Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Committing to a Story; or, Why I Talk To Myself In Public

Last Sunday my daughter was in a foul mood, overtired after an exhausting day.  It was the early evening, and after finishing her work she slammed her butt down in a chair and slumped over to play a computer game.  I was a bit concerned.  I tried talking with her, I tried teasing her, I tried making her laugh - but everything I did resulted in a grunt or an annoyed stare.

It's possible that I should have just waited her mood out; sometimes that's all you can really do with a person.  But I had to leave for a week-long business trip in a few minutes, and it hurt my heart to see her like this.  So I decided to try one more thing.  After seeing that her game involved guiding a polar bear through arctic waters, I went to her room and fetched her stuffed polar bear.  Then I sat next to my daughter and slowly guided the polar bear next to her hand.

She looked down.  "Oh," she said.  "Hi polar bear."

The polar bear jumped up and down excitedly and nosed at the polar bear on the computer screen.  Then he backed up slowly, confused, and looked up at her with a questioning sound.

"It's not real," my daughter said.  "It's a computer game.  I'm controlling the polar bear.  See?"  She demonstrated the keyboard and mouse controls to the fascinated polar bear, and as she did so her body quickly filled with the liveliness and energy that I'm used to seeing and that I love so much.  And right before I left for the airport I was rewarded with three hugs and eight kisses (yes, I counted).

My daughter and I share many similar traits, and I'm telling this story because it made me realize that we share one more: we both fall easily and naturally into the stories that we see around us.  Whether it's a curious polar bear or a head pig or a cabal of small stuffed animals planning on getting rid of the mean dragon that keeps punting them off the bed ("CHARIZARD! We talked about this!"), I can count on my daughter to perk up and join the tale with much enthusiasm and delight.  She is a storyteller's dream.

It's something that I do as well, except I can't always control the stories that pop up inside my head; put another way, the problem with having an imagination is that you imagine things.  This scenario has happened to me more than few times: I'll be walking by myself down the sidewalk when some odd environmental detail suddenly catches my eye.  A story ravels itself together, and the next thing I know I'll be audible actor in the theater of my mind, and there'll be a person half-a-block in front of me quickening his pace and glaring back at me.

It's something that I've learned to control to a certain extent; experience has taught me the dangers of falling too deeply into the fictions that my mind can create.  And yet I don't think it's the worst quirk a person can have.  For example, I suspect it's the reason that I can read other people's moods so quickly.  Plus, a credulous imagination can certainly liven up a boring day!

This trait that my daughter and I share is probably neither good nor bad in and of itself, but merely something else that needs to be moderated within.  Here's hoping that we succeed!

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