Another day of close research into childhood, my young subject and I spending quality time in the hammock and at mini-golf (she won, 59-62, rallying with a pair of hole-in-ones) and cycling ’round the Parthenon. Nothing abstract or pedantic about this topic, for me.
We didn’t get to see Where the Wild Things Are in the park the other night, but that’s what this project is really about for me: it’s a quest to rediscover what Michael Chabon calls the Wilderness of Childhood, sadly shrinking from our world for some time now.
The thing that strikes me now when I think about the Wilderness of Childhood is the incredible degree of freedom my parents gave me to adventure there. A very grave, very significant shift in our idea of childhood has occurred since then. The Wilderness of Childhood is gone; the days of adventure are past. The land ruled by children, to which a kid might exile himself for at least some portion of every day from the neighboring kingdom of adulthood, has in large part been taken over, co-opted, colonized, and finally absorbed by the neighbors.
The neighbors are the adults, so I have to be a respectful and unobtrusive visitor to the world I’m trying to recover. Like Captain Kirk’s old Prime Directive, the rule is to boldly go but not to interfere with the indigenous culture’s natural development. We’ll see how that goes. In the meantime, I intend to enjoy the adventure.
Chabon references the brilliant Matt Groening’s map of childhood, as inferred in “Bongo’s” world. “Childhood is hell,” he says. Not around these parts it isn’t. But it is full of interesting theories.