought we knew in the 2-D world becomes far more three-dimensional when the shadows, and light stretch and animate plain forms. Ask any photographer, and they will tell you that their job is not to control the photograph, nor the subject so much as it is to control the light, and that interest comes from interesting light. From the boundless shimmer of galaxies, to the cratered moon, to the healthy glow of the Sun, The absorption of fascination & vitamins from the sun & cosmos cannot be understated. When darkness comes, so too comes the thrill exclusive to the dark. With the regenerative power the next day brings, we pause our playtime at dusk, to return tomorrow to the very same spot, to pick-up building a fort, or a castle, or to venture further afar. What is postponed when darkness falls, has it's surrogate in the cool shimmering air of the night sky. Fear not that certain slant of light.
Wonder comes from Wandering:
...And getting lost is essential to playing. Going places with a friend, or solo through a field, across a railroad, or through a graveyard, with the risk of losing ones way, is a sure-fire way to have a blast. It is not suggested that anyone travel out of range and keep on that way with no sense of boundary, but orienteering oneself outdoors, is an essential life skill, and is it's own antidote for structure, and routine. Part of what makes wandering through the woods so much fun, is the seeming randomness and chaos that surrounds us. Like a constellation, certain trees, and rocks, ruts and piles, scatter like bread-crumbs in our minds to define a pattern for dead reckoning. If we feel lost even for a moment, or rev that up to sustained fear, then we are tapping into something which is useful. We are engaged in the smallest way, with our own survival. Skills build confidence, and with confidence comes new tools to create solutions which we'd never know if we didn't first get lost. The singular focus on the problem of perhaps not making it back home, develops a rational understanding of what we are capable of, and what we need to work on. Wanderlust builds wonder, and is wonderful for development.
I think that unhappy Emily Dickenson never got out much, and whatever the circumstances, I'd much prefer to travel, than to read about travel. What I read form her poem was that she wasn't a happy kid. Creating happy kids requires nature, and daylight, green-space, and adventures to develop. Kids are healthier when they stray, when they play outdoors, and even middle-aged late bloomers who learn to fly-fish at 50, can enjoy the same benefits. It's far simpler to imagine the greatness of the outdoors, from the dim boundary of our indoor lives, but that system is not sustainable! There's this certain slant of light, which one can only know when they have seen the same from all other angles. Go outside.
Full article from the PNAS Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
There's a certain Slant of light, (by Emily Dickinson)
There's a certain Slant of light,
Winter Afternoons –
That oppresses, like the Heft
Of Cathedral Tunes –
Heavenly Hurt, it gives us –
We can find no scar,
But internal difference –
Where the Meanings, are –
None may teach it – Any –
'Tis the seal Despair –
An imperial affliction
Sent us of the Air –
When it comes, the Landscape listens –
Shadows – hold their breath –
When it goes, 'tis like the Distance
On the look of Death –
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Age and Treachery will overcome youth and skill.