That Time My Creativity Died

I don’t remember exactly how old I was when my imagination abruptly abandoned me, but I remember it being somewhere in the mysterious land of Middle School (though I was apparently lucky enough to hold onto it for so long).

B.L. (Before Loss), I would have trouble getting to sleep, and to pass the time I found imagining myself as the protagonist in some popular or original plot to save the world was much preferable to counting sheep. I would pretend to be a mermaid in the swimming pool. I would spearhead rousing imaginary adventure games on the playground with my fellow students. From the top of the jungle gym I would hoist my make-believe pirate sword and holler, “Take no prisoners!”

A.L. (After Loss), I would attempt to recreate the pseudo-dreamworlds that had made it so easy for me to fall asleep, but I just couldn’t come up with scenarios I was happy with and ended up slipping into sleep silently and dream-less. Pretending to be a mermaid felt childish and uncomfortable. I lost my imaginary sword somewhere under the mounting piles of textbooks and overdue homework.

This was a gradual decline into my bland teen years. Sure, I was creative; I excelled in the arts. I took three foreign languages in my high school years, on top of band, chorus, and orchestra. I passed all subjects with flying colors (except for my art class out of pure spite, which is another story). I had the ability to create, yes, but all imagination was gone. There was no wonder or exploration or “What if…?” It was a watered-down version of my previous imaginary magnificence.

There were probably plenty of other emotional catalysts for the destruction of my imagination, and I could probably spend hours outlining them all, but I think the main problem – the Bruté – was my intense desire to grow up.

Every kid in the history of ever has probably expressed the desire to be an adult, like, NOW, at least once in their childhood.  Once I’d felt I’d grown up enough, though, I looked back at my childhood and lamented the loss of my imagination. I wondered if that was normal for everyone, or if it was just some weight I’d hastily (and mistakenly) discarded to make the ascent to adulthood quicker.

It definitely made babysitting awkward. A three-year-old could ball up some yarn and stick a popsicle stick through it, dip it in glitter, and suddenly they have a roaring torch with which to explore “caves” and “tunnels”, which were often just made of couch cushions and blankets. I couldn’t see the caves; I only saw the couch.

“Look, Mags! It’s a flying dinosaur!”

“….You just threw it through the air, though.”

“No, no! It’s a flying T-rex, see?!”

I probably crushed a few kids’ dreams in situations like that. It’s not that I refused to see, I just couldn’t see no matter how hard I tried. Tyrannosaurus couldn’t fly.

During the months I was pregnant and over-worrying about the future like most parents, I wondered extensively how I was going to kindle my daughter’s imagination when I had none of my own. Could I keep her creative and full of wonder without actually imagining things for her?

In the first year of her life, it was rather easy. Newborns and infants are pretty freakin’ easy to entertain; they like bright or contrasting colors, pretty music, and tickles. And, oh, man, do they love new things. Every time I saw something I didn’t think she’d gotten to explore before, I handed it to her. I talked to her. I described it to her. And when her little chubby cheeks squeeze out a giant grin just for me, I felt something grow in me.

It was impossible to not be inspired by her sense of wonder. Everything was new to her! Things I’d taken for granted for years, like the feel of dew-wet grass on bare feet, or the sound of crickets at dusk, or the tingly cold of a hunk of snow, these things all caused her to laugh and clap.

So when she began toddling (and immediately running), and she lost interest in her rattles and push-toys and started grabbing for the Little People toys and stuffed animals, I automatically handed them over, and I watched.

She put toy cars in the barn where the toy cows were supposed to go. She put dolls in drawers where her clothes were supposed to go. She put socks on her hands instead of gloves, and pants on her head instead of a hat. And the whole time, she giggled and squealed and stomped her little feet.

Today, she’s just over twenty months, and her vocabulary is exploding. It seems to me that she knows a ridiculous amount of words. She’s finally beginning to use sentences.

“Mama, ‘ook! ‘Ook, Mama! Horse is fly!” she cries cheerfully as lifts her toy horse and pretends it’s flying through the air. I laugh and clap with her.

Because of her, I’ve been able to rekindle my childhood imagination. She’s taught me how to be a little kid again just as much as I’ve taught her about the world.

Horses can totally fly.


100+ Things I Want to Teach My Children

Or:  I Don’t Know When to Quit

Recently a blog post has been floating around [again] about 100+ things the poster wishes to teach their daughter. There were a few points I liked, but many things I didn’t. I decided to come up with my own version, and this is the result.

I’d once made a list like this consisting of all sorts of random things I’d picked up in my first fifteen years of life, and a couple of them actually made it onto this list. The vast majority have been discarded in favor of things that agree more with my current state of mind. If I do this again in ten years I’m sure the list will be, once again, radically different (though hopefully shorter).

