So what changes as we get older?
First, we read less. We may read longer, more complex books – but we read fewer stories, in general. We settle into a familiar routine of favorite genres and authors, losing out on a diversity of voices unless we make a conscious effort not to. Second, life becomes “real and earnest,” as my mother used to say. Imagination takes a back seat to work, keeping house, making sure the kids eat their veggies and the bills are paid. Third – and I think this is the most important one – we become self-conscious. We judge ourselves as harshly as we imagine others will judge us.
This is the Golden Rule in reverse, and we are cruel little playground bullies about it, sometimes. Instead of merely coming up with a fresh take on an old idea, we imagine it must be something wholly unique, astonishing, and marvelous – an offering worthy of The Reader. We are Readers, too. We forget that, for a moment. We forget just how many times the Cinderella tale’s been told and recrafted since Perrault first published it – anonymously – in Paris, 1697. We forget just how much it is still loved, even today, as we watch Pretty Woman for the third time. We are not kind to ourselves.
We should judge ourselves as we judge others. Not as we imagine they judge us, and in our darkest moments of imagination, find us lacking.
A background in technical writing has gifted me with a thick skin. My reaction to red ink – when the criticism or correction is fairly put and reasonably accurate – is usually a relieved, “Oh, is that all?” It’s never as bad as you imagine it’s going to be, when you press “Send” or “Publish.”
We worry, too, that our imaginations have grown dull and boring. That what we find fascinating or funny will be met with blank looks and awkward expressions of pity.
Lately, the best cure I’ve found for that is to watch a few episodes of College Humor’s “Jake and Amir” with my son. I am the one with the blank looks and awkward expressions of pity; he finds them endlessly amusing. Apparently, millions of YouTube fans agree with him; there’s a TV show in the works. I’m pretty sure Jake and Amir don’t care what I think. The key take away? No writer’s work is universally loved. So what?
“So what?” my Muse interrupts. She’s slurping neon green apple Gatorade from a Mason jar. “So what? I thought you prided yourself on honesty.” She laughs, shakes her head, and threatens to call me out on Twitter.
She opens up her laptop and begins to type.
“Fine! I want to be universally loved and critically acclaimed! Are you happy, now, you lazy excuse for a no good Muse!?”
She shrugs, gives me a little smile, and closes the laptop. “Get to work. Just twenty-four more stories to go.”
“You’re the one who stooped to lying and name-calling.” She gives me a smug little self-satisfied grin, hands me a copy of A New Leaf for Lyle (how’s that for driving the point home?) and goes back to raiding my refrigerator. I don’t know why some people profess to adore their Muse. I generally can’t stand mine, and I have two: Fred and Prunebutt. But I suppose I hardly need some gentle flower of a mythical Greek demigod when what I really need is a good swift kick in the rear to write.
The Story a Day challenge has been that, and it gets easier – imagination is, apparently, a muscle. It atrophies with disuse, but does not disappear.
Here are the stories, so far, if you’ve missed any:
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