Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Use Your Imagination, But do it Like This

When my son was about eight or nine he was known in the family as the king of the tall tale. Now that he graduated to the status of aloof teenager, he passed the Tall Tale King crown to my nephew, Zachary. So far Z-man is proving himself a worthy successor to the throne.

I've always thought one of the best things about little kids is how wonderfully rich and fertile their imaginations are. Yet for some reason I can't quite fathom, once they get to school it seems they try to squash the imagination right out of them. It starts with comments like "Don't color outside the lines" when they're little and becomes "Pay attention and don't daydream" when they're older.

Evan always seemed to get into trouble somehow when it came to using his imagination at school. They would tell him to be creative, then reprimand him for the result, which made no sense to him or to me.

It started in kindergarten, when they gave him a paper cut out of a man at after-care and told him to color it to look like somebody from history. He did Adam, from the Garden of Eden. Grandpa had to be called to pick him up early.

Once I got a phone call from an upset teacher after Evan wrote a short story at school. He wrote about twins that get kidnapped by a creepy guy, which the teacher thought was inappropriate. She was taken aback when I asked her why did she tell him to write whatever he wanted if she didn't actually mean it? I guess she expected me to reprimand him for not having written a happier, friendlier story.

I won't even go into what happened in middle school with his video project. It featured Evan in a cow suit on a skateboard doing odd things to surprise members of the public. It was very heavily influenced by the movie Jackass. Suffice it to say the teacher was clearly not a Johnny Knoxville fan.

I know it isn't easy being a teacher. But it isn't easy being a kid, either, especially not when you get conflicting messages all the time. One minute they tell you to be yourself, the next they are pushing you to conform with the rest of the group.

I'm launching myself into NaNoRiMo today for the first time ever (National Novel Writing Month). It is a little intimidating, knowing I'm supposed to turn a blank stack of paper into a 50,000 word story in only thirty days. I'm not worried, though. If I get stuck, I know a couple of tall tale telling experts I can call on for help.

The "inappropriate" short story

My nephew's drawing of himself and his cousin in the future

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