The last time I went home to my parents’ house, I found a picture of myself at about seven years old. In the photo, I’m sitting on the sofa wearing my dad’s giant bathrobe. I have a leg from an old pair of bell bottom jeans on my head like a hat and a carton of orange juice in my lap. Now, this was not a candid shot. I was posing. I had carefully planned whatever this orange juice thing was, and I’m sure I insisted that someone take my picture.
I did this kind of thing a lot when I was a kid. It was to be assumed, if I disappeared for a notable length of time and the house got quiet, that I was meticulously plotting something super weird.
I once staged a sit-in complete with scathing protest signs and a very serious plan to sleep in the middle of the floor because my parents had decided to sell our Dodge Durango.
I once wrapped myself in a fuzzy scarf and made my mom pretend to be a passenger on an airplane while I served her snacks in an upside-down, open umbrella.
In first grade, I storyboarded, moment by moment, an imagined date between Sandy and Danny from Grease including what underwear they were wearing and (though I didn’t understand the details of this yet) the part of the night when they have “sax.” I taped each frame up on the living room wall.
A few years later, once I did understand the details of “sax,” almost immediately after things had been explained to me, I took to my sketch pad and wrote a handy illustrated booklet on the subject. It broke down the specifics and defined a bunch of slang terms for intercourse that I had just made up.
At the risk of sounding like an overly diplomatic teacher in a parent-teacher conference, I might call myself a kid with a lot of creativity and focus. My imagination was expansive, and, if I envisioned something, I executed it. The problem is: It was always really weird stuff.
There was the time I used a desk lamp as a hair dryer in my doll hair salon and really, really melted one of my dolls. Her name was Hunny Nunny, and we had to throw her away. Or the time when I was twelve that I commandeered Christmas morning with a multi-level, code-breaking scavenger hunt I’d spent weeks creating because someone let me read The Da Vinci Code.
I know people who disappeared into their rooms as kids to get excellent at the guitar. I know people who devoured book after book as soon as they learned to read. I know people who went out into the backyard to kick a soccer ball until the sun went down and they had gotten better at kicking a soccer ball.
I went out into the backyard to pour bubble solution on my trampoline so it would be slippery.
I sometimes wish I’d figured out how to channel all of that dedicated energy into something specific or at least how to narrow its scope. It frustrates me, looking back, that I couldn’t summon the patience to practice piano, but I could spend an afternoon using scrunchies and tissue paper to dress our real dog like a bride in anticipation of her wedding to a stuffed dog I’d won at a carnival.
All these things–the dog wedding and the doll salon and Da Vinci Code Christmas–I called them projects. When my mom would yell “Emma, what are you doing?” towards my closed bedroom door, I would scream back, “I’M WORKING ON A PROJECT.” And then, 45 minutes later, I would emerge covered in patriotic face paint.
As I got older, some of that quirk fell away. The permission to be boundless fades when middle school and high school break you into caring about what people think. That project instinct, that desire to go be alone somewhere and make up something all on my own is still there. It survived teenage years. It survived college and everything since, but it’s taken a brutal beating.
There was so much freedom in the childhood impulse to bring the things I thought up into the world around me.
Adulthood snuffs out that freedom with the myth that the stakes are constantly high. Self-censorship presents as pragmatism. At some point, you stop being certain that all of your ideas are amazing ideas. Sometimes, when I see a noisy little girl on the subway, I envy how entitled she feels to just make a bunch of noise.
So, my plan is to approach this blog like a project of yore. Like waking up early to rearrange all the furniture in the living room. Like choreographing and performing a dance to the demo track on the Casio keyboard. Like spending an entire day inside an inflated tent made by putting a fan at the mouth of a duvet cover. We get so comfortable with shooting down our own ideas, so I’m going to try seeing some of mine through, little-kid-style.
And if anyone has any questions about “sax” that they need answered, please don’t hesitate to ask. I have a booklet you should read.