“I love books,” he said. “And isn’t it funny that little black marks on paper can be so good? Pieces of paper and little tiny black marks and you’ve got a story.” (Axline, 202)
Let me tell you a true story about another true story…
(psst… if you’re wanting to check out the vlog, click here!)
I have always loved books, they have long both provided solace and entertainment for me. From the time I was little, I was fascinated by story. Yet somehow–as evident by my constant “another book on my shelf for years” remarks–I never read this story. Which is funny, because, the title, Dibs: In Search of Self has always ignited a spark of interest in me. I’ve always thought it to be a peculiar title; and the book itself: it’s old, the front cover is missing and the back cover is tattered. Its pages are filled with musty old-book smell. My favorite.
I only actually sat down to read it this week. Dibs is the story of a young boy in New York in the early 1960s. It is told by Virginia Axline, famed child psychologist and therapist to Dibs. He is a peculiar child, he seems, on one hand, to be very advanced for his age, but at the same time, he can behave very infantile. His parents, accomplished academics/scientists, have essentially written him off. His teachers see potential but are at a loss about how to unlock it.
Then there is Axline, Ms. A. She agrees to observe the child, to try and help him through play therapy. Once per week for nearly a year, she and Dibs spend an hour every Thursday. Normally, he is told what to do by his parents, by his teachers. Normally, he is afraid and resistant, confined by various guidelines set by everyone but himself. But when he is in the “wonderful playroom,” it is as I said I wanted it. As you said you wanted it. As we said we wanted it.
It is in this playroom that Dibs finds himself. It is in this playroom that Dibs processes long forgotten feelings and previously unknown ones. It is in this (literary) playroom that we as readers find ways to relate to Dibs.
It is clear that the child did not have the most happy of formative years.
Even if you had the happiest, extroverted, and confident of childhoods, I truly believe that you would find some way of relating to him. For example, the playroom’s sandbox becomes both a motif of the book and a refuge of Dibs. Axline makes an observation that while he liked playing in it, the sand (initially) made him uncomfortable. I found myself giggling at the mental image she paints, for I too, love the idea of sandboxes but don’t care for them in practice–too messy.
Similarly, I felt kinship to Dibs and his love of reading. How finding new stories–true or not–is exciting. How it’s even more exciting, and more importantly, cathartic, to tell one’s own stories. To create worlds of your own in which you can be you, as I want.
So, even though this is an older book; even though this is, arguably, a classic book in the psychological community–my mother herself used this worn copy for a collegiate psych class, sko Buffs–it has the ability to resonate.
We hear all the time of people trying to “find themselves,” maybe they’re a moody teen (it’s not a phase, Mom!) or someone moving on from a breakup. We’re all constantly muddling our ways through life, to some degree confined by others’ arbitrary guidelines. But this is a book that encourages play, encourages hope, encourages self and self confidence and self expression.
This is a book of humanity.
And for that reason, I cannot recommend it highly enough.
That’s all I’ve got for now. Be sure to look out for next week’s blog/vlog on Love by Leo Buscaglia.