Note: I do hope common sense is at least implied. For example, with this one: “You owe no one your time, feelings, money, or body.” Obviously, if one takes out a loan, one owes money; please remember, these are boiled-down life lessons aimed at my children. I’d have a lot more money than I do now if I hadn’t been afraid to say no to friends constantly asking to borrow it over the years.

    1. Making your bed is worth it – I promise. So is tidying up your room.
    2. Be passionate about your education, and keep it well-rounded.
    3. Question everything, even sources. Even me. Never stop asking questions.
    4. “Yes, speak softly and carry a big stick. But don’t mumble. And don’t swing the stick.” [?]
    5. You can’t take back something you’ve said, not even by saying “sorry” or “I didn’t mean it that way”.
    6. You should always have the following things in your home: books; plants; a filing cabinet; candles; a first aid kit; music.
    7. 10% of your income should always go straight into savings, even if you don’t know what you’re saving for.
    8. Your monthly rent should never be greater than 1/3 of your monthly income.
    9. Everything in moderation (even moderation).
    10. Religion and sexuality are personal things and you can choose to share them with as many or as few people as you like.
    11. Your body is your own, no exceptions. This includes your haircuts and your clothes. That said: take good care of it – teeth, brain, heart, the whole body. You only get the one (…we think).
    12. Don’t let your regrets turn into obsessions. You can’t change your mistakes and, someday, you might not even want to anymore.
    13. Any genre of music will have at least one song you like; don’t rule them all out prematurely based on one you didn’t. The same applies to food, books, movies, video games, and pretty much everything else in life.
    14. Clean up your own messes, both literally and figuratively.
    15. It’s called a “break-up” because it’s broken.
    16. Don’t lie; the consequences are often way worse than if you had told the truth.
    17. Never stop moving, dancing, running, jumping, and singing.
    18. Never be blind to race, gender, sexuality, class, ability, age, or any other group. You can’t understand someone’s struggles if you refuse to see where they’re coming from.
    19. Recognize those things, but never ever allow them to change how you treat someone.
    20. Never go through your partner’s digital or physical property without their consent. Basic privacy is a right that is not nullified in a relationship.
    21. Being a good person is not easy, nor is it externally rewarding. That’s the way it should be. If you’re getting cookies, you’re doing it wrong.
    22. It’s okay to not have a “BFF”.
    23. Always wear clean underwear.
    24. Trust your instincts, and use your common sense.
    25. You can enjoy problematic things – just make sure you don’t ignore or make excuses for the problems.
    26. Never, ever, ever, let anyone abuse you mentally or physically. Never, ever, ever, abuse someone else mentally or physically.
    27. History is important.
    28. Arrogance is not the same thing as confidence.
    29. Always tell your loved ones that you love them; you never know which time will be the last.
    30. There’s no upper age limit on childhood.
    31. Dress at least as well as your immediate superior at work.
    32. Apologize correctly if you mean it. “I’m sorry what I said made you feel bad” is not at all the same as “I’m sorry for what I said.” But if you don’t mean it, don’t try to apologize.
    33. Honesty doesn’t need to be tactless.
    34. “No offense, but…” is still offensive. “I’m not ______ist, but…” is still ______ist.
    35. Intersectionality matters.
    36. Ignore ads and marketing.
    37. Good humor does not hurt people and does not come at the expense of others.
    38. Morality comes from humanity and from the desire to not be an asshole.
    39. Neither gender nor sex is binary.
    40. Romantic, platonic, and sexual attraction are three different things, and they don’t have to correlate.
    41. If you’re not sure, don’t do it. If you are sure, double-check.
    42. Never start a fight – but if you or someone else is being hurt, finish it.
    43. Love does not hurt, nor make demands.
    44. Respect people’s identities.
    45. Everyone is beautiful on the outside, but their inside may or may not be.
    46. Driving a stick-shift and basic car maintenance skills are two very good things to know.
    47. Even if you do your banking online, keep a physical ledger to balance your money. Everyone makes mistakes, even computers.
    48. Always keep an updated resumé and a simple, tailored suit, just in case.
    49. You are entitled to be safe, happy, and loved; everything else you must earn.
    50. Give the benefit of the doubt; life is strange and weird things can happen.
    51. Don’t be afraid to admit when you’ve been wrong, even if it was five seconds ago.
    52. Never move in with a friend without a notarized roommate agreement no matter how long you’ve known them.
    53. It’s okay to change your mind, even at the last second.
    54. Never stop examining, affirming, or questioning your own opinions. You didn’t know last year what you know now.
    55. If someone puts a social adjective between the words “my” and “friend”, they’re not someone you want to be friends with.
    56. Learn about reclaimed slurs and never use one unless you have a right to reclaim it yourself – and, no, ‘permission’ from a member or two of the group that does have that right still does not give you the right.
    57. Speak up for (not over) marginalized people.
