Whilst at my parents’ for Christmas, I decided to have a clear-out of the stuff lying around my old room. Going through it was an eye-opening experience – I realised how creative and imaginative I was as a kid, and how I seem to have lost those traits.
At a very young age, I’d make anything I could out of paper and sticky tape. I once made a little garden with flowers, a 3D well and a duck pond. I made a candle in a holder out of cardboard and tissue paper, and a mobile with colourful paper fish hanging on it.
When I was a little older, I created fantasy worlds and drew maps of them. I made up characters who lived there, and wrote stories about them. I drew and painted my characters, and in one case even made up a language for them (complete with dictionary!).
I made up games, designing boards, cards and boxes for them. Over the years, I sewed numerous little outfits for soft toys; I knitted too, though I was very bad at it and usually gave up halfway through a project! I loved to cut out little cardboard figures and make them mix-and-match cardboard clothes.
My brother and I once made a model house out of a cardboard box. We made furniture out of card too, and curtains and duvet covers out of old clothes. There were tiny saucepans, photo frames and cushions. The bathroom had a tin foil mirror. The upstairs was in a tray which could be removed to allow access to the downstairs. When our grandpa saw it, he was amazed by the detail.
My brother had an enormous collection of toy ducks, and we pretended we were a massive family. We’d take the ducks on days out, play houses and give them all baths in the garden. I also remember playing numerous imaginary games with friends – we made schools for soft toys, played at being witches, and pretended we were camping. When it snowed, my best friend’s orchard became Narnia.
I sometimes made up little melodies on the piano, and in my early to mid teens I wrote songs with my guitar. At that age, I was leaving behind the imaginary games, but the stories I wrote were becoming longer and more elaborate. I decided I wanted to be an author, and wrote several novellas. I continued to draw and paint too.
At some point, I stopped doing most of those things. It’s hard to pin down why, but there are numerous possible factors.
For one thing, it’s no longer socially acceptable to play with soft toys and play imaginary games once you reach a certain age. You begin to feel silly and childish, because it’s just not done. For another, school was beginning to get serious around that time; there was a lot more homework, and a lot less time for creativity.
A friend of mine once pointed out that children learn through play, and by the time we grow up, we don’t really need to do that any more. Maybe it’s natural to play less as time goes on, but I do have to wonder how much of it comes down to social pressure.
My brother thinks the driving factor was the Internet. We lived in a very rural area with poor Internet access, and had dial-up until I was in my early teens. As a consequence, we rarely bothered with the Internet until then, as it was so slow and many things wouldn’t load at all. When we first got it, we had limited downloads and so had to be careful how much we used. I was eighteen when we finally got unlimited downloads. I could watch as many videos as I liked! Maybe that was when things began to go downhill.
University was the final nail in the coffin. It disrupted my routine, and I completely stopped playing guitar. I had less time than ever, and had to abandon my novel-writing in term-times. The university art society wasn’t very good, and I stopped making time for drawing and painting. Since I was studying Computer Science, I spent virtually all day on the computer. That made it far too easy to get distracted by the likes of Facebook and YouTube.
Though I now do my best to limit my social media use, I still find endless ways to get distracted online and spend way too much time on the computer – researching blog posts, watching documentaries and so on. It’s like I don’t know what else to do with myself.
It’s only by looking back that I realise what a shame this is. As a kid, there were endless possibilities – I could create anything I liked. Now I feel as though I’ve lost that. I know it’s still in there somewhere, but I’m not sure how to get at it.
I’d like to change that – it would be fun to design more imaginary worlds. I still have that longing to create things, and I think I’d feel a whole lot better for expressing it. Maybe it’s time to pick up a guitar or a paintbrush again.