Have you ever listened to a kid tell a story? They’ll start off with the truth, but halfway through the story, they’ll call out the read-option play from their playbook, which gives them the ability to either continue telling the truth, or exaggerate it.
I’ve been a counsellor to enough kids at camp to know that, most of the time, they’ll exaggerate the truth.
And since they aren’t good at lying, they’ll try and convince you that their story is 100% real. Their tell is that they open their eyes really wide, nod their head repeatedly, and move closer to you.
Can anyone relate to this, or have I just unearthed a groundbreaking discovery?
Kids have wild imaginations. They must. Their inanimate toys rely on them to provide a backstory for their existence.
At that age, they can get away with it. Their imagination is seen as cute, childish, and funny.
But then we all get to that age where it’s not cool to play with toys anymore. Creating a story and mumbling dialogue under our breath as we hold an action figure in each hand, is something we outgrow.
We learn to use our imagination in a different way.
Whether that’s creating scenarios – that will never happen – in bed before we go to sleep, or actually writing them down and sharing them with others.
When adults share their imagination with others, it’s called creativity. It’s a work of fiction. It’s storytelling.
It’s not cute, or childish, though it can be funny. Humour is acceptable at all ages.
If I were to look back on my life so far, I can see a straight line from the days when I wore out the knees in my pants while I played with my toys on the carpet, to the present day, where I sit in a chair, that has lost its soft cushion over the years, and share my imagination through something called a blog.
When I was a kid, I was a big fan of Thomas The Tank Engine. Choo-Choo.
I had all the action figures. There wasn’t a train I didn’t have.
I also liked sports. So, instead of playing with the trains on tracks, I divided the trains into two groups – teams, if you will – and orchestrated a game of baseball between them.
The team captains were Edward the Blue Engine and James the Red Engine because they were the biggest. I made each of them the clean-up hitter in their respective batting order.
I remember there being a train named Mavis. She was a small little diesel engine. A perfect utility player, good for dropping down bunts.
I’d set up the field on the carpet of the family room. Luckily, the couches made a 90 degree angle, which acted as the dugouts. I’d position the trains in the “field” and assign them a position.
The bullpen was at the other side of the room and was marked off by my finger grooves in the carpet. Very official.
The “baseball” would be a miniature puck that came with a Mighty Duck action figure. More on those later.
Anything over the TV in centre field would be a home run. I had it all mapped out.
So there I was, on my knees, with a train in each hand. My right hand held the pitcher, my left hand held the batter.
The train in my right hand would “pitch” the puck, and the train in my left hand would hit it. This is where the multitasking came into play.
If the puck were hit out of the infield, I’d have the train round first base, place them halfway to second base, and leave them there.
Then I’d scurry to the outfield and “throw” the puck in with the closest fielder and force a close play at second base. The umpire was Mr. Conductor.
And when a new train came up to hit, with trains on base, I would have to move the runners, while fielding the puck, and doing play-by-play, all at the same time.
Are you still with me?
If I thought that a pitcher was getting tired, I’d go out to the bullpen and have my relief trains throw some warm-up pitches.
As I said earlier, James and Edward were the biggest trains and would regularly send the puck flying over the TV for a home run. It would always hit the wall and make noise, which caused my parents to ask me what was going on in there.
I don’t think they ever completely knew. My imagination was at work. It was hard to fully explain.
To them, it probably looked like I had my trains out on the carpet, and a few off in the distance behind the lock and key known as a groove in the carpet.
Just Paul and his trains.
I also had Mighty Duck action figures because that was when the animated series of ducks playing hockey was popular. I just Googled them and am having too many flashbacks.
I had a goalie and a really big guy, who both wore white jerseys.
And I had a duck in a purple jersey, who’s name was Duke L’Orange.
I remember in Grade 2, I handed in a mini assignment of some sort where I used “L’Orange” as a character name for something. The teacher told me it wasn’t a real name. I’d like to think I told her she was wrong, but I probably didn’t.
