Saturday, January 13, 2007

Sunday Scribblings--Ideas

Behind that placid facade lies a dark secret...from

I suppose you could say I’ve been obsessed with ideas all of my life. The heft of them, big and small, crowding my imagination like so many celestial gumdrops, to be masticated slowly and with great enjoyment.

Unfortunately, for almost as long, I have been tormented by the idea of not having enough ideas. Or not having good ones.

Where did this fear come from? Well, I suppose we could lay the blame on Barbie’s slender plastic shoulders. Barbies, in my house, were a competitive sport. Oh, as the wiser, seven-year-older sister, Punkish Middle Sister often had to be cajoled to play them with me. But it never took long. Secretly, she gloried in the chance to play out some of the nascent dramatics brewing in her own mind.

She would wait until I started spelling forth my own character’s history, and plot line. Wait until she knew my storytelling powers were spent. Then, she’d begin weaving her own Barbie’s tale, one that always seemingly put mine to shame. One that was always, in every way, better. More exciting, more enchanting, more romantic. I was spellbound by her stories, mine seeming pallid and bland by comparison. Inevitably, when I complimented her, Punkish Middle Sister would say something like, “That’s because I have an imagination.” Or something else that implied that I, alas, didn’t have much of one.

Until then, I don’t think I thought about it as having or not having an imagination—I don’t think I believed an imagination could be possessed at all, but was steeping all of us like tea bags, until only the thinnest barrier existed between us and It.

Before Barbie, I loved telling stories using any close by object as inspiration—my Mami’s curvy perfume bottles, pots and pans, the People Who Lived in the Stereo and Knew all the Words to the Songs—anything. I didn’t think to judge these stories beyond the feeling of pleasure they gave me. They were a happy mish posh of overheard (and half understood) family gossip, fairy tales, plots from old Latin soap operas, everything. But after Punkish’s remarks, I started viewing them with a more critical eye. Were they any good? They didn’t seem to have come from me, after all. Not original. Not good enough.

After a while, I stopped sharing my mediocre versions of Barbie’s adventures, and adopted whichever one my sister has concocted. My Barbies became the admiring best friends, the second bananas. My poor Barbies stopped being central in their own lives, and started hanging out on the sidelines.

But I was basically an optimistic child. I had heard a statistic claiming that people only use a small percentage of their brain’s capacity. Perhaps that was true for imagination as well! I would learn how to train my imagination until it was no longer a 70 pound weakling!

I kept lists of my ideas, judging them worthy or unworthy based on some criteria I no longer remember. Whenever I wished on a star, or blew on a dandelion puff, or prayed in church on Sunday morning, I made the same request. Please give me an imagination. Please let me have lots of ideas. Because by now I was thoroughly convinced that not only did ideas have to be creative, somehow, they also had to be plentiful. Failure on either of these fronts meant that my sister was right about me. And even back then, all I wanted was to think of myself as an artistic, as a writer.

I started reading everything I could find on creativity, on brainstorming, on imagination. My search quickly lead me into the thickets of psychology, into the forests of New Age thought, into the palaces of philosophy. These studies absolutely changed the basic ways in which I see the world, and I am the better for them. I’m grateful that I was put on that road.

And yet.

Years later, I still feel this basic lack of ideas. Perhaps I am still judging them unworthy, so swiftly that they don’t even see the light of consciousness. Rationally, I know that it doesn’t have to be a competition. I know that ideas come from all sorts of sources—from the combination of a half-remembered story and today’s newspaper headlines and a line from a poem we read last year. I know that trying to force them is pointless—that we need to be open and receptive, that desperation drowns out the voice of the Muse. And I know that my sister was only trying to bolster her own wobbly self-esteem, trying to be better than someone, and who better than her younger sister?

And yet.

Some part of my imagination remains trapped there. Still trying to come up with ideas that would impress my sister and allow her to view me as a Barbie-plotting equal.

Still trying to feel like enough.
For more ideas about ideas, go here.

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Blogger paris parfait said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

7:17 AM, January 14, 2007  
Blogger paris parfait said...

Your writing is so good, I can't believe you're still worried about your sister's ideas (what's she done with all those ideas, anyway?). Everyone is different and everyone has ideas- it doesn't mean that one is necessarily better than the other, just different. And some ideas need more time to germinate than others. By now you should be well away from your sister's shadow because you couldn't write as well as you do without (a) ideas and (b) talent.

7:20 AM, January 14, 2007  
Blogger Regina Clare Jane said...

