“Flip to a random page in a book at hand and make something inspired by the first sentence you read.”
I landed in the perfect place to complete today’s make something mission: an antique store in The Dalles, Oregon. While Jim poked around looking at old signs and boxes and bits and pieces, I leafed through books, books, and more books. One collection of poems for children, by Robert Louis Stevenson, captivated me.
I forgot to note the publication date of this edition, but the internet machine tells me A Child’s Garden of Verses was first published in 1885. That’s two years after Treasure Island and a year before The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I love knowing that this prolific author played with words in so many different ways. According to the RLS Website:
“Robert Louis Stevenson is not only remarkable for the number of works he produced in his twenty-year literary career, but also for the range of genres he adopted: essays, travel writing, short stories, novels and romances, as well as poetry, plays and biography. Stevenson also composed music for the flageolet.”
(A flageolet is a woodwind instrument, like a recorder.)
This reassures me that my own collection of written works may not be so haphazard after all. Perhaps it is even beneficial for a writer to compose a haiku one moment and a video script the next. An autobiographical essay one day and a company’s branding statement the next. A tasteless limerick one night, and a political rant the next. Maybe I am okay, after all. Maybe after I am dead, you will publish works I never even released. (RLS had seven works published posthumously. Just stay out of my private journals, okay?)
Anyway, here’s the page that fell open when I opened this small volume:
In this short verse, Stevenson prescribes the “whole duty of children” like this:
A child should always say what’s true
And speak when he is spoken to,
And behave mannerly at table:
At least as far as he is able.
For my own making, I offer this advice to writers, in similar form:
A writer should always describe and show
Through simple words that people know,
Offering readers common ground
To think about the world around.