Friday, June 16, 2017

The conversation of children

Children do not converse. They say things. They ask, they tell, and they talk, but they know nothing of one of the great joys in life, conversation.
Charles M. Schulz, You Don't Look 35, Charlie Brown!

Charles Schulz, of course, made a very successful living with a comic strip, Peanuts, featuring children engaged in conversation. That was where the humor lay. No reader ever believed that children of that age really stood around and talked about things like theology (Linus), Beethoven (Schroeder) or even baseball (Charlie Brown). That, like a dog who imagined himself a World War I flying ace, was fanciful and, thus funny.

In a collection of Peanuts strips published in 1985 called You Don't Look 35, Charlie Brown!, Schulz goes on to say, "Then, along about twelve, give or take a year on either side, two young people sitting on their bicycles near a front porch on a summer evening begin to talk about others that they know, and conversation is discovered. Some confuse conversation with talking, of course, and go on for the rest of their lives, never stopping, boring others with meaningless chatter and complaints. But real conversation includes making questions, and asking the right questions before it is too late."

I believe children learn to converse long before age 12 in most cases, but Schulz was right in saying that it is a skill that takes time to develop. And some people never develop it. Either they just talk and expect others to listen, or they just listen because they can think of nothing to contribute, at least not until after the conversation is over. I count myself among the latter.

I wrote a post a few days back called "Accidental memoirs" in which I said writers sometimes write their memoirs when they think they are writing something else. For Schulz, his comic strip was his memoir, a record of his own life told through the stories of conversing little children. His 1985 book was also a memoir. Groups of panels are preceded by a few paragraphs from Schulz about incidents in his life that inspired them. The lines above come from a page about a time in which the cartoonist was invited to speak to school children. He writes that he didn't know what he was going to say until he stood up and told them the importance of asking their parents questions about their lives.

"Don't stop until you have learned something about your father's first job or your mother's early dreams," he says he told them. "It will take energy but it all be infinitely worthwhile, and it must be done now. It must be done before it is too late." The pages that follow are filled with panels showing Charlie Brown and the gang talking about their parents and what they have learned about them. The last one in the series is one that ran on a Father's Day. It shows Lucy bragging about her dad, saying he has more credit cards, etc., than Charlie Brown's dad. Then Charlie Brown then tells her about going into his dad's barber shop. "I can go in there anytime, and no matter how busy he is, he'll always stop, and give me a big smile ... and you know why? Because he likes me, that's why!"

Charlie Brown's memory was also that of Charles Schulz, who knew the importance of asking questions but also that there are some important things you know without having to ask.

No comments:

Post a Comment