Archive for the ‘imagination’ Tag
“Go to bed, Santa is watching.”
“Don’t hit your brother, Santa will put you on his Naughty list.”
It’s terrible. It might prompt a quick change of behavior, but in the long run all it does is get them way too excited for Christmas Eve. Just yesterday my three-year old asked me, “Is Santa’s magic coming tonight?”
The worst part about this particular method of persuasion is that I get this niggling feeling that by invoking the name of Santa I am somehow manipulating the magic of Christmas, and that thing that is so innocent and pure and unquestioning in my little children: belief.
I know there are people who don’t share the Santa myth with their children at all. They don’t want to confuse their kids. Or lie to them. Or make it difficult to ascertain the difference between belief in magic and faith in God. But the time is so brief in a child’s life when they are open-hearted and wide-eyed enough to let magic be real. Their belief in magic is precious and fleeting, and I want my children to let it fill them up inside with wonder.
When the magic is gone, something is lost. Like the line from J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan: “Every time a child says, ‘I don’t believe in fairies,’ there is a fairy somewhere that falls down dead.”
My eight-year old daughter seems to recognize this. She is on the brink of relinquishing her belief in Santa, only she doesn’t want to lose the magic. Tonight she asked me to recall a fabricated story from a Christmas past when I’d ‘allegedly’ heard the bells on Santa’s sleigh. “Did you really hear them, Mom?” she asked.
“Yes,” I responded in my ongoing effort to keep the illusion alive. “Because I believe.”
She turned her little face up to mine and said with a wistful voice, “I almost believe.”
It pulled at my heart. The waning of the magic. And her desire to hold onto it for as long as possible. She went on to tell me about a friend at school who has an elf come visit her house every December. “He feels like a stuffed toy,” my daughter explained, “but he’s not. He’s real. He moves all around the house and watches everyone. He’s Santa’s helper.” I could see how delighted she was by the idea of a magical elf, but even more, the importance she placed on her friend’s belief that the doll was real. “Maybe,” she told me, “we could invite an elf to come to our house. Then I would believe.”
She doesn’t want to let the magic go. And I wish she didn’t have to.
But I did. I used to be just like her: convinced of the reality of fairy-folk and all their particular brands of magic. And what I have learned is that even after she loses the fairy-magic, life will continue to bring her another kind of magic, in unexpected ways that are much more enduring than fairy dust. Magic like mine: a little girl with freckled cheeks who wants with all her heart to see the things inspired by her imagination. And even though she won’t be able to continue believing in St. Nick, she’ll find other things to believe in. Things that are more real than he could ever be. Belief might be harder to come by as she gets older. It won’t always be sunny and bright. But I am convinced – and this is my believing - that the wonder will still be there, waiting for her to find it.
At the beginning of the school year I told my fourth grader’s teacher about my writing background and offered to help with writing in the classroom. I was thrilled when he asked me to come in twice a month and teach thirty minute writing lessons to the kids. Last week was my first lesson. I decided to start at the very beginning of the writing process: the idea. We made a list on the board of all the places we can get creative ideas from if we are paying attention. The list included: people we know, things we have seen, the news, conversations, dreams, our imagination, asking the question ‘what if?’, experiences we’ve had, and memories.
I showed the kids a small pile of notebooks where I have recorded my ideas over the years. I told them the story of how J.K. Rowling was riding on a train when the idea for Harry Potter came to her. She didn’t have a pen or paper to write it down so she spent the train ride letting her imagination flow. But on her blog she wonders if she may have forgotten some of her original inspiration because she didn’t write it down.
I handed out notebooks to each of the kids. I asked them to use the list we’d made on the board, and write down ten ideas. I gave them fifteen minutes to work on their lists, and then I collected the notebooks. The next day I had so much fun reading through their ideas. The ingenunity in those notebook pages! I have to admit that I was a little bit jealous of all that unbridled curiosity and imagination.
Here are some of my favorite ideas:
What if you read a book and it really happened?
What if Earth was bigger than the sun?
What if there were no animals on the planet?
What if the sky was always blue and never had a cloud in it?
What if school was ten hours long?
A world where mathematics was the only language.
A witch who replaces Santa Claus and is even better than him.
Trampoline time travel.
A black widow spider that is five feet long.
How to train your werewolf.
A boy who is a bully and has no friends. When he is mad the sky turns red.
There isn’t one idea that is the best. They are all so good. So full of wonder, interest, and creative potential. I can’t wait to see what else will fill up the notebooks in the weeks to come.
