On remembering

When I was a kid, one thing that was clear to me was that, not all adults remembered what it felt like to be a kid. Because of this, I made myself a promise: that I would remember.

I hoped I would remember everything. But, given that so many adults seemed to forget, I was also realistic–maybe something happened, when you became an adult, that made you forget; and maybe I wouldn’t be able to keep that something from happening to me.

But even if I couldn’t remember everything, I promised myself–over and over again–that even if I forgot all the details, I would at least remember this much: that the kid I was had been real. That everything I’d felt as a kid, remembered or forgotten, had been as real and deep and truly felt as anything I might later feel as an adult.

Over the decades since then, I think I’ve remembered some things and forgotten others, but I’ve always hung on to the thing that most mattered: that my kid self was as real as my adult self, that all kids are as real as adults.

I didn’t know when I made that promise that it would be one of the things I most needed as a writer. Every once in a while I talk to someone who really has forgotten what it felt like to be a kid; who really sees kids as apart from adults, as removed from the world in which adults live, as not quite fully real yet. As a middle schooler of my acquaintance once said to me, when we were both talking about adults who forget, “The only difference is that kids don’t know as much, but it’s not like we won’t learn.”

I think that you can’t write for kids if you only see them from outside, as apart from yourself. Observing kids, being around kids, is important, but it’ll only take you so far. You can get inspiration there, can get ideas there. But in the end, I think, we need to take what we observe and bring our own memories to it: to use both our present feelings and our past feelings to imagine what the kid characters we write would feel like from the inside. Because I don’t think we can write about kids from the outside in; like adult characters, we need to understand them from the inside out.

One bit of advice I’d give to any kid–or teen–who wants to be a writer is: promise yourself now that you’ll remember. Not every detail, maybe–it gets hard not to forget a little as the life experiences pile up–but at least the stuff that matters, whatever that stuff is for you.

Becoming an adult doesn’t have to mean forgetting everything; it only looks that way, sometimes.

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