Student Life

On re-igniting childlike wonder

By Alayna Patterson @twohdd

Childhood is magic. It is a period in which all knowledge weighs heavier than stone, and ink on paper opened up universes, and of tales both forgotten and forbidden. Even with such magic, not all retain knowledge of those worlds as they grow older. They forget the tales they once read or heard. I never wanted to become one of them.

Yet, I did. All because I chose not to feel.

My parents have always taught me to be childlike, but never childish; childlikeness implied vulnerability, and a willingness to be open to learning and accepting, knowing that we can’t always be in control. Childishness, however, meant too hoarse a reaction, or an unwillingness to cooperate in a situation that required humility. I never have understood this notion fully till now.

As a child, I found solace within the bound confines of books; piano keys, CDs, cassettes. These small things were portals to galaxies.

As a teenager, I read in effort to explore things within myself; to figure ‘me’ out, whoever she was. Even though I’d never technically skipped a class, I often slept, drew, or read my own literature at the back of a dusty classroom. I’ve had a tatty library version of Dracula pried from me by a Music teacher, and been scolded by an English teacher reading Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth instead of reading what was assigned. It was escapism from the reality of anxiety, trying to let myself ‘feel’ a panic attack out. It was something I’d lived with ever since first memories, but I’d only been diagnosed with as I attended high school. I navigated my teenage life full; full of all the necessary angst, heartache, and head-banging in the prison of my room. I broke hearts, had my heart broken, watched the keystones of relationships crumble into dust, but at least I had good songs, ink behind my fingernails and a growing comic book library to process it all.

I consumed media like it was the last time I’d ever feel again. I wanted to identify with anything that didn’t make me feel like me. It was contradictory to my initial desire of exploration to know something bigger than myself, everything my younger self would not have understood.

17yo me, exploring a comic store.

I reached adulthood, working nine to five, encapsulating the shell of a socially and emotionally repressed hermit. Eventually, it gave me the strength to ‘sell my soul’ as a salesperson, but as payment I’d made almost no art, and consumed significantly less of it. I navigated relationships further, and as I did, the less I fed from the constant pour of media I’d formerly loved. My early twenties ticked into existence. The more I felt, the less I wanted to feel, in turn less reason to consume the media I knew I loved… Or believed I did, once. The more hurt that plodded along as another birthday passed, the less I wanted to feel anything.

I’m surrounded by people in their early twenties, passionate and consuming their art without an ounce of shame or regret; they relish, and simply enjoy. I’m continually jealous, afraid, and in awe of the determination they exude to talk about the things they love. I didn’t exude that same confidence. Anything I wanted to say wasn’t important, any media I started to get into, nobody understood, even if there were communities of individuals online that spoke in such admiration of said things. I couldn’t relate like they could… Just in a way that was unique to me, that I didn’t know anyone else felt. My brain does wonders when it wants to separate me from a majority.

Art, in all it’s grisly forms, is sustenance of a different kind, and I was starving for it; retching for wholeness.

I had lost the magic.

I lost my childhood in a sea of rent and dollar signs, in relationships and human beings outside of myself. I envied the memory. The act just became rarer, and so rare the magic worked its wonders and riddled me bewitched. I had not been spellbound by worlds for eons now, when once I would never stop thinking about worlds or characters. Voices in my skull echoing doubts. I couldn’t admit to myself when I enjoyed something, and still struggle with it; vulnerability, in all forms, had flowered into something tangibly frightening. I’d made vulnerability the villain in my thoughts, and they manifested themselves daily in habits I’d formed to avoid feeling.

Ultimately, the decision to write this piece came out of fear that the tales I love will be forgotten, and I never got to talk about how important they were. It’s also come out of the desire to believe one day my tales will be important to someone, and I don’t want those forgotten either.

I’ve made arrangements in my life to trick myself into feeling magic on a more frequent basis. I have read one book this year, and I am currently reading two. I read children’s books between chapters on either books to help lessen a sense of overwhelment I get from seeing seas of adult-y words, and am slowly picking up again on comic book issues. I’ve made more efforts to support libraries and secondhand bookstores. All this in an umpteenth attempt to get back the mindset of teenage-Alayna that attached herself to art like floods to a drought. To let myself feel. To be vulnerable, with whole heart; not just in misery, but in joy too.

22yo me, exploring Beatdisc Records.

As humans we have all experienced traumas of some kind that have affected the ways we inhale and exhale, and it crawls into every crevice of our lives. What we take in and what we make out of it makes us human after all. In our communities, what we share matters.

We are not our traumas. We are not alone, and we don’t have to trick ourselves into believing we are when resources are innumerable and people care. The art we create and consume is milk and honey to the soul, and that allows us to feel and to process what we’ve been through. To relate to others; to say, “Hey, me too.”

Sometimes it takes real droughts and floods to realise that. Or a pandemic. The real world is so often reflected in our art and media, afterall.

Funny, how it’s not just childhood that is magic. It’s what makes us feel real; whole, in times of joy… and in times of devastation. To be childlike allows us the vulnerability to experience that magic. Through the lens of those childlike eyes, we see.

We are alive.

Featured image taken by Chanelle Butters.

Other photos included taken by Rebecca Guo.

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