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Toys and My Imagination - Body by Henson, brain by Seuss. [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Kelly J. Cooper

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Toys and My Imagination [Nov. 22nd, 2008|03:00 am]
Kelly J. Cooper
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When I was a kid, toys always ended up being quite disappointing because they could never really DO all of the fantastic, imaginary stuff that I wanted them to do. So, after the glow of NEW wore off, I'd get frustrated with them and with my own ability to... I dunno... articulate what I really wanted? MAKE them be what I really wanted? The challenge was to find some way to play with the new toys without constantly reminding myself what a huge freakin' disappointment they were.

Drove my parents nutty, because I'd beg for something for months, then get it for Christmas (OH BOY!), play with it for a little while, then ignore it. They'd spent the money on what I wanted, and yet it was never what I really wanted (because I was a kid and had no idea what I really wanted). This was impenetrably confusing and wasteful as far as they were concerned, especially since I couldn't explain it.

Well, I'm an adult now. And I still want THINGS. But I'm not sure why I want certain things in particular. I'm beginning to suspect that some of the objects are representational - mental stand-ins for the things I DO want, but that I don't really know that I want. Sort of like having a craving with no idea what the craving is FOR, but more expensive.

Thinking back, some portion of my TOY-BASED desire was for entertainment, like cartoons, but playing out in front of me in 3-D, using scripts that I came up with in my head, with each character having his or her own personality. So I wanted the smurfs to walk around and climb on the elaborate string jungles I created, while staying in character, but playing out the scenario in my head. I wanted the little plastic horses to run around my floor and the dragons to fly across my room and the doll house to have secret passages. At the very least, I wanted the damn plastic doggie to fit in the bed I made for him. Everything was different sizes, on different scales, and nothing was able to do much more than stand there.

I also wanted to create things with some substance that was permanent, but flexible, and the creatures I made to have strange new shapes and powers. Play-Doh and paint didn't cut it - they never looked like I imagined them to look, and they'd crack and fall apart. They certainly never ran around.

At the other end of the scale, mouses and lizards and bunnies weren't really much fun. They ran around, they ate, they pooped and peed. Sometimes they bit me. Whatever subtle personality traits they might have had were lost on my clumsy child consciousness. Also, although I didn't realize that I wanted this, they didn't do what I WANTED them to do. They just did whatever was natural/normal for them (which is fine, of course; my expectations, or rather my hopes, were clearly the problem).

Another part of what I wanted was to have adventures MYSELF. The playing was a way to act out stuff that I wanted to do. We DID travel a bit and go camping and learn new stuff, but there were never mysteries to solve, or aliens to save, or secret passageways to explore, or hidden societies to discover. We didn't live in a treehouse. The library did not have a secret basement full of magical books. Neither I nor any of my (few) friends were long lost heiresses. None of my pets talked to me, or communicated in mental imagery, or liked to perch on my shoulder and hang out with me.

I think that the toys I liked best were the ones that helped me to PRETEND I was a spy or a pirate or an explorer, but they didn't make me into any of those things. And all the adventures I had were in my head.

Even now, when I travel, much as I love to see new things, eat interesting food, interact with people who's points of view are so different from my own, I sometimes wonder where The Plot went. No one ever secretly stuffs a microchip* in my bag, entangling me in Plots Of International Intrigue. I never find DO NOT ENTER signs** to go around, enabling me to discover wonderful treasures.

I suspect that my urges to be prepared, to know how to get through various situations, to know how to survive in the wild, how to navigate the Tokyo metro, how to bandage a wound, how to speak enough Italian to get a decent meal, how to find comic books in Paris, are all in anticipation of THE BIG ADVENTURE. What if I get THROWN into THE BIG ADVENTURE and I have to cook enough spaghetti for 20 people and I don't know HOW! That would be TRAGIC! What if a spaceship lands and offers me a chance to explore the universe and I don't have my Swiss Army knife in my pocket? That could mean the difference between LIFE and DEATH in OUTER SPACE!***

What the hell is my point? I don't know if I have one. Am I wasting my time learning random skills I may never use? I went snowshoeing a couple of years ago and it was just AWESOME in and of itself, and I found myself REALLY WANTING SNOWSHOES. Not necessarily because I'd get to use them all the time, but JUST IN CASE I NEEDED THEM. I know how to snowshoe, should I ever be trapped in an Arctic Adventure. Given my ability to figure stuff out, I could probably even MAKE snowshoes, if the Arctic Adventure came without equipment. But if I had my OWN snowshoes, I'd be PREPARED.

