Monday, October 29, 2018

Devour the Rainbow

Tucked into the corner of my childhood living room stood a puke green bookcase. It was nothing fancy. Old, cheap, ugly. But that bookcase was my gateway to the universe. It held less than a hundred books, but to this kid, it felt like the Library of Congress.

The Berenstain BearsFrog and Toad, Dr. Seuss, Shel Silverstein, Richard Scarry. I spent hours huddled by that green bookcase devouring tales of hungry caterpillars, generous trees, and boy detectives.

Those fictional 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 would pay a hefty sum to track down the original copies of those short stories.

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

I later discovered television, movies, theater—anything that kept my storytelling fire burning. I read more, wrote more, and found myself obsessed with great stories.

I got lost in my own head. Up there, I could create any world my imagination fathomed. 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 matured, 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 flavorless versions of what could be. Like a snow cone without the cherry syrup.

Along the way, I met friends who wanted to tell important stories. Stories that sparked hope. Stories that empowered the oppressed. Stories that made people laugh or helped them escape the real world for a few hours. And the more time I spent with those friends, and the more we dreamed together, the strangest thing happened. 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!” But that’s a lie. I do my best storytelling with a group of friends. They don’t sit with me as I type, but they read, edit, encourage, and offer invaluable feedback. And I do the same for them. We dance a creative waltz that leaves me energized and makes me a better writer.

If you want to create, you can accomplish good stuff locked in a room by yourself. But sharing the journey with a group of friends is more fun. Your snow cone transforms from a colorless ball of ice into a magnificent rainbow of dazzling colors.

Rainbow sherbet is way better than any one sherbet by itself. You think Grape Loops would be as good as Fruit Loops? Remember stopping by the concession stand after playing Little League Baseball, swimming at the community pool, or enjoying a post-soccer orange slice? Everyone 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 mixed them all together and guzzled the liquid perfection.

The evidence is clear. If your creative life feels stale, just add more flavors.

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