When I was a girl, I would often lay in bed at night and cry. The subject of all my little-girl angst? It sounds silly to say, but I was afraid to grow up (my parents read the story of Peter Pan to me one too many times, perhaps?) In truth, the prospect of growing up was appalling to me because I was convinced that when I “grew up” I would lose a part of myself that I treasured… my creativity. I was convinced that as I got older, I would no longer love to play pretend and dream up worlds of make-believe. It feels strange to recount that time in my life… are there other little girls who were as serious (or melodramatic) as I was then? I’m sure there must be. All I know is that I mourned for the loss of that part of myself, before I even lost it.
I was twelve years old the last time I ever played make-believe, or wrote a fictional story for the sheer pleasure of writing it. When I was twelve years old, we moved away from my childhood home, I started a new school and by the next year my parents had divorced and we were living in New York City. Although I can’t pinpoint a specific incident that led me to stop creating, my belief that I would lose my imagination as I got older became a self-fulfilling prophesy.
It has taken me twenty-three years to realize that my little girl self was wrong. Somewhere along the way, I was lied to and I believed that lie. I became convinced that age would destroy my creativity and it in many ways it eventually did, because I believed that it would.
Have you ever felt yourself driven, urged, compelled to do something that you can’t explain? I was telling a friend the other day that for a while now, I’ve been feeling driven to write. About what, I don’t know. I spend hours – literally hours – after the kids go to bed just sitting in front of the computer, staring at the screen. I pace around the house with this need to write, my hands and fingers twitching with the urge, but nothing coming forth.
Today, I was reading a book called Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert and was completely overwhelmed by two little sentences. She writes:
“… Kate had an idea for a novel that actually made her feel excited. The book she wanted to write seemed so cool, so twisted, and so strange that she thought it might genuinely be fun to do it.”
In that moment, my little-girl self flashed before my eyes. I saw her sobbing alone in the dark and I realized, for the very first time: It was all a lie. That little girl didn’t have to give up her creativity. Sure, maybe My Little Pony would have gotten old at some point, but creativity never had to die. Why did I stop making up stories? Sure, I continued to journal and I obviously still write, but the last time I made up a story for the sheer pleasure of it was as a twelve year old girl on an old typewriter my mom bought for me because she saw my love for writing. It’s funny, because my entire childhood was made up of days spent in front of that typewriter, lost in my own little world of make-believe and then one day I packed it up and never touched it again. Somewhere along the path from childhood to adulthood, I decided that fictional writing wasn’t noble or sophisticated or mature enough and I never made up a story again.
This wasn’t a conscious decision on my part. After all, I still read and love fiction and I certainly don’t think fictional writers are less noble or sophisticated than their nonfiction counterparts. It’s just that somewhere along the way, I lost my own willingness to create and imagine and dream in that way.
I believed the lie… and then I lived the lie.
I don’t want to live that lie anymore. I want to sit down and play make-believe again. Maybe I won’t break out the teddy bears and the My Little Ponies, but I want to pretend again. I want to create worlds and realms, I want to invent silly things and serious things and let made-up people take me by the hand and lead me where they want me to go. It seems insane to me, to realize that it’s been 23 years since I’ve done so.
I want to dream again.