One of the great things about having a child is that I have an excuse to watch Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood from the beginning. While my daughter loves the show, especially snapping her fingers to make a “snappy new day,” I often find that Mr. Rogers says exactly the thing I need to hear in my own life and work, and he doesn’t shy away from the hard truths.
We’ve made it to 1982, to the week titled “Mr. Rogers Talks About Discipline.” I confess that my inner child groaned and rolled her eyes when she saw that title, thinking that it was about obeying your parents, blah, blah…but I should have known Mr. Rogers better than that.
It’s about the other kind of discipline. Self discipline, where you make yourself do hard things. Here’s a link to the full lyrics of “You’ve Got To Do It.”
I’d like to quote just a couple of the stanzas here. These are the ones that had me nodding along and (nearly) crying.
You can make-believe it happens, or pretend that something’s true.
You can wish or hope or contemplate a thing you’d like to do,
But until you start to do it, you will never see it through
‘Cause the make-believe pretending just won’t do it for you.
You’ve got to do it.
Every little bit, you’ve got to do it, do it, do it, do it
And when you’re through, you can know who did it
For you did it, you did it, you did it
If you want to ride a bicycle and ride it straight and tall,
You can’t simply sit and look at it ’cause it won’t move at all.
But it’s you who have to try it, and it’s you who have to fall (sometimes)
If you want to ride a bicycle and ride it straight and tall.
It’s not easy to keep trying, but it’s one good way to grow.
It’s not easy to keep learning, but I know that this is so:
When you’ve tried and learned you’re bigger than you were a day ago.
It’s not easy to keep trying, but it’s one way to grow.
Oh, my goodness, Mr. Rogers.
It’s you who have to fall.
It’s not easy to keep trying , but it’s one good way to grow.
I think these are things we tell children, but there’s this persistent idea that as adults, we should never fail and we should be grown.
How silly is that?
As a writer, I fail all the time. I fall all the time. And I try all the time, and I grow all the time. But often I forget that all of that is okay, that it’s expected, that it’s even a desirable state of affairs.
In 1987, I wrote Mr. Rogers a letter, and he wrote back. My mother found his letter in our attic, and now I have it on my desk in a folder I call “Inspiration.”
You asked me where the ideas for our puppets come from and why Daniel Tiger is scared and shy. Courtney, ideas for Make-Believe come from many places, just like ideas for your own pretending do.
I wonder if you ever do some play with puppets? You might like to try with sock puppets or puppets made from paper bags. I wonder what your puppets would be like? What you would think of would be unique because it came from you.
Sometimes, on bad writing days, I imagine how interested Mr. Rogers would be to hear about my work, how he would search for the roots of it in my childhood, ask me if I had always been interested in making up stories about history. (Yes. Ask the kids in my neighborhood about “Medieval Times,” everyone’s favorite game.) He would ask if my own little girl influences my work. (Yes. I want to tell stories that say something I would like her to know, but not in a didactic way, just in the way that all good writing says important things. I try to write books I would like her to have.) He would ask if I ever think about the people who will read my work. (Sometimes. I try to think about the pleasure readers, not the reviewers. But sometimes I can’t help thinking about the reviewers.)
I know all this because I’ve seen my share of Mr. Rogers’ interviews recently.
I got a lot out of watching Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood as a child, but I think I might need Mr. Rogers even more as an adult. Children know to keep growing. Adults sometimes need a reminder.