I am mom to two children aged 11 and 9. Today, I was watching them play in the backyard with neighborhood friends. Wild imagination games so complex that when I asked them about them at dinner it took nearly an hour for them to explain what they had been doing. Do you remember the freedom of play, to become someone else, to transform the landscape (a backyard, living room, bed room, wherever) into a wild raging river, or jungle? Wasn’t it grand? When did we stop doing that?
Rather – why did we stop doing that?
As children we used our imaginations to create new worlds – tiny ones, small enough for Barbie and her friends to inhabit, huge ones where all our neighborhood friends could come and join in. As we imagined and created, we were learning – teaching ourselves the value of things like logical outcomes, fair play, justice, rules, inclusion. We were also fashioning our personal likes and dislikes, giving voice to our true hopes and dreams. We took reality and stretched it to it furthest limits and back again. We were having fun – but we were accomplishing so much more. We were learning how to live in the world by using our imaginations.
As adults, we would do well to remember the imagination of childhood.
One of my strengths is daydreaming. Yes, you read that right. I love to daydream. In my daydreams, I’m the star of my own show and nothing happens without my say so. I have lots of fun in my daydreams – but they are more than goofing off. In my daydreams I am working out problems, rehearsing for conversations I’m nervous about, practicing for radio interviews, working out how I feel about a certain topic or issue. I’m having a lovely time, but I’m getting in touch with my real self and exploring a sometimes difficult world from a safe place.
In daydreaming, I’m also giving full voice to my creative self. The controls of grown-up rules are less stridently applied. The world of “what if” opens at my feet and I’m free to follow the rabbit trails without fear of “making a mistake” or “getting it wrong.” There is no wrong in the realm of imagination. There is only discovery.
Another strength I have is pretending. Pretending strengthens my faith too. Anyone who has written a novel can tell you, stories take faith. Writing without a net is the only way to go. Ray Bradbury said it perfectly when he admonished writers to “jump off the cliff and build your wings on the way down.”
That is the faith of imagination – knowing with all your heart that when you jump off the cliff, you will, at some point, begin to soar. When I am thinking about a story idea, I spend lots of time thinking about what could go wrong for my characters – what challenges they will face. I never bother to think about how I will get them out of trouble. Pretending has taught me that my characters will find their own way out.
The imagination is a wild place – filled with untamed ideas. But it is not childish. It is a place the storyteller feels at home. It is the place where anything can happen – and should. Let’s embrace our forgotten creativity of childhood and bring it into our lives today. Let’s dance in our underwear, sing a song we just made up, giggle at our thoughts, mentally rearrange our landscape, create places only we know how to get to. Let’s give ourselves full, unbridled permission to play, imagine, daydream, pretend, and scribble on the walls of life.