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Thursday, April 17, 2008

Yes, But Is it Art?

I am sitting with my thirteen year old son in a café. I am writing, he is hijacking a nearby wireless signal to work on a computer graphics program called Blender. We are both creating personal art on our laptops.

I am a writer. I am also a doctor, but today, away from the hospital I am the novelist. Thus far my son has not read my novels. Not that the content is necessarily too old for him, but I’ve suspected the pace would feel too slow, the sentences too long. My words would need to lasso the zip and zing of the objects he crashes through walls and flings around curlicue tracks, and—frankly—they cannot compete. I write for a different age group, maybe a different generation. He may grow up to my words, but he is decidedly growing up in the graphic world he is bringing to life using different media.

My son likes to read—Lois Lowry, Lemony Snickett. Rowling, of course. Once a book has grabbed him, I have to push food in front of his face to keep him from starving. But, to my frustration, anything that flickers on a screen clenches him like the tenacious Jaws of Life at a bad car accident scene, (which would come in handy for some of his favorite video games). I fought it for years: timers, computer locks, Internet controls, star charts and earned points. We own no X-boxes or Playstations or Wiis. Would you stock cocaine in your cabinets it you lived with an addict?

“Please, can I load a C ++ programming compiler onto your work computer?” He begs his dad. No need to tell you the response, given that Dad just spent two days reformatting a crashed computer discovered frozen on Addicting

The other night, after another round of limit-setting battles, he pled to download a physics engine onto the ancient and persnickety laptop that he rescued just before I hauled it off to the recycler. “A physics engine?” I asked. He looked at me like any explanation would be too complicated for my aging brain to wrap around, determining me hopelessly uneducable in the advanced calculations required to crash a cart into a stack of blocks. It is, after all, tricky to build a 3-D roller coaster game on a last generation laptop that your parents only allow you to use for one hour a day. But like all artists, the pressure inside of him to create has found its outlet, despite parental barriers and prejudice.

At the café table, I pause in my struggle over adjectives and plot, and look over at his screen. A Coke can is tumbling down a hill with as much verisimilitude as I’ll ever describe using a dictionary or thesaurus. I wonder if a PET scan would show the same fiery lights in identical segments of both our brains at this moment.

As a doctor, I can’t help but revel in the infinite variety of output the human imagination generates, endlessly evolving and expressing the world, brand new everyday. But as a writer, I can’t let my own passion for printed words lapse in my children, and I will continue to fill their bookshelves and try to teach them the cursive that schools seem to eschew in this era of email and Google. I still insist on hand written thank you notes.

After we get home, my mother calls me to commend my son’s recent letter to her. “Did you read this before he sent it?” she asks.

“No, why? Is it just totally illegible?”

“He wrote it in C ++ programming language.”

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