Take pity on the kids today. The poor things just aren’t poor enough.
Growing up, I was what you would call “play poor.” Getting fed wasn’t an iffy thing – we always had plenty to eat. But if you wanted to, say, draw something, good luck finding a sheet of paper. If you had a sheet of paper, finding a crayon was even trickier.
Complaining was never an option as my dad’s dirt-poor childhood trumped our play-poor one. “When I was a kid, we had to make a choice every night in the summer: either leave the windows open and be eaten by mosquitoes, or leave them closed and die of heat.” Ah, the infamous no-screens story – his version of walking up the hill both ways in the snow. Us play-poor kids never stood a chance.
Of course, an eight-year-old kid has to improvise. The happy consequence to my desperation was creativity. Rose petals make an excellent red crayon. Leaves, the perfect green. Throughout every flower garden in the neighborhood, I plucked boxes and boxes of crayons. And if you ever opened a book at my house, you’d quickly realize that all the protective fore pages were carefully ripped out. A special thanks to book publishers everywhere – finding two blank sheets of paper at the front and back of every book was like hitting the playtime lottery.
No young girl could live without pompons, so cutting the tassels off the curtains was well worth the grounding. No bat? A thick tree limb. No nothing? Pretend the carpet is hot lava and your smelly brother is trying to push you off the boat. Today’s version of this game would come already conceptualized, already named, already built. Instead of grabbing your creativity, just grab a controller.
My biggest debt of gratitude goes to the weeping willow tree. Thank you, willow, for allowing me to tug vines off your gracious branch and sink them into an imaginary fishing pond. You were my jump rope, tug-of-war rope, rodeo lasso, limbo pole, playtime hero. I couldn’t wait to invent a new use for you just to see how the other kids would respond. But I fear kids today have no use for you at all. If that’s the case, I’ll weep right along with you. There’s nothing more lethal to one’s creativity than toys that come in a box.
Growing up without a pot to play in forced creativity. More importantly, observation. It made me look at things as what they could be, instead of what they were supposed to be. Nothing I saw as a child was just one thing. It was multiple things. It was whatever I wanted it to be.
Everyday I either see – or am told to write – advertising messages that are more of a should than a could. Messages that fall into a safe pattern of irrelevance and predictability. It’s our job to disassemble those meaningless messages. Take each word apart. Step back and look at them in a way that would disappoint every English teacher. Put them back together in a way that doesn’t follow the society-says-so rhetoric. And when we do, the masses will not only see and hear our message, they’ll connect with it. A human connection instead of the Internet or console kind?
Xoxo, Play-poor Lori