I’ve been busy cleaning out my parent’s attic over the last few weeks. What I’ve discovered up there is nothing short of a trip down amnesia lane. Many of my old toys are up there, including a lot of action figures, dollhouses, and Fisher-Price play sets. As I take each one down and look it over, I’m reminded of how I used to spend hours camped out on the floor, playing with these little people, in my own world of stories.
I didn’t always play with each toy as prescribed. I had a huge imagination and I was forever using the doll house as a funky space station, or Barbie’s camper van as an interstellar vehicle for my Star Wars action figures. I put the green army men in the Fisher-Price plane and dropped them into the Death Star. I was a weird kid.
But I knew kids who were weirder (at least I thought so). There were plenty who took their toys apart and put them back together, either as they were supposed to be or in some “improved” form. There were some who loved to set stuff up and destroy it. What do all of us have in common?
We’re all now in careers that require imagination and creativity.
I’m a writer. Some of my friends who shared my play style are now actors, musicians, and designers. Those kids who liked to take stuff apart? They’re engineers designing amazing gadgets, theme park rides, and computer programs. Others (particularly the destroyers) are in movies and TV, working in special effects and animation. I think it was likely clear to all of our parents early on that we were going to be creative adults. Looking back at the ways we played, I don’t think we had any other choice, unless we wanted to live a life of misery not doing what we were meant to do.
No one looks at me funny for running around the yard with an X-Wing in one hand and an airplane in the other and screaming, “Pew, pew,” at the top of my lungs as I stage a major battle scene.
Then there were the kids who played with everything using the assigned script. The school was a school. The doll house housed *gasp* actual dolls. The Star Wars action figures only enacted plots from the movies. These kids didn’t have much imagination, or they were discouraged from using it. Where are they now? Many of them are lawyers, mathematicians, or doctors. Okay, they might have money, but their jobs follow the same narrow scripts that their play did. There’s nothing wrong with any of these less-creative occupations (unless you put me in one of them), but they are more linear than being a writer, designer, or actor.
Until I started cleaning out this attic, I never really thought about how I may have been destined to be a writer. Mostly I’ve always assumed that it was an accident. Now, when I think back to how I played with my toys, I see that everything centered around creating stories. I moved my dolls and action figures around the play sets, creating elaborate scenarios and, really, whole novels around their exploits. Each day the story would build. I remember coming home from school and literally saying to myself, “Last time…” and summarizing the story so far. (Yep. I watched too much TV and listened in on my mom’s soaps too often.) Then I’d add on to the story, moving everyone around, giving them jobs, battling armies, and giving everyone new friendships and romances. It was like the analog version of The Sims.
Of course, back then, I kept it all in my head. Now I keep it on the page.
The idea of picking up dolls and moving them around inside a doll house or play set is foreign to me now. I remember spending hours sitting on the floor doing just that, but as an adult I can’t see myself doing it. I guess that’s what happens when you grow up. You lose touch with that part of you that relishes the tactile nature of play. Either that or you move it to other hobbies. (Perhaps that’s the reason that I’m a board gamer. I still get to move stuff around, only now it’s an adult-sanctioned hobby instead of playing in a dollhouse. Hmmm. I’m learning more about myself every day.)
Regardless, I’m still creating stories in my head. Now they come to life as novels and short stories instead of action figures in a play set. I still come home and think to myself, “Last time…” and recount the story so far before I start writing again. Then I plunge in and give my characters jobs, friendships, romances, and the occasional battle scene. It’s just like old times, only no one looks at me funny for running around the yard with an X-Wing in one hand and an airplane in the other and screaming, “Pew, pew,” at the top of my lungs as I stage a major battle scene. (Then again, I tend to talk to myself while I write, so there have been some funny looks over the years.)
I’d like to think that my stories make more sense now than they did all those years ago, but I’m not always sure. There are times I look at a draft of something and see a piece that looks an awful lot like Star Wars action figures in a Barbie camper van, rolling through interstellar space. But that’s what makes it fun. If that craziness doesn’t work for the story, I can just create something more sensible, just as I did when I took the action figures out of the camper van and actually put them in the Millennium Falcon. And sometimes crazy works and gets to stay, just as it did in my play time.
The point of this musing is that it’s funny to look back and see how the stuff you thought was just play was actually formative. When you’re a kid you don’t realize that how you play with your toys may indicate what you’ll be when you grow up. But one day you look back, take that trip down amnesia lane, and see that it all makes sense. You weren’t weird or crazy. You were just destined to be creative and to see things your own way.