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Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Imagination of Children

Terry Gilliam has a new film that's coming out soon, and that's almost always a good thing.

He was interviewed recently about the movie, and was asked about why his films tend to perplex movie critics. Rather than saying, "Well, I suppose my films must be very perplexing to people who aren't very bright," like I would have said, he instead answered thoughtfully and eloquently,

"Over the years they want their films to be neatly packaged with a nice narrative that tells you exactly where it's going all the time.

I fight that, because I suppose I'm still trying to make movies for myself when I was a kid and I was constantly surprised by what was going to happen next. People would then say, 'Oh, it's incomprehensible.'

It's only because they don't have the imagination of children anymore."

The imagination of children.

If I were Christian, on this Christmas Eve, you can bet that's what I'd be asking Santa for. Put it under my tree or in my stocking or in my pocket-- slip it into my right ear canal while I'm sleeping, curled up against my wife, holding onto her for dear life.

When I look at all of the accoutremonts that we "adults" feel that we "need" in order to be entertained-- I seriously want to stick my head in the sand and vomit continuously for ten or twenty minutes. What happens to us? What becomes of that innate ability to fantasize and create something magical from pipe cleaners or Lincoln Logs? Scissors and paper.

What happened?

When you get older, you get to call yourself "creative" if you can write a monologue or paint a picture of seagulls or fiddle-dee-dee on the violin at a pub's open mic night. But is the "art" that we sophisticates create-- the Herman Miller aeron chairs and Afro-Hebrew fusion music-- just piss-poor substitutes for the otherworldly, unobtainable, and unfathomable creativity that spawns effortlessly from the brain of a child?

Were our best, most expressive and creative days spent toppling over in the grass wearing lurid striped shirts underneath corduroy Osh-Kosh overalls?

I get very hot under the collar when I listen to interviews or read biographies of artists or musicians who state that they are at the absolute apex of their creativity when they're stoned off their porch on mushrooms or irradiated Kool Aid or Nixon-era Velveeta that's been left out in the sun. Is that what creativity is, I wonder to myself, you hitting the sauce and seeing what kind of mind-drippings you manage to plop onto a page or into a microphone?

And then I think to myself-- maybe they're trying to reach back into something long forgotten, long, long ago. Maybe these people are trying to get back to their childhood brains, to see what shards of their former, more "free and unfettered" minds they can retain or reawaken.

I don't know. Maybe my blog would become revolutionized if I blogged while shitfaced. But I doubt it.

People who have reached the point in their lives where they're referring to themselves as grown ups often bemoan certain admittedly regrettable aspectsof becoming a grown-up. Yes, there are bills to pay-- easily the number one complaint of twentysomethings. Yes, there is the curse of greater social awareness that comes from exiting the college bubble and realizing that there are actually bigger problems in the world than your meal card being depleted or being closed out of "Theoretical Analyis of Oral Sex in Non-Western Civilization." Yes, you have to watch your parents age and forget where they put things. Yes, you have to deal with them constantly asking if you're seeing anybody, getting married, having a kid, having more kids, are getting a better job, moving into a better neighborhood, have a 401-K. These things, somehow, they never forget.

But the single most lamentable fact of growing older is that your imagination, no matter how "creative" you consider yourself, how many pithy Facebook status updates you can come up with in an hour, how good a blogger you think you are, how earth-shattering your thesis on Andy Warhol is, you'll never be a fraction of the engaging, inspiring, wonder-struck being you were when you were a child.

Back in the Osh-Kosh days.

I once read a blog somewhere, I don't remember-- maybe you wrote it, and it was a letter from the blogger to its child version. I wouldn't bother writing my child version a letter, because he wouldn't be able to read it, even though he was pretty precocious, and he wouldn't sit still long enough for me to read it to him.

It would be very long: trust me.

He'd be far too busy for me anyway. I wouldn't know what to do with him. No, I wouldn't write him a letter, but I would just kind of like to hang around him, for a while, and watch. I'd like to watch him, and I'd be invisible if it would be too creepy, if that would make it okay.

I'd love to watch him practice his funny faces in the mirror, and practice his prat-falls in the doorway. I'd love to watch the 6-year-old me fantasizing and preparing to grow up and be Peter Sellers.

I'd love to watch him in his sport coat and tie, sitting at his 1970s-era metal desk, hunched over a pile of haphazard papers, reciting invented, whining monologues about airplane travel and the cost of coffee, fantasizing and preparing togrow up and be Andy Rooney.

I'd love to watch him memorizing the New York City Police Department radio's 10-codes and practicing arrest and search procedures on his stuffed animals, fantasizing and preparing to grow up and be a police officer.

I'd love to watch him sitting on the floor in his sweatsuits and socks, chatting with truckers on his CB radio.

I'd love to watch him drawing rudimentary and strange comic books about a balding businessman whose dog talks and whose car is constantly in for service.

I'd love to watch him dressed in truly bizaree costumes, rehearsing "Monty Python" inspired sketches-- being filmed by his father as he paraded around the neighborhood dressed as an elderly woman, a police constable riding a girl's bicycle, a Christmas caroler, a grapefruit tester, and a nun.

I'd love to watch him test out new vocabulary words on unsuspecting mothers in the supermarket, and his own mother-- everywhere.

I'd love to watch him.

If, of course, I could stand it.


  1. love terry gilliam! brazil and tideland was rather strange. i agree that we were all more creative as children. we just had that innate intuitiveness. and i'm not a fan of using drugs (and alcohol) to 'tap in to' creativity as an adult.

  2. God, I loved this post. Thanks for putting to words what I've had in mind for a very long time!

  3. Ah, to be a child again...

    Important topic for me: beauty, and the observation/experience of it.

    Seems everything is beautiful when we're younger. Somehow, things become less beautiful as we grow up.

    Suggests that beauty is really in the eye of the beholder (duh?)

    Would be nice to see the world through a child's eyes all the time though... wouldn't it? Maybe. I don't know.

    Merry Christmas!

  4. To me, we're at our most creative when we aren't thinking, "God, I'm so…CREATIVE."

    And the child-sized version of us never really goes away, but some people insist on ignoring it because it's SO IMPORTANT TO GROW UP…and that's a real crime.

  5. I think to be able to send you back, just to watch, would almost be a better gift from Santa than the child's imagination...

  6. This was very thoughtful. And totally true. Particularly the part about however many pithy status updates you have. There is an inherent emptiness in that, at least in comparison to childhood creations. If this were Facebook, you'd get a notification that said "No One likes this."


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