Author Amy Fusselman [Photo: Amy Fusselman]
1. Your work tends to be intensely personal, even when you're taking on subjects that might seem impersonal at the outset, like the philosophies of space and play for example. I think there are a lot of writers who struggle with giving themselves permission to write creative nonfiction because it seems too personal. Do you ever find yourself struggling with this, and how do you deal with it?
This is a great question. I feel that part of my passion about Savage Park is related to what you are asking about here. I do think the freedom to be creative is very hard for people to hold onto. It gets shut down at an early age.
In D.W. Winnicott’s book, Playing and Reality—which I read as part of my research for Savage Park—he includes the following passage in his chapter on adolescence. I love this paragraph so much and have been trying to quote it as often as possible as a public service:
“If you do all you can to promote personal growth in your offspring, you will need to be able to deal with startling results. If your children find themselves at all they will not be contented to find anything but the whole of themselves and that will include the aggression and destructive elements in themselves as well as the elements that can be labelled loving. There will be this long tussle which you will need to survive.”
I really want this concept to make it into the public at large. The very common idea that if you are doing a good job as a parent, your children will be less trouble: so often this just isn’t true. As parents, don’t we want to raise our children to be whole people—people who have access to all their emotions, who are alive and awake to all the beauty and possibility—and yes, the tragedy—of life? I hope so. Savage Park encourages this.
But I digress! To answer your question: I don’t struggle too much with giving myself permission. I struggle in trying to edit well. If the work is personal, I want it to be so for the right reasons.
2. Reading Savage Park, I was reminded of an amazing park in the city where I grew up called Brigadoon Park. The amazing thing about it is that it has three enormous cement slides that have been there since they built the park in the 1970s. All of the neighborhood kids know to slide down the slides on pieces of cardboard, even though there's a sign prohibiting that exact thing, because it makes you slide down about 10x faster—so fast that it's impossible to land on your feet and you usually fall hard into a sharp pile of tanbark. I wouldn't call the slides dangerous exactly, but they're definitely unforgiving. You kind of have to learn where the limit is, and sometimes that can only happen through minor injury. I've never seen any other parks like Brigadoon Park probably for this exact reason. Do you think American parents and children could benefit from more spaces like these?
What city is that? I was in San Francisco this summer and was told about a park I didn’t get to visit, at Seward Street. It sounds similar. The Seward Street slides were designed by a 14-year old (!!) and built in 1973 (pic below).
But the short answer to your question is: Yes!!
Seward Street slides [Photo: teamboost]
3. There's a great anecdote in your book about how your toddler Katie greets inanimate objects by saying "Hi!" Do you think there's a difference between how children and adults approach space? What do you think changes?
I do think children, and especially young children, who are just learning to navigate space, are more open to the concept that it’s a medium with properties of its own. I think we adults are more prone to just seeing through it to get to what we want. It’s stopped existing for us. I write in the book that play is a state of consciousness that we are born into, and it decreases as we age. I think that’s part of it. We lose that flexibility in how we experience. We have to work at it if we want to keep it.
4. I loved the documentary "Man on Wire," so it was especially enjoyable to read about your interactions with Philippe Petit. Do you have any insight about the way "PP" (as you refer to him in Savage Park) approaches space and play? What do you think enables him to take on such incredible feats—like walking on a tightrope between the World Trade Center towers—that most of us would never even consider?
I love that movie as well and was so happy to take that wirewalking class with him. In class he referred to himself as a “tenacious little rat” and I thought that was an interesting image. I’d say he has that approach to his artmaking. He is absolutely relentless in his efforts to bring his artistic visions to life. But that fire is balanced by a very disciplined and methodical approach: a profound respect for space and objects. PP can be a fantastic clown—but he is in no way the fool. He is an incredible artist.
5. I was reminded a little of Rebecca Solnit's Wanderlust while
reading your book. Are there any specific titles that you looked to for inspiration or background research while writing Savage Park?
I did read a lot for Savage Park and besides the Winnicott book I quote above, I have several others that I love. One is Johan Huizinga’s Homo Ludens. It’s an overview of the play element of culture, and it has a lot of fun asides in it. For one, Huizinga felt that professional sports had completely lost its play element and suffered from over-seriousness. And he wrote that in 1938!
Amy Fusselman will sign and discuss Savage Park: A Meditation on Play, Space, and Risk for Americans Who Are Nervous, Distracted, and Afraid to Die on Friday, February 13th at 7pm.