"You can’t protect kids, they know everything ... Kids always know exactly how they feel, even if they can’t articulate it." — Maurice Sendak
In April 2010, on a whim, I wrote a really short story about a kid swimming in an ocean with his parents. One year and six days later, I had a collection of 14 similar stories that I released as a PDF.
The name references the old Disney maxim that to make a character look young, you just had to give him these big, round eyes that filled up, like, half of their face. There's some truth to that, in a roundabout way; when we're young, we tend to have saucer eyes about everything, because almost everything is new to us.
Fun fact: there are actually two different covers — the cover to the left, which I used for the Amazon ebook, and one for the PDF and printed chapbook. For the ebook, I literally slapped on a photo I remembered taking with my phone in a Paradiso (hence its shitty, generic and emotionally detached "aww shucks, kids" feel). About a month later, I wanted to print off some chapbooks for local distribution, and obviously a color jpg file wouldn't cut it (not on my budget). I did some searching — I think I did a google image search for "childhood" — and I found this drawing by the inestimable Kevin Cornell.
I emailed him, asking permission to use the art. He read the collection, said he liked it - "I love these little glimpses you put together," he said — and then bam, I plopped it on the cover of my tiny, 50-copy print run of chapbooks.
I like the drawing a lot — like, a lot — because it communicates the stories' central theme: You feel like you're being watched all the time, you don't understand why and you don't know how to make it stop. Childhood is a playground for solipsistic ignorance, and with ignorance comes terror — which, for children, manifests in the perception that others, who can seem as powerful and frightening as monsters, are relentlessly watching you, waiting.
The paradox is that while kids are idiots, they're perceptive idiots, sometimes knowing things without knowing anything at all. They're human beings who are learning to think and breathe and feel, and they don't know how to interpret many things except in the broadest possible emotional ways.
When I was a kid, I always felt acutely aware of everything that was going on around me. I was often confused about the specifics, but I latched on to the emotions very quickly. I didn't know why my Dad would argue with my uncle; I just knew — sometimes, even, without cue — when they were happy and when they were angry. It's a skill adults simultaneously take for granted and assume kids don't have.
Tristan Newcomb, who is a friend of mine and the head of the excellent LUMALIN Productions, offered to review the collection, and I said yes, as long as he was honest. I don't believe he was.
"[B]ecause this is the "reality" of childhood, as opposed to the 'Stand By Me' style of engineered childhood nostalgia, you'll be looking on with disbelief as you're reminded how fiercely aloof children can actually be — possibly in order to accept and endure such a lack of control in their own lives? It becomes a little disquieting at times, but never drifts into that "artificial childhood" of hindsight that most writers employ — and therefore feels more authentic than other offerings in this genre."
Yeah, no, that was way, way too nice.