That was such an open and honest post, and so well-written. I always thought my younger sister was the more imaginative of us but when I see where each of us are today, it makes me wonder how true that was...
Keep on having your ideas, keep on sharing them- that's what ideas are for...

7:56 AM, January 14, 2007  
Blogger Becca said...

I agree with paris parfait - the writing you post on your blog is clear evidence of the power of your imagination, as well as your ability to convey the products of it to others through your beautiful, luminous writing.

Never mind your sister (or Barbie!) You have worlds to offer that are unique and special because they come from you.

BTW, glad you're back in the blog-sphere :)

8:51 AM, January 14, 2007  
Blogger Cate said...

I LOVE THIS POST! I feel guilty even muddying it with a fumbling comment because it was just so damn good.

Y'know, people generally only compete with someone that are jealous of, someone who they believe has loads and loads of talent and great ideas. I would bet that Punkish Middle Sister had (has) you on quite a pedestal--after all, no one feels the need to top the kid whose most original Barbie plotline is "Let's have Barbie and Ken go on a date."

"Barbie-plotting equal," indeed.

By the way, have you seen those My Scene Barbies? Oh, I'll bet you could think up some wicked plotlines for those girls!

9:23 AM, January 14, 2007  
Blogger Jerri said...

So very, very glad to see you here again. I completely relate to the ages-old competition with a sister, but also recognize it's counterproductive and painful.

You are a wonderful, talented writer. That list of ideas? Actual writing? Just take off. Get it down and out run the critic in your head. You have talent and it shows every time you write.

Your prayers were answered. Believe.

10:35 AM, January 14, 2007  
Anonymous my backyard said...

This entranced me.

10:45 AM, January 14, 2007  
Blogger DJPare said...

Even in just writing ABOUT imagination, you show how strong yours is.

I wouldn't worry about your creativity. Relax and give your ideas a chance to grow, like you did with this post.

All of your posts that I've read have shown me that you are a very good writer!

11:26 AM, January 14, 2007  
Blogger Inconsequential said...


12:40 PM, January 14, 2007  
Anonymous fern said...

Gorgeous post! You've managed to keep a smart, interesting blog going for 101 posts now...a blog simply bursting with ideas on love and life and motherhood, I think the proof is in the pudding...whether you acknowledge it or not, your entire life is full of thought and insight. And I, for one, can't get enough of it! :)

3:47 PM, January 14, 2007  
Blogger Janie Hickok Siess, Esq. said...

Bravo! Bravo!

1:09 AM, January 15, 2007  
Blogger Catherine said...

It is hard to recognise imagination in oneself, because one's own thoughts always seem obvious. What comes from other people is startling and new, because it comes from outside. I firmly believe (in my more confident moments, anyway) that we need to give up struggling for "imagination" and just write what comes. You have plenty of ideas and plenty of talent - but practice will take you the furthest.
Great to see you back here.

5:20 AM, January 15, 2007  
Blogger Ally Bean said...

Is there no end to the problems that Barbie has caused?!

Keep writing what you want to write and you'll leave Barbie (and your sister) in the dust.

7:06 AM, January 15, 2007  
Blogger Amber said...

This poat is WONderful!! You are such a great writer, it is always a treat to read what you write. FREE yourself from these old ideas of not being good enough, because you are. You really really are.


10:46 AM, January 15, 2007  
Blogger Laini Taylor said...

Oh, that sister of yours was a genius of torment. It makes me so sad reading that, but when you've written in the past about the context of your family's life, your older siblings getting left behind so your parents could go ahead to the US, and the feelings they had toward you as a result, it's hard not to feel empathy for your sister, too. These complex relationships at least are very fertile territory for writing. And the idea of Barbies as proxies for those struggles of self esteem, well, it's brilliant. Great post!

12:03 PM, January 15, 2007  
Blogger Rach said...

Sibling rivalry really sucks and just messes up your mind, am in the same loop with my brother at the moment and who's kids get preferential treatment and time wit my parents, it amazes me how we can still compete for worthiness. Am learning to believe in my own abilities more not waiting for others to 'big' me up, it is taking time though! Keep the faith

12:18 PM, January 15, 2007  
Blogger deirdre said...

Based on my reading of your previous posts, you are an imaginative genius my dear. I just hate hearing someone say they have no imagination, or even worse, someone else implying that you have none. Your talent is breathtaking.

5:56 PM, January 15, 2007  

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