Shredding Pinocchio

WP_20150331_17_33_36_ProSo the other evening I heard the most terrific commotion from Dylan’s room; nothing unusual about that, I thought to myself as I took the stairs two at a time, except that something seemed different about this noise. But by the time I got to Dylan’s room it had stopped; he was sitting on his bed, absorbed by something. As I approached I couldn’t believe what I was seeing: Dylan was shredding Pinocchio.

What are you doing Dylan? I asked, alarmed. What are you doing to Pinocchio?!

But Dylan had disappeared into the zone where he is unreachable. I moved towards him wondering whether or not I should stop him from tearing the book but he pushed me firmly away. He was intent on ripping. I watched Dylan work carefully through the pages tearing each one into strips and throwing them in his waste bin. He was systematic and purposeful. The book had to be shredded.

more dylan's 21 053Tearing pages creates sensory effects which can be soothing or stimulating if you are autistic. Although Dylan doesn’t usually shred, he appeared to have established a rhythmic pattern of tearing which he found calming. Still I was alarmed – not because of the shredding per se but because it was happening to Pinocchio.

Dylan has been in love with Pinocchio since he was a boy. Although he has collected various Pinocchionaelia over the years, his focus has settled on this particular book. I have described the book, in a previous post, as a sort of witness or friend. The book goes everywhere with Dylan; it waits behind him on the piano while he has his meals and it sits on the laundry basket in the bathroom, open at a favourite page, while Dylan takes a bath. It is carefully positioned on his bed while Dylan is in his bedroom and is carried in his backpack wherever he goes. Dylan even manages to hold it when he goes climbing.

independence 016Why then would Dylan shred it? His relationship with the book had seemed as usual less than an hour before when Dylan had it with him during his evening meal. Had something happened to the book to ‘spoil’ it perhaps? Could Dylan be upset because he had accidentally torn or spilled something on one of the pages or it had become creased or in some way damaged? If Dylan had learned to love the book so much maybe an alteration to it, however slight, would be disappointing and frustrating for him? This was the only possible explanation I could find for Pinocchio being so suddenly, and so thoroughly, rejected.

To try and understand how Dylan might be feeling I searched for a parallel in my own life. Was there something important to me which I could feel let down by? I could think of plenty of objects which have sentimental value or which I care about and wouldn’t want to damage. I keep these in relative safety, however, rather than carrying them with me. If I restricted myself to thinking about things which are portable the only object I could come up with was a mobile phone. Perhaps it would help me empathise with Dylan if I imagined the frustration of not being able to get a signal? Might I be tempted to bin or smash my phone? I’m actually not very interested in mobile phones so maybe not. Still, this was the closest I could get to imagining how it might feel if something I depended upon let me down.

WP_20150331_17_33_44_ProMy concern at the shredding of Pinocchio reminded me of how I would panic if we didn’t have a spare dummy in the house when Dylan was a baby. I’d been set against using dummies (or pacifiers) before my children were born but Dylan turned out to be a sucky baby who wouldn’t settle without one. So for years we lived in the shadow of Dylan’s dummies – just as now I was living on the end of Pinocchio’s strings.

Although Dylan has an interest in collecting duplicates  this edition of Pinocchio was a one-off; he has two copies of another version but there were no spare copies of this favoured edition. As Dylan shutteres 012turned and tore the pages, however, he appeared calm. I considered the possibility that I might be more anxious about this than Dylan. I remembered a woman I used to live with who would sometimes take a pot from the kitchen cupboard and hurl it across the backyard on her arrival home from work. She was a teacher at a London secondary school and smashing crockery helped her to release stress. Though the behaviour made me anxious it calmed her; afterwards she would put the kettle on for tea as if nothing had happened. Perhaps in a similar way shredding was helping Dylan to feel better.

This helped me understand why Dylan might feel compelled to tear his book but I was concerned that the benefits would be only temporary. For while my housemate smashed pots she didn’t like anyway, Dylan loved Pinocchio. What would he do without his book by his bed through the night? How would he eat his breakfast without Pinocchio? Or be comforted by the weight of his backpack if Pinocchio wasn’t in it? What was going to happen to us without Pinocchio?

*

WP_20150418_19_43_59_Pro-1The dummy-sucking years had made me anxious. One day a friend advised: loosen up a little Liz – he’ll stop using it when he’s ready – when did you last see an adult with a dummy? Perhaps it was my more relaxed attitude as a result of this advice which enabled Dylan, soon after, to give up his dummy. He did this with the same determination that he had kept it for so long; one day he simply spat it out and never bothered with a dummy again.