    58. Don’t treat humans as your own personal Google. If you have invasive questions and you’re not extremely close friends, ask the internet and read up.
    59. Be diplomatic with authority, but don’t blindly trust it.
    60. Know your rights in all things from traffic stops to tenancy.
    61. You can be the best driver in the world, but someone else can still hit you. Wear the damn seatbelt.
    62. Stereotypes are worthless.
    63. Never get someone’s name or likeness as a tattoo unless you’re related by blood or they’re a historical figure.
    64. Know your limits and occasionally challenge them, but on your own terms.
    65. Relocate bugs, don’t kill them.
    66. A reason and an excuse are two different things.
    67. Always use a minimum of two forms of sexual protection, no matter your gender.
    68. Success involves both luck and hard work.
    69. If you’re early, you’re on time; if you’re on time, you’re late.
    70. Hope for the best; plan for the worst.
    71. Learn to recognize gimmicks.
    72. Never pay someone to do something you can do well on your own, but never be afraid to admit you need a professional.
    73. Never date a coworker or get involved with a person already committed to someone else.
    74. Do not cook with wine you would never drink.
    75. Being the bigger person hurts in that moment, but feels great in the long run.
    76. Everyone has both talents and flaws.
    77. Never ask someone to do something you won’t, but it’s okay to ask a friend to help you do something you can’t.
    78. Never tip less than 20%. If there’s a reason you should, take it up with the manager; if there’s a reason you must, don’t eat out.
    79. You have value and worth, always. Nothing will ever change that.
    80. You owe no one your time, feelings, money, or body – even friends or family.
    81. Bow ties are cool.
    82. Everyone has a story, especially strangers, and especially elderly people.
    83. Don’t gossip.
    84. Porn lies.
    85. It’s okay to be afraid, but don’t let that be your reason for holding back.
    86. Nothing could ever make us love you less. Nothing could ever make us love you more.
    87. BMI has nothing to do with health. An overweight person who eats and exercises well will always be in better health than a thin person who eats poorly and never moves.
    88. You’re probably not eating as well as you think you are.
    89. Give to those in need, no strings attached. Even if it’s just a bottle of water on a hot day, it makes a difference. If it’s five bucks, it’s no longer your concern what that money is spent on.
    90. If you see something that isn’t right, be the first to say something.
    91. Don’t slander the dead.
    92. There’s no such thing as a “bad word”. There are, however, rude, offensive, and insensitive words.
    93. Know how to handle yourself in a classy situation, but know when to cut loose. Don’t mix the two.
    94. If you’re going to argue with your partner, do it in private.
    95. Friends are the family you choose.
    96. Never go anywhere without a knife.
    97. In any kind of relationship, be very clear about your wants and needs, and listen to those of your partners.
    98. Coercion is not consent; unconsciousness is not consent; if it’s not an enthusiastic “yes”, treat it like a “no” and respect it. Forget “no means no” and replace it with “yes means yes”. You are owed this same respect. I really cannot stress this enough.
    99. People do not exist for your amusement, entertainment, or pleasure. You don’t have the right to hassle them, shame them, or belittle them in any way – even if you think they’ll never see it.
    100. The internet is forever. Do not take nudes under the age of 18 for any reason whatsoever; that is legally dangerous for both yourself and anyone who sees it even years down the road.
    101. If you do it as an adult, never include your face or identifying marks.
    102. If someone gives you consent to enjoy their body in any fashion, you do not have the right to pass that consent on to someone else, even after a horrible break-up — as in, no sharing your ex’s pics.
    103. Be kind to animals.
    104. You really can do literally whatever you want; the catch is that you are also free to face the consequences for those actions.
    105. Legal and illegal have little to do with right and wrong.
    106. Mental health is just as important as physical health.
    107. Do not make a promise you are not absolutely sure you can keep.
    108. Linguistic prescriptivism is not, and never will be, cool.
    109. If you get lost, find a recognizably religious building (church, mosque, synagogue, etc) of a chapter you’ve heard of. It’s safer than knocking on a random house.
    110. Don’t insult others. Don’t respond to insults.
    111. Lose graciously.
    112. Humans make mistakes, including (but not limited to): teachers; doctors; lawyers; police officers; parents.
    113. Always carry some sort of camera.
    114. If you can’t learn at least one alternate language, learn several key phrases in multiple languages (and not just “¿Dónde está el baño?”).
    115. If your partner cheats on you, they’re not a good partner. There’s no other reason.
    116. Not all disabilities are visible.
    117. Write thank-you notes for every gift you receive.
    118. “Ma’am” and “Sir” are for everyone, not just people older than yourself. It’s general respect. That said, if someone asks you to not use those terms, ask for an alternative and stick to that.
    119. Find your “spot”, that place that brings you peace and calm; I suggest the library or the park.
    120. There’s never a good reason to say, “That’s not my job.”

What are some of your own Rules of Life? Tell me in the comments!