July 1, 2004

Loss of Imagination’s Innocence

Filed under: Art and About Me — admin @ 4:22 pm

My first-born was barely a few days old when someone remarked, “Wouldn’t it be great to be a baby? All you have to do is eat and sleep.” Although I was only a new mom, there was nothing I had observed in my tike’s daily life that made me think he had it so good. The only way he could communicate with the buffoon adults in his life was to cry, and nothing that I take for granted, like muscle control and bodily functions, was easy for him. But that first person wasn’t the only one to make the comment, and every now and again I run into an adult who wistfully gazes upon my children and sighs about how great it is to be young and carefree.

I find this attitude intriguing, and I don’t subscribe to it in any way. Kids have a lot of things they have to sort out in their day-to-day lives to give them the library of experience that once again, I take for granted as an adult. They may not have to worry about paying the bills, but they do have to navigate hairy situations like sharing their favorite truck with other youngsters at the playground. Now that’s stressful. I had a good childhood and a fairly smooth adolescence but there is nothing in the world that would make me go back to any other age than I am right now.

Well, maybe one thing.

In my adulthood, my imagination has lost its innocence and I really want it back. This realization became clear to me just last week when I was confronted with the first example of life experience ruining a perfectly good childhood memory.

My kids discovered the wonders of the DVD version of “Free to Be…You and Me” and started playing it repeatedly. At first, this made my heart soar. As a true child of the ’70s, I loved Marlo Thomas’ reinvention of storytelling stereotypes, and the record played continuously in our house during my formative years. I still know every song and story by heart, and they still make me want to dance and sing.

By I had a rude awakening when my 32-year-old brain accessed its bank of knowledge while watching the DVD version. When I was a kid, I didn’t know Alan Alda, Mel Brooks, Harry Belafonte and Michael Jackson were supplying some of the talent. But now when I listen to their voices, I’m continually thinking, “Hey, that’s Mel Brooks.” Or I’m envisioning the familiar body language of Alan Alda. Or the irony of Michael Jackson singing, “We don’t have to change at all” in a song about accepting yourself and others for the way they look.

And as an adult, I may be able to appreciate the multiple levels of meaning imparted by casting Rosey Grier to sing “It’s All Right to Cry,” but that song was already pretty deep for me, so I don’t necessarily embrace the enlightenment.

The loss of my imagination’s innocence is an unwelcome visitor, showing up when I least expect it. Another recent example is when I watched “Finding Nemo,” which I think is a wonderful film. But I will always see the lead fish not as Marlin and Dory but as Albert Brooks and Ellen DeGeneres. Both actors are superb in their voicework for the film, but I am unable to completely let go of their real identities and travel under the sea with them in suspension of disbelief. I envy my kids who are getting the full thrill of the movie by knowing the characters only within the context of the story. Enjoy it while it lasts, kids!