So, the other day, I’m in the supermarket with my four-year-old, and as we’re turning to corner into the cereal aisle, he remarks, “Hey mom, guess what? There’s a planet that rhymes with mom. You’ll see it on your way to heaven. It’s a surprise.”
People wonder how I can stay home with my kids, homeschool my daughter, and write. And, it’s true, it’s a very full life—often, overwhelming. But, then, there are little gems like this, my little boy making up a planet at Ingles, him riding the back of the cart which I hate for him to do because I’m scared to death he’ll fall. I let him do it anyway since my thoughts at the supermarket go: okay, lettuce, where’s Aiden, turkey breast, where’s Aiden, peanut butter, spaghettios, hurry, almost time to pick Abby up from choir, coffee, eggs, milk, what time is it, green beans, tomato sauce… And, there, in the middle of all that, a planet named Tom.
In his book From Where You Dream, Robert Olen Butler says something I really love about art and the intuitive process: “Art does not come from the mind. Art comes from the place where you dream. Art comes from your unconscious; it comes from the white-hot center of you.”
So, the planet-thing was nothing grand, really. Just a flight of fancy. A blip among a zillion thoughts, impressions, and fantasies that stream through my funny little boy’s mind constantly. And yet, to Aiden, to children, it’s the instinct that’s right. The imagining. That stretch.
We grown-ups, I think—we serious writers, ahem—are too often timid or inhibited or literal-minded to take that imaginative stretch. We dismiss the looming planet gathering at the hazy perimeter at our imaginations before it even fully materializes. I think we would do well to let such oddities, such embarrassing ruminations, capture our focus—even our adoration, our passion, our obsession—from time to time.
So, try this: dream fully, deeply, wildly. Build your imagination as you would a muscle. Work it, stretch it, see just how limber you can get.
Aiden’s planet-fancy, however, isn’t the white-hot center of him: he’s four—I’m not sure he possesses such a thing. He’s all impressions and fantasy and very little experience. He doesn’t possess the intuition one finds with experience, and he doesn’t know how to keep his gaze steady on an imagined thing or a musing or a possibility or a leap of his subconscious long enough to coax it into being. Into something more than a thing to say to one’s harried mother in a supermarket. Likely a ploy to distract her while he loads the cart up with Pop Tarts.
So, then, we have to be both young and old. Given to fantasy and rumination. To wild, ever-impossible imaginings as well to patience and wisdom. Young-hearted faith and old-souled discernment. It takes everything, doesn't it? This writing thing? It takes everything we used to be, every place, every season we can imagine, dream or dread encountering. Young, old. Naivete and experience. Every. Thing.