Friday, October 4, 2013

Sticks and Swords

There is nothing like an "L" shaped stick. Any type of tree will do, with the branch at a right angle to the other, or perhaps two. The idea of a boy playing with a stick-gun would make some people now cringe and report them to the school authorities or worse, to the police, but there was a time when a stick was a boy's trusty companion.  Even just a plain one would make an excellent sword, one that would rival Excalibur, or the Sword of Omens (for those that lived in the 80's.)  The trees became bases, the thickets a shelter which could withstand any storm, be it real or mental.  A well placed chair, or a blanket, and you have a place to think, or read, or to plan attacks on the neighboring base across the yard.  Even better, a couple of well nailed planks of wood became a treehouse, and the adventures were glorious. Would that every child have a favorite stick to play with. I've always had a walking stick that I used as a staff, as something to twirl around like Donatello would do (TMNT reference), and as a trusty companion on my walks.

And after it rains, there's a rainbow, but all of the colors are black
It's not that the colors aren't there, it's just imagination they lack...
~Paul Simon "My Little Town" 
I remember walking around the neighborhood in the early 90's. Rolling Green, our little microcosm of people... such amazing times... but that is for another time. Anyway, we would make up games. One, I remember, was a collection of street hockey, football, and ultimate frisbee. Or something like that. That was fun!! But anyway, I would walk around the neighborhood in the summer, with school out and not a thing to do but watch old reruns of Lost in Space, and I would try to find someone that would want to play something. I'd even settle for watching them play basketball (I didn't play very well. I was a wall. It wasn't fun.), but everyone was out at their respective Soccer camps. Organized sports, in whatever form, is an attempt by adults to bring structure and rules into a child's world. Sure, it is a chance for bonding, lessons to be learned, rules to be followed, the social hierarchy to be introduced. But it doesn't allow children to be what they are... children. It doesn't allow for the growth of the imagination, for the boundaries of creativity to be stretched beyond the goal lines.
Remember when... we were a'chasin' after Wooden Airplanes...
Yes I believe that was, the finest time.
~Art Garfunkel "Wooden Planes"
I believe that this lack of imagination is what will eventually kill the movie industry. The imagination of directors, to use props, fantastic new camera technologies, inventive sound effects mixing the rain forest with factory sounds (or something like that...) I've said before, I would much rather see the potato disguised as an asteroid than realize that everything I'm seeing is a computer generated image. It's what made (among other things) the Star Wars Prequels so bad. It's what makes most of the summer blockbuster movies ones that have a sequel number after them or ones adapted from movies made only a few years prior. I have had it with dozens of superhero movies every summer. I won't go see them... I will barely go see any other summer blockbuster movie. Too many explosions and useless scenes made for sensationalism instead of intelligent thought. I get the feeling that some directors use no imagination, not to mention thought at all. Speaking of science-fiction... I was having a conversation with a friend of mind, Steven, who was lamenting the fact that Legos have developed more into specific lines of toy brands, with mythologies and characters all their own, instead of giving children general blocks and instructions and waiting for them to do something with them. He said this, in Italics: 

"When Lego first started introducing their themed kits, the idea was that a child could be encouraged to use their imagination to build something completely different with the blocks provided, but they don't do that anymore. Pieces are custom designed to fit together in a specific way now to recreate some licensed product. They even have moving parts and "firing" missiles and "mini-figures". There's room for imaginative play, but no room for personal creativity. With the same set of Legos I built spaceships and magical swords and seagoing submersibles and all kinds of wacky things. The Lego sets represent an ongoing trend in "interactive" toys that seem to play with themselves. Nerf guns that work better than real firearms, action figures that talk and practically move on their own, and video games. Know what I had in my toy box when I was a kid, besides a collection of mismatched Legos? Sticks. Sticks that I found in the back yard (pine sticks can make very good "swords"). Sure, I had a huge collection of G.I. Joes at one point, and I had some pretty imaginative campaigns against the less well equipped Cobra forces, but give me a stick and some privacy in the woods behind the house, I was Conan the Space Marine. 

We must return the gift of imagination to our children. I see kids now walking around with their faces buried in tablets of glass and metal, as if worshiping this device, concentrating more on the game at hand and not on the world around them. Course, I sometimes think that the kids are simply afraid of nothingness, of what their brains might say or think or do if they didn't have the soccer camp, the cell phone, the constant stimuli. Might they find themselves growing up into adults, and find out that they had truly never lived? I sometimes think of myself as that Pedestrian in Ray Bradbury's short story of that name. In the world so consumed by technology that no one ever goes outside, a lone person walks, and, upon being stopped by the police, they find him crazy that he is not involved in the addictive stimuli provided at great length by society, and is carted off to some mental institution. (If you want to experience the story in an interesting fashion... with distractions of light, sound, and rhythm, what we would experience in the real world, try this Youtube Video of Ray Bradbury's story.)

I could just as easily used Gene Wilder's singing of "Pure Imagination," or the idea that The Neverending Story is a parallel of people losing their imagination to this world, resulting in the ominous cloud called The Nothing, but I think I'll leave you with a song, one that I bought originally on my High School Graduation night, on Peter, Paul, and Mary's Lifelines album. A song written by Buddy Mondlock, and in this video, sung by him, Art Garfunkel, and Maia Sharp:  "The Kid."

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