Why do I want to improve my whittling skills? Become a better cook? Learn to speak Italian? Get good at lock-picking? Re-learn sewing with a machine?

Partly because I might need any one of these skills someday.

But the problem with someday is that it's not TODAY.

Why do I want to learn to navigate by compass? Because I MIGHT NEED TO someday. But also because I suspect it would be cool and fun and might help my hopeless sense of direction. I think I need to consciously acknowledge the urge toward preparedness JUST IN CASE, but shift my focus to learning these or any other skills because I want to and because I'll enjoy the process and the results.

I need to think about what would I really LIKE to learn rather than what's the next most useful skill.

* Now that we're in the future, I guess it'd be a USB stick rather than a microchip.

** Mostly the DO NOT ENTER signs I've encountered hide unfinished museum exhibits and broken toilets. Yes, I have checked.

*** Because I'm sure that aliens, capable of surviving the vagaries of the universe and having mastered interstellar travel, can't open a can of beans without hurting themselves. I could teach them! I'm very proud of my can opening skills.**** I could even make my own can opener with some sheet metal and a pair of tin snips. That's got to count for something, doesn't it?

**** By which I mean the ability to open a can one-handed with the little can-opener on my Swiss Army knife, a skill which I developed on purpose. Seriously.

From: i_leonardo
2008-11-22 11:32 am (UTC)
in Julie of the Wolves the protagonist makes snowshoes in the arctic wasteland (not that i'm an enabling SOB or anything ;-)

if you want some international adventure that will test your coping mettle, launder your passport shortly before your homeward-bound travel date.

seriously, though: you function best when you have a deadline, any chance the thirst for adventure is related ? engineer some challenges for yourself, like writing a feature-length article about finding a good meal in saigon. or working in a refugee camp for a month or going on an outward bound trip.
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[User Picture]From: metagnat
2008-11-22 01:35 pm (UTC)
I have a lot of the same urges and desires (and the same disappointment). I guess I haven't really given up on it, though sometimes I think I should. Mostly I avoid thinking too much about the urges, because if I do, I'll lose a major motivator for me. If I don't have this notion that one day, something dramatic might happen to me, then my life will feel more pointless and rat-raceish than it already does.

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[User Picture]From: madbodger
2008-11-22 02:40 pm (UTC)
I started out in a similar spot, but ended up going in a different direction. My dad was a tinkerer, but not a terribly effective one. This actually was a useful life lesson: Go ahead and try things, even if you'll probably make a mess of it. So I did. My toys disappointed too. They didn't do what I hoped they would, and they usually broke quickly. So I'd try to repair them. Then I'd try to modify them. Then I'd try to combine them into something new and interesting. These traits persisted my whole life, becoming a fondness to pick up new skills. Which is why I fix my own cars, rebuilt my house, sew, do the kind of gardening that uses a chainsaw, and design and build my own art and electronics (and, recently, electronic art projects). I, like you, don't want to be caught out missing a needed skill. One insurance is picking up lots of skills. Another, more subtle, one is the ability to just give it a try, prepared or not. That, and knowing how to fall without hurting yourself, and basic first aid.
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[User Picture]From: liralen
2008-11-23 02:51 am (UTC)
Eh... I love learning... *laughs* I keep doing new things ALL THE TIME... and usually not to the top of a learning curve, once it gets 'easy enough' to do well, I stop and do something else.

This was profitable at one time in my life, but now I just... do it for the fun of doing it, experiencing it, and it's really useful for writing, actually...
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[User Picture]From: wonderreader
2008-11-23 02:30 pm (UTC)


so is THIS the big allure for people who like those on line computer games??? The ability to make a character, who has to actually DO something in an imaginary world AND has adventures to boot?? Not quite little horses running along the floor....but closer.
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[User Picture]From: drwex
2008-11-24 01:40 pm (UTC)

Re: toys

Yes. It's quite a bit of that.
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