For reasons more obvious to a teenager than to an octogenarian, our grandchild stopped reading. We gifted him our favourite books. We took him to the bookstore so he might select a book of his choice. But he had stopped reading.
Taking a cue from his love of his i-Pad, I sought out links to science-based podcasts trying to match the interests he had displayed since he mastered mental arithmetic before he was five. His response suggests compliance rather than enthusiasm. I strive to insinuate myself into that adolescent mind to uncover why.
Tidying my study, I found the framed photograph of my grandmother. Tinted 1940’s style, it captures the Nanny who consoled us when we were overwhelmed by shined boots and slung rifles in foreign uniforms marching to Polish orders that needlessly alarmed us.
I search that face, those trust-inspiring eyes that we took for granted, trying to fathom her thoughts at that moment, who they were with, what hopes she had for a future after such war.
I struggled to put myself in the place of a successful physicist but failed parent, trying to capture what impelled him to reject his first-born. To one who has never fathered but who has felt the comfort of a tiny hand in his, to choose never to set eyes on a child made in love, poses a mystery. The result was a play that, partially at least, satisfied director, actors, playwright, and audience.
Encouraged, I now in habit the mind of Leonhard Euler’s last and thirteenth child. Magda is motivated to assist her father resolve the 18th Century puzzle of the Seven Bridges of Konigsberg. Nightly, I occupy not only her adolescent mind, but that of her gentle mother and her father famous for reconciling conflicts inherent in Isaac Newton’s calculus.
During the Cold War, within the walls of Horezu, a 17th century monastery on the Wallachian Plain, Pearl and I watched a Romanian artisan recreate an ancient and variously coloured ceramic stove. By hand, we watched him fabricate new tiles to match the old. Once dried, he traced the traditional pattern onto the new before their firing.
On his workbench sat a rack of cow horns each filled with a coloured liquid concocted by him. Colours that bore no resemblance to those of the finished tiles. “Firing will provide colour,” he told us.
To understand his unlikely choice of brush, I immersed myself in his crouched concentration. He used each cow horn as we first learned to use nibbed pens. Ink, neither too little nor too much. A light touch. Confident strokes following rules of penmanship and artistry.
This is what we writers do. We occupy the minds of those we are not, inserting ourselves into lives we know not. Seeking. This is what we must do.