I would have done well to remember this instead of messing around online trying to source a replacement copy of his preferred version of Pinocchio. That night, Dylan took himself quietly to bed and the next day simply carried on with his life. It’s true he replaced the shredded Pinocchio with one of the alternatives but I saw this as positive change and development, like a hermit crab discarding a too-tight shell for one in which there is still space to grow. The thought of Dylan the hermit crab brings to mind one of my early poems, ‘The Littoral Zone’. The piece opens:


This is the littoral zone, you say, as we scavenge below strandline,

picking out shells and weeds for the children.
You lift a Dog whelk, turn it in long-fingered hands,
place it gently on your palm. Hermit Crab, you whisper,
as the barnacled shell rolls over, sprouts a pincer.
Gull-eyed, you pluck a tiny periwinkle from the sandy flats,
show me a speck of crab curled inside,
explaining it will leave this for a bigger shell in time.
This recluse, this little anchorite, is in the first shell of its life:
strung out ahead of it, across this beach, a future of univalves.

I like that, I tell you:
the thought of wearing a right-sized shell
with room enough to grow; getting the fit right –
feeling snug (but not too much).
And I realise, as I say this, that I’ve been crawling backwards,
reversing across the littoral zone –
cramping into ever smaller shells.

…/

The poem goes on to describe the discomfort of this process and the way in which it can involve a loss of self and  ‘voice’. It ends optimistically, however, with the speaker resolving to: ‘fill my lungs, cry with the gulls’. As I re-read my poem I enjoyed the link I had found, years later, with Dylan’s pattern of growth and development. It also occurred to me, however, that  I could be viewed as still ‘reversing across the littoral zone’.

Pinocchio 003Last month, for example, I resigned my management role at work. Given most people seek promotion rather than demotion this is not the expected direction of travel, professionally or materially. The decision, however, was driven by a desire to make space in my life for the things which matter, not least my children. I prefer to think of it as seeking a larger not a smaller shell:  The amazing thing, I said to a friend, is not that I quit but that I managed it, while being a carer, for so long.

Stepping back at work has had some immediate unexpected benefits. Within a couple of weeks I had drafted a couple of new poems (even with the ‘plenty else’ going on in my life for which I had resigned my role). They weren’t particularly successful drafts but I had, at least, made space for them. Then, the other day, I picked up a manuscript of poems which has been languishing on my desk: perhaps I would get around to sending this to a publisher now too?

After re-reading it I decided not to bother. There’s nothing terribly wrong with it. The poems are OK. Most have already been published in magazines. But really, I thought to myself – does the world need another book of love poems? Probably not. And I kept finding faults with the poems. I’m tired of conceits. Unimpressed by sestinas. Fed up with words like ‘heft’. So I did something I have never done in all my years of writing: I scrapped the lot (well, six poems got a reprieve). Time to move on.

I like the idea that starting over with my poems and giving up my management role are not very different to Dylan shredding Pinocchio; we sort of liked them, but they didn’t really satisfy us anymore. Something else will turn up, I tell myself, if we stay brave and open-hearted.

Reference:

Barrett, E. (1998) ‘The Littoral Zone’ in Walking on Tiptoe. Staple First Editions.

For information about my work as a poet please see the pages ‘Liz‘ and ‘The Poems‘.

8 thoughts on “Shredding Pinocchio

    • Thank you Nell. I am so pleased that you think that – especially as the ‘every bit’ means you understand and approve the shredding of poems. The whole process has been oddly liberating 🙂 BTW I’ve been meaning to email you as I think my sub to your wonderful press needs renewing – one of the things which I suspect got missed in the recent chaotic weeks. Can you re-send details? Thanks! Liz

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Great report, as always! About the poems, did you think in publishing it digitally? Maybe an iBook could bring some new perspective to your poems, like interactiveness, images, videos, all in the book, and it will be available worldwide. Maybe you could explore this option. You can deliver it for free or sell it. I’ve done this recently, and I liked the results.

    Best regards

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    • Thank you Eder 🙂 I agree with you that developments in online publishing are giving poets more options – it’s good to hear you have had pleasing results with yours. I have occasionally submitted work to ‘e-zines’ and have sometimes liked the results. For the manuscript I refer to in this post, however, I’m afraid it’s the desk drawer. It’s more a case with these poems that I’ve lost the impetus to publish them, conventionally or digitally! Happily, I have another manuscript in progress which I haven’t lost heart with and which hopefully I’ll want to see published when it’s finished 🙂 That won’t be for a while so I hope there will still be books in the future (definitely my preference!). Liz

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      • Yeap, there is nothing as the smell of a new book…
        I hope you can find the passion to revisit your works. Even the ones that you’ve put apart should be important for someone…

        Best regards

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  2. Old poems can be recycled. Revisited and weeded, maybe joined up with other old poems or new ones. They are signals from a previous self who maybe had valuable things to say that you’ve inadvertently lost or set aside. Our past is still with us. Nevertheless I did find your Shredding Pinocchio piece very powerful.

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    • I agree with your description of the writing process, Frances. What I describe myself as abandoning however is a manuscript for a book rather than individual poems. I had thought the manuscript ‘finished’ so what took me by surprise was my decision to ‘shred’ it. It was this act which I connected with my son – just as Dylan has not finished with Pinocchio, only with that particular book, so I have not finished entirely with the poems, only with them collected together as that manuscript. Thank you for your comment – I’m glad you enjoyed Pinocchio.

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