Imagination is magic.
How could I ever doubt it?
I remember those days we sat on the dirty floor of the dark classroom pouring over your iPad early in the morning every week while all the moms were busy. We would play a hundred games on that device, everything from solving puzzles and serving hamburgers to swimming sharks.
But there was that one game – it stuck with me for ages after the classroom was abandoned as we grew up and graduated into chores and school.
There was that one game, boxy graphics of lurid green grass with a squatty little pixel person, waiting to be moved. You pushed the button, the box appeared, and you typed in “wrench.” And a wrench appeared. We typed in “hammer” and a hammer appeared.
We tried everything we could think of. Fries. Hamburgers. Sword. Dragon. With every press of ‘enter,’ word became reality and idea materialized. Through the character we ran around gleefully and collected the items and hit them together, then explored the cliffs with the top hat we donned to find a castle and prisoners to free with whatever genius method we thought up out of thin air.
The possibilities were endless.
It was so romantic. So perfect. So glorious. To have every slightest item at the most last minute demand. At the thought, to make a dream a physical fact.
I was so jealous of the little thirty pixel man, his sleek suitcase in one hand and a golden key in the other, ready to conquer.
Sometimes it feels like nothing could be so far from the truth. Life is life. Dragons don’t appear when you simply say “dragon.”
As much as you spend your time, curdled up in a corner, soaking in a distant world with white witches and epic battles and codes of honor and chivalry, you still find that the icy scenes melt and the fog of the mysterious mountains fade and everything’s back like it was before. Only now you’re sitting in a dark room, the sun long gone. Your foot is asleep and your eyes are aching from the strain. Not to mention, you realize you’re hungry, but there are dirty dishes in the sink to clean first.
You return to everyday life, more stale and slow, for the realization that it is Christmas! …but only once a year for a meager 24 hours and it never manages to snow on December 25th.
This week, starting on Monday, I returned to school. Except for the fact I felt I had never truly left it long. December was fairly busy with Mock Trial and driver’s ed and a trip to Nashville. At the beginning of the month, I had made this plan to write a poem every day – whether it be two lines or ten. I wanted to write at least something and try to capture little tidbits of insight at the end of my day.
Monday I basically decided December had already ended.
With a few spurts of two or three over the entire month, I managed to have fourteen messy poems. I looked at them as a collection, (not daring to look too closely) with a small smile of satisfaction, for the ideas behind them and the way they make me think (even as 99% of them are in a distressingly unreadable and entirely unsharable state.)
I closed the document, knowing that I had finished, and left it behind, and returned to school.
However, that was not the end of it.
That night my family went to get pizza together and my sister and I decided to share a salad, knowing that salads at restaurants are mountainous mounds with deep caverns that never end.
Even sharing though, the dish was not finished. All the pieces of gyro meat had been consumed, and all that was left was half a bowl of greens and fetid cheese sprinkled throughout, and one or two grape tomatoes. My mother said it could be saved, so I asked for a to-go box and filled it up.
At one point someone asked why I was saving it, “What are you going to do with that? It’s just lettuce and kale.”
“It’s my box of potential,” I blurted and looked down at the plain, greasy, everyday white-foam to-go box and suddenly felt strangely defensive. “Just you wait and see,” I continued, “tomorrow for lunch I’ll add so much to it. I’ll fix it up and it will be glorious.”
In the car on the drive back, clutching the box in the dark and watching grainy black shapes blur together out the window, I couldn’t stop hearing the phrase over and over in my mind.
My Box of Potential.
My Box of Potential.
Just you wait and see.
As soon as I got home, I found an index card and wrote my fifteenth poem for the month:
I own a box of possibility, it’s bottled up inside. Why of course it’s empty! The contents are up for me to decide. Of course you don’t see anything, because many good things look like nothing. This is my box of potential ready for me to become imaginationial.
This week I was reminded of that small pixelated man from so many years ago and I realized that to this day I have been writing words and watching them become “fact.” I say “dragon” and one swoops down toward my characters. I say “fries” and they appear at my character’s table.
But even more importantly, I say “adventure” and I go live life.
Sometimes fantasy is merely fantasy. Elves are elves, and petite high schoolers dragging backpacks of Algebra and Biology, who stayed up late the night before and in the morning had no time to fix their frizzy hair, are petite little high schoolers in the end with a towering stack of vocabulary to memorize as the closest thing to a foreboding castle to conquer.
But imagination is a practical magic. You don’t have to be “the special one.” You don’t even have to own anything special.
Look around, you have paper clips and jute string, a handful of markers, some smashed earbuds, a half-forgotten notebook, and a handful of friends.
Where are your big ideas, plans, grand adventures? Your treasure coves to plunder, prisoners to save, dragons to summon?
Right there if you want. It’s called living.
Keep your head up. Keep marching forward. There are worlds to build, people to discover, and gifts to give.
Listen, everywhere you look? There is a box of possibility. And all you need to open it? A little bit of magic.
Happy first Saturday of 2o2o, my friends!