When I first met my indulgent husband, nearly twenty-five years ago, I learned that we, in spite of growing up on different continents, in spite of having a six year age-gap, in spite of having very different upbringings, we had one sparkly thing in common: We both spent our childhoods plunged deeply into imaginary worlds, him with his Playmobil and me with my Barbie dolls.
Now, I know, I know…a lot of people played Playmobil or Barbie. But not like us.
According to his mother, my indulgent husband and his brother took up the entire upstairs hallways of the house to set-up highly ornate scenes and carefully coordinated décor. They had stacks and stacks and stacks of spiral notebooks in which they would write down the storylines, then act them out, then prepare the scenario for the next day.
Nothing was to be disturbed.
As a child, I developed, probably from the age of five or six, intense character arcs for my Barbie dolls. Rich, involved, often tragic backstories, which I knew better than I knew the story of Santa Claus. I gave each doll a carefully considered first name, and each doll had her own selection of clothes (from an impressive wardrobe that my mother sewed for me.) My dolls did not loan their clothes to other dolls.
Any friend who came over to play was probably intimidated by the intensity with which I treated our play: if they didn’t know the backstory of the dolls, then they had to hear it all before they would be allowed to even touch one. Anyone who tried to put Darcie’s dress on Maeve was likely not to be invited back.
The things that you geek out about
I was listening to my absolute favorite comedy podcast, My Brother, My Brother, and Me (not for the delicate-of-ears, however), when they had a “guest-pert” (that is a guest expert) segment. I used to skip these segments, unless it was Lin Manuel-Miranda, for obvious reasons. But this one particular day, I couldn’t get myself to turn it off.
The guest-pert was Patrick Rothfuss, a best-selling fantasy writer. (I am pigeon-holing him, and for that I apologize. He does way more than write best-selling fantasy, but this was why I continued listening.)
Patrick Rothfuss gave advice to aspiring fantasy writers: Don’t feel like because Tolkien wrote poetry, you need to include poetry. Don’t feel like because a lot of sci-fi goes deep into the science that you must write science.
Write what geeks you out.Patrick Rothfuss, best-selling fantasy author and my thought hero
With that little tiny five-word sentence, he breathed new life into my novels.
Do you know what geeks me out? Fashion. Wool. Music. These things literally get me all shivery and unstoppably chatterboxy.
Suddenly, I felt like was given permission to write about fashion, even though my books weren’t contemporary humor. I was able to write about wool, because wool is, as we have established since my ode to wool, absolutely friggin’ magical. I was given permission to write about music and musicians, because music, too, geeks me out.
Although I have been inventing complicated stories since my youngest childhood, it wasn’t until just a few years ago that I gave myself permission to get geeky in them. Write what you know, they say.
What is the thing you used to do?
Yesterday’s homework was hard. I’ll be the first to admit that. Don’t give up on it! Finding one memory from each year of your life is tough!
The purpose is to get you thinking about what—before responsibilities and worries came in and choked off your enthusiasm—used to make you sparkle. What geeked you out?
My theory on this is that these very things still exist somewhere inside of you, although as an adult, they will manifest differently. That’s to be expected. But you, at your very core, you are still you. You have wizened. You have perhaps, like me, become a happiness cynic. But you haven’t so fundamentally changed as to become unrecognizable.
Playing Barbies turned into writing novels about the things that geek me out. My husband and our youngest scalawag have created a universe of stuffed animals and epic stories they call “Doudouland” (doudou is “stuffed animal” in French.)
We are figuring out how to bring the sparkle of our childhoods back into the everyday: we are re-learning to be happy by connecting to what once defined happiness for us.
There is a way to tap into your sparkle, and it starts by remembering. Examining your childhood, those great memories.
But I don’t have the time…
This final note is for you, the person who thinks that all of this is well and good but that you don’t have the time to bother with happiness, or sparkle or memories.
I hear that, and I will raise you setting your alarm clock for fifteen minutes before anyone else in your house wakes up. Just try it for a week. Try, before you go to bed, setting up a little spot on your couch where you will go and reflect during your little fifteen minutes of alone time.
Please try it.
Tomorrow we are going to explore creativity: the act of making something out of nothing and just how foundational and critical creativity is to our existence.