My mother sent my daughter some square wooden blocks for Valentine’s Day, and this morning I found myself playing with them–while Elena herself toddled away to do something else. I enjoyed the click-click they made when I stacked them, and the satisfying way they nestled perfectly against each other, each a smooth, square cube like the next, each side decorated with a letter or number or small illustration–airplane, snail, ladybug….
These are not Elena’s first blocks: she has some other wooden ones, another classic set with differently shaped rectangles, arches, and oblongs. Though they make the same nice sound when I stack them, I prefer the square ones, immeasurably. I think it’s because I like the symmetry of the square blocks, and the color, the sheer orderliness of them; the other set always make me feel slightly inadequate, like I can’t think of cool enough things to build with them; not so with simple, undemanding square blocks.
Playing blocks with Elena has always made me think of a question one of my college professors once asked the class: “Are you a putter-together-er, or a taker-aparter?” I knew immediately I was the former, not the latter. In fact, I loathed classes and assignments for which I had to deconstruct or otherwise dismantle some piece of literature or art, even if the goal was to put it back together again. I preferred to make connections between books, paintings, and historical events and people….and lo, these many years later, between writers and readers here at YARN.
Like the fact that I prefer square blocks, this putter-together-er-ness is, I think, hardwired into me. And knowing that I am this kind of person, and knowing and respecting that being a taker-aparter is just a different, but equal, way of being in the world, has given me a great deal of perspective and help in my life. Knowing that I like to put things together, for instance, made me an enthusiastic committee member when I was a writing professor–and it also helped me bite my tongue when I had cooperate with a taker-aparter; instead of disagreeing such a person outright, I would use my putter-togetherer attitude to try and find something we agreed on, and go from there.
The knowledge has also guided my writing, though sometimes not in the way you’d think. When I’m stuck in a plot, or with a character, my immediate impulse is always to add something to help solve the problem. Sometimes I’ll make the addition and write pages and pages before I realize that I’m still going nowhere. Then I remember my natural inclination to put together, and ask myself whether the piece of writing really needs a little taking apart–a closer dissection of the character’s motives, perhaps, or the subtraction or rearranging of an event/idea/theme. So yeah, one of the things I’ve learned is that what you are naturally is sometimes not what you need; sometimes you need to practice being the other way.
So what are you: Taker-aparter, or Putter-togetherer?