As children, we tell all kinds of stories. We talk to our imaginary friends, and they answer us. We take our friends on all sorts of adventures. But as we get older, we are inevitably yanked back to the “real” world by our family, friends, peers, teachers, bosses.
Over time, if you don’t use a skill, it becomes stale and rusty and can eventually be lost. Writing stories is a skill, just like most others. I’ve spent the last weeks trying to nurture that storytelling skill and combine it with my ability as a writer. Too often, our imagination is quashed in the day-to-day activities in which we must be “adult” enough to get along in the world. The images that run through my head can make me laugh out loud at the most inappropriate times, so I’ve learned to disregard some of my best ideas, much to my chagrin.
I’m ignoring that impulse more and more these days, to try to rediscover the spark of creativity that got me started all those years ago.
I got to spend some of this past week with some of my favorite little people—my grandchildren. They have the best imaginations, and I love to play games with them because they always make me laugh when we do. I played memory Go Fish™ with the youngest, and Munchkin® with the older kids. Usually, one of the kids would win, not because I let them mind you (they’re smart enough to know when I’m giving them the game), but I get outplayed because I’m a NiceGuy™. They will gang up on me if I’m winning then turn around and cut the figurative feet out from under a sister, brother, or cousin to win the game. The object for me is not to win, but to be able to lose graciously and laugh at the outcome—after all, it is just a game.
But winning and losing at “just a game” is an essential lesson. It teaches that not everything in life will go your way. It teaches how to get along with others, and how to compete—sometimes fairly, sometimes not.
I played a lot of games with my siblings when we were kids. With my father in the military, we moved regularly, so my siblings and I had to get along. When we moved someplace new, we always had friends when we arrived—each other. We still get along (more or less), and even can agree to disagree on some pretty tense issues. It’s because we learned how to respect each other while playing games as we grew up.
But I digress, where was I?
Oh yeah, nurturing that imagination.
Sometimes I’ll have three or four of the grandkids up for a sleepover at grandma’s house (don’t ask, between the two of us, we have a small army). The fantastic part is that they all but ignore us and play with each other. I love listening as they play with the toys that we keep around for them. The stories that come out of their playtime are inventive, and I wish I could remember what they come up with. I’ve also made my house a safe place for the older kids to become children again and use their own imaginations.
I remember being in my early twenties, married, trying to live up to the wifely expectation of the day (failing miserably), and missing the little kid in me. I was too busy “adulting” to give in to any kind of time devoted to Play. Those are the memories that let me provide that safe space for the eldest grandkids to get down on the floor with the younger kids and play with the little doll-like anthropomorphic caricatures we bought just for them. It’s hard enough being an adult, so an occasional respite seems like a small thing to provide.
I spent a day last weekend playing my rogue-turned-cleric D&D character with the older members of the family—all in the pursuit of nurturing that imagination. The rest of the week, I’ve been trying to organize that game into something I can eventually turn into a story.
As you know, I’ve been learning Scrivener. So far, it’s been a great tool to keep my projects organized. I’m putting everyone’s game notes into the interface. I have part of my character’s story already added to the tool and have been transcribing notes into the Character Sketch section of the interface. I want to capture the different points of view, so everyone’s game notes are helpful to me that way. I should be able to extrapolate a character from even the sketchiest of notetaking.
The bottom line is, if you don’t nurture your imagination, you’ll lose it. I almost lost mine, but kept coming back to the keyboard, the vestiges wanting desperately to hang on to what was left. The fact that I am giving in to those remnants tells me that I’m not ready to let them go, I’m willing to let them bloom and thrive. The question is, am I prepared for the sacrifice that will come with that shift of perspective?