catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 12, Num 5 :: 2013.03.01 — 2013.03.14


The garden of your mind

Sometimes I sit two-year-old Evelyn down in front of our computer in the office and sew while she watches old reruns of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and fondly — yes, even nostalgically — remember my own childhood, sitting on the brown carpet in the living room while Mom made dinner in the kitchen. I watched Mister Rogers until sixth grade.

Mister Rogers does something when he speaks. He does the same thing Dr. Sears recommends one does when speaking to babies: he gives time to respond. Mister Rogers speaks slowly to the camera, pausing after his questions to allow the child to respond. “Do you ever imagine things?” Mister Rogers asks. “Did you ever see a cat’s eyes in the dark and wonder what they were?” He pauses. I think, “No, but once I saw a banana tree in the dark and thought it was a scary man.”

My favorite YouTube video is currently the autotuned Mister Rogers remix “Garden of Your Mind” by electronic musician John D. Boswell. During one of the, oh, fifty-eight times or so that I’ve watched this video, I noticed that one of the top commenters had proclaimed, “I can’t stop watching this!”

I can’t either.

It’s like I’m in sixth grade again, hanging out with my younger siblings after school, loving the Neighborhood of Make-Believe and Lady Elaine Fairchild, my favorite character and often the center of whatever child-appropriate conflict arose that week. Occasionally (actually, thirteen times) five episodes would culminate on Friday with a grand opera often featuring John Reardon. This was my favorite. I’d stand in the doorway of the living room, nonchalantly watching my siblings take it all in. If they only knew.

I’ve been trying to figure out why I like the new autotuned Mister Rogers so much. Surely the fond nostalgia has something to do with it. I remember the smell of brown carpet, and the way the southern autumn light fell into the long, thin windows of our house. I remember playing in the woods and coming inside with that outside smell still on our clothes and then sitting down with peanut butter crackers and milk, which is still my favorite snack.

Perhaps I also like this video because it affirms my work. I parent two children — on good days imaginatively, and on bad days with a Saran Wrap’s depth of patience — but on the good days, I find life in it. Evelyn loves to listen to an old Peter Pan recording of the music from Mary Poppins (yeah, we play it old school here) and when “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” comes on, she finds me and says, “I be oo kite,” and I pick her up over my shoulder and toss her around, flying my daughter/kite around the living room, until the kite crashes on the couch.

I also work in college theatre, and in a time of budget shortfalls (both personal and corporate), students and their parents are seeking courses of study that will guarantee post-college work and permanent job security. On the surface, a theatre major doesn’t really fit into those categories, (though theatre major and businessman Tom Vander Well has argued that it’s a beneficial choice). But I believe that work in the theatre at its best cultivates the garden of the mind, growing ideas that lead to action. This song doesn’t directly address that debate, but I think the core idea supports the theory.

Fundamentally, though, I think Mister Rogers explores and communicates the depths of a child’s mind and teaches children to be cognizant of their emotions and perceptions. He introduces children to new things.  Because of Mister Rogers, I heard of tofu for the first time and saw how it was made. I also saw him interview known and unknown people (at least to children) such as cellist Yo-yo Ma (unknown to me) and Margaret Hamilton (the Wicked Witch in The Wizard of Oz, whom I felt I knew every well), emphasizing that they are people just like you and me and have feelings, too.

In days of instant everything, I enjoy listening to Mister Rogers’ slow voice, as he gives his viewer linguistic space to respond. I love his focus on the value of the individual (“I like you just the way you are!?) within the community, and his openness to delve into the depths of the mind in a quiet way.

“You can think about things and make-believe,” autotuned Mister Rogers sings. Evelyn will put her index finger on her thumb and direct it toward my face. “Bee cahbing…” she’ll say, touching me with her fingers. The bee was at the supermarket with us on Monday and so Mama Bee went toward the baby bee. “Bzzzz…what do you need?” Mama Bee asked. “Paci, baba,” cried little bee. I conjured the blanket and pacifier out of thin air and gave them to Baby Bee before picking up a box of crackers.

“All you have to do is think and they grow.” The antecedent here is “ideas,” but it might just work for “children,” as well.

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