Creating connections through the arts and across cultures

William Steig’s Question as conversation starter: What Would You Rather Be? The “What If?” game.

In today's New York Times Connections section, Edward Rothstein writes a marvelous article: "Worlds Outfoxed by a Wily Inner Child" about the current exhibiton at the Jewish Museum (later to appear in San Francisco) titled “From The New Yorker to Shrek: The Art of William Steig."

The catalog tells the story of from the artist’s daughter of a game her father used to play with her: “What would you rather be?”

Would you rather be a tree (sturdy, long-lived, a home for birds) or a flower (a short but exciting life, carried in weddings, pressed into books by princesses)?

What would you rather be “a knee or an elbow?” Or more adventurously: “A pinch of pus or a pile of puke? A scab or a wart?”


This is "a great way to teach children of all ages to weigh the disadvantages or advantages" of different states of being and also to empathically identify with these different states.

It's also a great game to school a writer's imagination, as Steig's career as New Yorker cartoonist, illustrator, and children's books (begun at 60 and going on almost to his death at 95 in 2003).

Of course, what might happen if you really got your wish? What if you really did have the power to transform yourself into a stone or a doorknob? It's the What If? game.

So, Dear Readers.....What If? What would you rather be? And, what might happen if you really got your wish?

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2 Responses »

  1. I've been playing the What If game all day. I've been the first woman govener, a finalist on Survivor, the mother of ten wonderful boys, a well read and successful author, among a few other things. So far, nothing has stuck and I'm still playing your game, Janet. I have some good fodder for a poem, that starts out, "If I could step outside of myself, what would I (be, do, say, etc)"

  2. I would rather be a book, shared from one person to another so I can tell my story. I would teach people, make them laugh, cry or escape for a couple of hours from their pain/humdrum lives. I would inpire people to grow beyond their realities and to see n

    I would sit in a library for months and years uniterrupted, waiting for that special person thirsty to hear my story. I would be read aloud in gatherings, my being gaining life as the words leave the readers's mouth.

    The problem with being is book is that paper is fragile, and can easily be torn. Or a reader could drop me in her bath (while she's soaking), erasing important parts of my story.

    Worse, someone could decide that I'm actually useless, and either use my pages to light a fire, or just tear me away and throw my pages away.

    Even if that happens, my story stays in people's memory, sometimes teasing their minds with word associations, making them laugh at unexpected moments..

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