GUEST POST: FREEDOM TO IMAGINE

In the lead up to the launch of Serenity Press’s upcoming Writing the Dream anthology (available for pre-order here), I’ll be sharing guest posts from some of the contributors. Thanks to Louise Allan for this short and sweet post. Louise is a Perth writer whose first novel will be published in September 2017 by Allen and Unwin. It was shortlisted for the 2014 City of Fremantle-TAG Hungerford Award and prior to that, she was awarded a Varuna Residential Fellowship to work on it. You can read more of Louise’s writing on her blog, or catch up with her on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

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When I was a kid, we seemed to have days and days with no commitments and nothing to do. Weekend sport hadn’t been invented, and homework could be dashed off in milliseconds, so there was plenty of time for reading and playing.

I read a lot, mainly the staples of my era: Enid Blyton, Anne of Green Gables, The Silver Brumby, and the Billabong series.

Being brought up Catholic, the Bible was rather important, too. Now there’s a book to inspire your imagination—Harry Potter has nothing on Jesus Christ; I’m yet to find anything that trumps a resurrection.

When I wasn’t reading, I was playing. When we were really young, my sister and I played with our dolls for hours on end. We made up gender-stereotyped stories about how much cooking and cleaning we had to do by the time our husbands came home from work (I still make up the same stories), and about the naughty things our children were getting up to (none of which would have been based on ourselves), as we ironed our dolls’ dresses on the toy ironing board or sipped from dainty teacups.

When we were a bit older, we spent whole days with our friends up the street. We played a game called Traffic Lights, which entailed skating on the concrete paths around and around their house, and sometimes out on the street (without helmets, protective pads, or adult supervision, I might add). We had rules so the concrete path wasn’t anarchic, and one of us was the designated policewoman whose job it was to enforce the rules and book the lawbreakers—we fought over that role.

We played Murder in the Dark and held séances, and did many other politically incorrect and unsafe things. We worked out the rules and sorted our disagreements by ourselves, not always harmoniously or without tears, and at the end of the day, we might have had the odd scrape and bruise when we went home, but we survived.

While we played, there was no one looking over our shoulder saying, ‘That rule’s unfair’, or ‘Why don’t you do it this way?’, or ‘Come in off the road’, or ‘You shouldn’t be trying to contact the dead.’ To our young minds, it all seemed fair and safe, and we liked the shiver that ran down our spine when John’s spirit spelt out that he’d been murdered.

We also presented concerts for our family, complete with professionally handmade programmes and house posters. The concert would plan to start at 7pm, but the time would have to be crossed out and changed to 7:10, then 7:20, then 7:30, when our parents had finished what they were doing and could come.

We provided good value for the ten-cent entry fee, and would have sung and danced and acted all night, except our audience had to leave because they had other things to do.

We loved drawing and colouring-in, and making houses out of sheets and a chair. My sister would build one, too, so we had a neighbourhood. Any contraption under the sun could be made from paper, toilet rolls, scissors, and glue. I once made a Tiger moth aeroplane for my brother, complete with wings and propeller. I followed the instructions from a book, but I had to substitute a few items we didn’t have. I used an empty box of caps (remember cap guns?) for its body, which was smaller and more orange than the large brown box they’d used in the picture. I also used a long, thin cotton reel for the propeller instead of a short fat one. When I’d finished gluing ‘Tiger’ together, he looked nothing like the picture in the book, but my brother loved it anyway.

When I was a bit bigger, I sewed dresses for my dolls from scraps of fabric—I once made outfits for a bride, her wedding party, and a few of the guests. The dresses gaped a little because of my loopy hand-sewing and I hadn’t worked out how to put the seams on the inside.

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It appears that a few of the wedding guests fell asleep.

As kids, we seemed to have much more unscheduled space and time, most of it away from adult supervision. During that time, we read and played and crafted, our imaginations free to roam and explore without someone telling us the rules or correcting us.

My kids haven’t known that freedom. Their afternoons and weekends have been filled with sport and music and activities, and they’ve barely been out of my sight for fear of danger. My husband and I have hovered and helped, monitored and checked, and corrected and fixed. We’ve made sure everything was fair and everyone got a turn. We bought games and toys already made, or craft kits for them to build, and we helped if they couldn’t make them and fixed their mistakes.

I was a very responsible parent, but sometimes I wonder if I should have just let them be more often. Given them a bottle of Clag glue, a few scraps of paper, and some toilet rolls. I forgot that the free time of my childhood was where my imagination made its first outing.

Hopefully, their imaginations and creativity have survived my protective parenting.