Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Curiosity of a Child

Thursday, June 16, 2011 

                On a recent weekend, we went to visit our son, daughter-in-law and 10 year old grandson, Dante in Texarkana. On occasion, we stay in a local motel there so that we can use their pool and Dante can go swimming. Dante came and spent a night with us and once again, he made me smile so many times as I listened to his inquisitive chatter. “Can we go see the top floor of this motel? I want to know what’s up there! Did you see that big fish in that photograph on the wall? Can I stay up late tonight and watch TV in our room? The Mexican restaurant here is really good!” 

                His endless prattle aggravates his parents (lovely adults in their mid-30s) and reminded me of myself at the same age and how I irritated the fire out of my father constantly with the same sort of thing. I find his curiosity and enthusiasm amusing but also very refreshing, and of course, Dante and I went to the top floor of the motel. We ate at the Mexican restaurant (where he ordered a toasted cheese sandwich!) and I was thrilled to point out to him that the man in the photo holding onto that big fish was also a writer named Ernest Hemingway. 

                My husband, Warren once made fun of the fact that I have had two long term jobs that I’ve really enjoyed, one working over 10 years for the local sheriff’s department and one as a freelance writer and author. I’ve often been known to stick my nose in here or there, asking questions about something I see along the highway or overhear in conversation. “In both cases,” he laughs, “you go in and start asking questions and if anyone asks why, you simply smile and say, it’s my job!”

And it is. Part of our trade as writers is to always remain curious, to look for that something special, different, the essence of a good story. I’ve interviewed folks who upon first glance would seem to be the least among us, as far as an interesting narrative. And yet, as a result, I’ve met and done stories with:  a chatty gentleman in overalls at Bennett Spring who repairs and collects sewing machines, many of which he then donates to local schools and even to disadvantaged people in other countries where a sewing machine is the doorway to a new profession; a vivacious grandfather of a barber in Bolivar who runs a nonprofit organization that ships food, clothing, wheelchairs, walkers, shoes and other vital necessities all over Central America; an animal trainer who raises and trains Dromedary camels in the Ozarks; a postal clerk who trained and rode multiple times in the RAGBRAI, The Des Moines Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, an annual seven-day bicycle ride across the state, and many other unforgettable characters.

Jesus told his disciples that only those who become like a little child will be able to enter the kingdom of heaven. In a similar vein, I’d say all of us as writers must remind ourselves regularly in the world we live in full of cynics and critics and so many others willing to squelch our curiosity and steal our joy, that childlike curiosity is an essential element of being a good writer. We must promote it, encourage it, and nourish our sense of wonder and joy of life.  Warren shakes his head every now and then and says I still have the curiosity of a junior higher and you know what? I like that!

Laura L. Valenti is a freelance writer for “Ozarks Farm & Neighbor”, a southwest Missouri farming newspaper and is the author of two novels, “The Heart of the Spring”, a historical novel about the founding of Bennett Spring State Park near Lebanon and “Between the Star and the Cross: The Choice”. Her newest novel, “The Heart of the Spring Lives On”, the sequel to her first novel, will be released in later in summer 2011.