I’m back. And I have ten minutes before my kids get home from school. But I’ll take it, because between Thanksgiving travels and upcoming Christmas travels things have been a little crazy around here. Impossible, really. Impossible because life is so busy, and impossible because my kids are so HYPER. But it is snowing outside today, the world is beautiful, and I am cranking Christmas music nonstop.
While I’ve been absent from my blog, I have been working on my young adult novel (no – there are no vampires). I’m so close to the end that it is both thrilling and terrifying. Thrilling because it is turning out so much better than I ever could have planned. Terrifying because I have so much hope and anguish tied up in it. It is precious to me!
I started this book way too many years ago to honestly confess, but here is a clue: The second semester of my senior year in college I was workshopping with Andre Dubus III. He was trying to get us to open ourselves up to our own creative potential – to unlock the imagination and let it take our writing places we might never go without it. I had been trying all semester to script flat stories where I made my characters say things or symbolize things that I wanted to communicate, and it wasn’t working. By the time Spring Break arrived, I had nothing.
I was married my senior year of college, but my husband was busy at a high-intensity consulting boutique and couldn’t take any time off during my break, so I bought a ticket to Italy and went alone. I spent the week quietly traversing the crooked, busy streets of Florence, hiking through the terraced hills of Cinque Terre, and eating tons of food with my friends in Padova. On my return flight to Boston, I had nothing.
So I closed my eyes, used every effort to block out the very loud tour group seated around me, and tried to lose myself to my imagination. In my mind a scene opened up. It was an outdoor Italian market. There was a fruit stand, full of ripe oranges. And then a girl appeared. She reached her hand out toward the oranges, took one, and ran out of the market, disappearing down the crooked alleys. That was my idea. I couldn’t believe it. My imagination had given me a shop-lifter. But I decided to trust it, and here I am, a decade later, finishing up a story that is just so beautiful to me I can hardly stand it.
Thinking about it on my way home from the preschool drop-off this morning I realized that there were three crucial components that initiated this long, laborious, rewarding process. The first was the deadline. I have come to be very grateful for deadlines. The second was the imagination. I had to take the risk of letting my creative side have precedence, even if just for a moment, before I could do anything real or resounding with my writing. The third was the focus. The willingness to trust the creative part of me and pursue it. Years later I find the same three things to be absolutely necessary to me accomplishing anything: deadlines, imagination, and focus.
The kids are home now, looking for mom. Which brings me to this admission: my deadlines are always flexible, my imagination is most active in the shower, and my focus runs in short, madly sprinting spurts!
The other day my six year old daughter approached me dressed in her pink fairy wings, a tiara, black kid gloves, and carrying her toy doctor kit. “Well, hello,” I said.
Writing is something that I do compulsively. It is how I bring order to my own little corner of the universe, how I connect to what I am inspired by but don’t always understand. It has always been that way for me. But if it hadn’t been for a workshopping experience with Andre Dubus III ten years ago, I might never have had the courage to call myself a writer.
It all started my senior year of college, sitting at a long table with a dozen other undergraduates, all of us looking as wet and scared as newly-hatched chicks. Oh, I think we were each doing our best to look like the proverbial fox in the hen house, but we were all just chickens. And if one or two of us were better than the next person at playing otherwise, the illusion didn’t last long.
The problem was that the Creative Writing Department at my college was ridiculously small. Each semester 500 or more students applied for some fifty spots in small writing classes, which could be anything from poetry to personal essay. I had been trying for three years to get into a fiction writing workshop. So maybe I was feeling a little insecure. So maybe I was the one with the biggest fox-grin on my face that day.
Until our instructor, the magnificent Andre Dubus III, joined us at the table, shuffling a bundle of loose papers in front of him. He glanced up at us casually, and then annihilated us all by telling us, “The reason I picked you for this class is you all sounded the most desperate.”
I wasn’t offended or even embarrassed. He was right. I was desperate. And somehow acknowledging that is what gave me the confidence to put myself out there — to begin to try and master something as incomprehensibly hard and incalculably rewarding as writing. As the course continued I learned that the ability to be terrifyingly honest was a trademark of Dubus’. He would challenge us to go deeper, push harder. At times it made my stomach lurch with fear.
Last week I was going through some old files and found the notes from a one on one critique I had with him at the end of the course. His advice to me was just as inspiring and terrifying as ever. ’Surrender more’. ’Trust the imagination more’. ‘Don’t think about it. Dream.’