That was the same year I named an ant (our class had an ant farm) after the centerfielder of the Blue Jays at the time, Jose Cruz Jr. I actually wrote that down on paper and submitted it to the teacher.
I’m a very normal person.
But anyway, back to my hockey playing ducks.
Two skaters and a goalie isn’t enough for a game, so I plucked the players off of my tabletop hockey game and made teams.
I’d have one player in each hand and a 5-on-5 game going on the carpet. Again, I would do play-by-play.
Sometimes, I’d have action figures from Space Jam – Bugs Bunny, The Green Monstar – sub in as substitutes. They didn’t have sticks so I turned them on their side and used their legs to pass and shoot the puck.
My imagination could not be tamed.
And finally, when I wasn’t setting up exhibition games between action figures, I was playing hockey against myself.
All I needed was a ball. Fortunately, I had many since I owned mini (hockey) sticks. I wouldn’t use the sticks for this, though. I’d use my hand.
I’d position myself in the net. The “net” was the love seat in the family room, aka the home dugout during my Thomas & Friends baseball games.
My family room was a multi-purpose facility is what I’m getting at.
In my mind, I had no defence. I was the goalie and I was facing five skaters.
Tomas Kaberle and Bryan McCabe were playing the point. Gary Roberts, Mats Sundin, and Alexander Mogilny were the forwards up front.
Yes, all of them were players on the Toronto Maple Leafs. I was Curtis Joseph, the goalie.
My left hand was my glove – it was on my team. My right hand was against me. It controlled where the ball went. I could backhand it across to Roberts, I could forehand it to Sundin, I could drop it back to the boys at the blue line.
I had turned my family room into an offensive zone.
My right hand was doing everything it could to confuse the rest of me and score a goal.
Whenever I got out of position, my right hand would shoot the ball on net, forcing me to make a save.
Again, I was doing play-by-play.
Can you picture that in your head, or is it too strange? Because from my perspective, it makes perfect sense.
These games I played by myself on the carpet were a product of my imagination coming to fruition. It felt like improv, but I didn’t know what improv was at the time.
When I wasn’t playing sports in the family room, I’d sometimes set up my own store. I was a hustler – a swindler, if you will.
I had different displays. There was a section for toys, books, newspapers, and anything else I could make a quick dime (literally) off of. Heck, there was even a lottery stand.
I’d put string across the entrance of the room, to show that my store was closed. My hours were posted on a sheet of paper. We didn’t have a phone number; no operators were standing by.
I guess you could call me a pop-up shop because I always opened and closed within five minutes.
My parents would buy some items and select their lottery numbers. I’d bag their items and send them on their way.
And then I’d “draw” the winning lottery numbers. How did I do that? I wrote down the winning numbers myself, making sure that there would be no winners. I worked hard for my 85 cents, I wasn’t going to give it back as a lottery grand prize!
No one would win the lottery, the store would close, and I’d go retrieve the items my parents bought and put them back where I kept them.
Told you I was a hustler. I made money and recouped my items for nothing.
I bet they don’t teach you that in business school.
That was me as a kid. That’s how I channeled my imagination. The make-believe sporting events between action figures, hockey games against myself, and a convenience store that was never up long enough for an auditor to ask questions.
I did other things, sure, but these were the ones where my imagination was most at work.
Now, as an adult, I find myself blogging and sharing my imagination and creativity with all of you.
I scare myself sometimes at how quickly my mind can piece fictional stories together. I scare myself at how easily some ideas transfer from my head to the computer screen in front of me. There really is no thought process. It’s all instinct.
I’d like to think those instincts come from the fictional playground I created in my family room. Because if not, I’m probably a wizard.
Our imagination allows us to create things that don’t yet, or may never, exist. And yet, we can get lost in our own storytelling, sometimes wishing these fictional scenarios in our mind (which keep us up at night) were real.
Perhaps, this is our adult-way of dipping into our old childlike tendency of exaggerating the truth and creating things that aren’t there.
Or, perhaps, it’s within these fictional scenarios that we finally see our true self and who we aspire to be.
As for who we become, I can only imagine. So can you.