Monday, June 9, 2014

Devour the Rainbow

Tucked in the corner of my childhood living room stood a puke green bookcase. It was nothing fancy. In fact, it was the exact opposite of fancy. Old, cheap wood, ugly as sin. But that bookcase was my gateway to the universe. There were probably only 100 books, but to a kid, it felt like the Library of Congress.

The Berenstain Bears, Frog and Toad, Dick and Jane, Dr. Seuss, Shel Silverstein, Richard Scarry. The list went on and on. I don’t remember the first time my mom read me a bedtime story, but I do remember spending hours huddled by that green bookcase devouring tales of hungry caterpillars, generous trees, and boy detectives.

Those virtual adventures stirred my soul so much that I began writing as soon as I could spell. In the third grade, I wrote a weekly mini-series about a crime-fighting pup in a red cape. It began as a class assignment, but Superdog became my muse. I’m afraid to tell my wife how much I would pay to track down the original copies of those short stories.

Years later, I started a family newspaper with my niece called The News Express. We covered the news that mattered—that night’s dinner, updates on the lost remote control, who won yesterday’s whiffleball game—you know, the hard-hitting stuff. We were forward-thinking pioneers, of course, getting out of the newspaper business decades before the print media bubble would burst.

Throughout the years, I also discovered television, movies, theater—anything that kept my storytelling fire burning. I read more, wrote more, and, on more than one occasion, found myself obsessed with great stories.

I would get lost in my own head. Up there, I could create any world my imagination could fathom. As a child, those worlds revolved around game-winning home runs, saving the universe from evil space monsters, and holding hands with pretty girls. As I grew up, both life and my imagination became darker, more complex, and less innocent. School, work, and daily chores left little time for dreaming. And when I did have time to create, my imagination had become so atrophied that the stories were mostly flavorless versions of what could be. Like a snow cone without the cherry syrup.

But then I met a group of friends who wanted to tell important stories. Stories that sparked hope and action. Stories that empowered the oppressed. Stories that woke up the comatose. Stories that changed lives. And the more time I spent with those friends, and the more we dreamed together, the strangest thing began to happen. I sprang to life.

Writing, painting, photography, poetry, singing—they all trick us into thinking creativity is born in isolation. “Lock yourself in a room and get to creating!” your overbearing brain demands. But that’s a lie. Or, it’s at least a half-truth. I do my best storytelling with a group of friends. They don’t necessarily sit in the room with me as I type, but they read, edit, encourage me, and offer invaluable feedback. And I do the same for them. We do a creative waltz that leaves me energized and makes me a better writer.

Hands down, the best part of joining a creative community is seeing what my friends are creating and getting goose bumps because it’s all so amazing, and cool, and fun, and soul-nourishing, and did I say amazing yet?

If you want to create, you can accomplish great stuff locked in a room by yourself. Many have and many more will. But I promise it’s not as fun unless you’re sharing the journey with a group of friends. Your snow cone transforms from a colorless ball of ice, to a beautiful shade of red, to the most magnificent rainbow of dazzling colors you can imagine.

Still don’t believe me? How about rainbow sherbet? Way better than any one sherbet by itself. Getting closer? You think Fruit Loops would be as good if it was just Grape Loops? Okay, here’s my clincher. For me, it was stopping by the concession stand after playing Little League Baseball, but it could have been the pool for you, or a post-soccer treat, but everyone on this planet knows the greatest drink ever invented is the Bomb. It goes by many names depending upon your age and geographical location, but whatever fountain drinks the concession stand served, you just mixed them all together and drank in the liquid perfection.

I rest my case. More flavors = better results.

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