Tuesday, August 07, 2007


Last night, we watched Bridge to Terabithia as family. If you haven't seen it, the movie is about a girl, clearly born to be a writer, who reaches out to a troubled, artistic boy, and they create an imaginary world together in the woods. (Rough movie emotionally, BTW).

It reminded me of something I haven't thought about in years.

As a child, I had a quirky flashlight. The lens cover was cheap and imperfect, and it created a strange shape in the beam. A shape made of shadow and light.

When I took the lens off and turned it backwards, the shape got clearer. I could also make it shrink, grow, and even explode by moving it back and forth like a zoom lens. I gave the shape a personality and a name. It was an alien creature called "The Doggon." (Yeah, as in "put that doggone knife down!")

In a room with the curtains closed and the lights off, I would shine the light on the ceiling and create stories for my friend who lived across the street. They were stream of consciousness stories with action and voices and terrible struggles. My friend would watch without a word.

One day, a curious thing happened. We were moping around trying to decide what to do. The light show crossed my mind, but I didn't think my friend would want to hear me blather on for yet another hour.

But then, he mentioned it. He wanted me to do it. He said that he loved lying there listening. I could see something a little starstruck and vulnerable in his eyes. It shocked me.

Imaginative folks are different in that way, and that's the first time I think I realized it.

Did you have similar experiences in childhood? Were you the bridge maker to other worlds?


c.s. said...

yes, perhaps, i kinda painted a picture of a glorious kingdom of knights and warriors and kings so well that my younger brother was keen to join me in my fantasy.

Miranda said...

I was not as clearly a bridge maker, but I do remember leading my twin in a game of imagination. He used to beg me to play "boat" with him. We would place all of our stuffed animals on a blanket on the floor and pretend we were lost at sea.

I also remember leading a friend on walks through a forest pretending that we were time travelers that just "landed" in present day with no knowledge of technology. We used to duck under brush, pretending to be frightened when an airplane flew over, and make up crazy explanations for what the highwires might be. I also remember continuing that game by myself after she went home. I would gaze in amazement at the running water in the sink at bedtime, and pretend to be curious about the lightswitch when I turned out the lights.

I do miss the ease of slipping into imaginary worlds that I had as a child.

Kaycie said...

"Bridge to Terabithia" is one of my favorite books, one I've read again as an adult. I haven't seen the movie and I probably won't. I cherish the images the novel created in my mind so many years ago.

When I was young, my imagination transformed my world and transported me to other places, but it was always a solitary affair. I don't really remember taking anyone else for the ride.

Katherine Napier said...

In first grade, the nuns thought it was great that I was reading aloud to the other students at lunch. We'd usually sit out in the field, but the day I was banned from it, we were on the lunch benches.
I was picking out good ones from a Fantasy and Science Fiction magazine (June 1963, as I recall) I had gotten from dads' stash in the garage, and I caught the ear of Sister Gemma, the principal, when I read the title, "Tis The Season To Be Jelly". I barely got the words,"Pa's nose fell off in his coffee." out of my mouth when she snatched the book from me. She called my parents to inform them of my indiscretion.
The only part I overheard was my dad telling the nun he would pray for her if her faith was so weak it could be challenged by a simple piece of fiction.
She returned the magazine to my dad, and I merely saved doing that for the week-ends and my public school friends. Some of them have told me later it was like going to the movies for free, so I was glad they got something out of it, too.

kcterrilynn said...

I love the images here, Jason.

As a child, I had tons of fantasy lives, but none I shared with anyone. I didn't feel comfortable doing that until later in life.

Jaye Wells said...

I didn't have any friends to make bridges for when I was younger. So I made them for myself to escape being lonely. Lord, that sounds so pitiful now, but I guess it all turned out okay since I've learned how to turn my overactive imagination into something productive.

anne frasier said...

i had a similar experience. out of boredom, i would lie on my back on the floor and make up songs about family or friends. they were usually a little on the cruel, sarcastic side, and friends were sometimes known to wet their pants which i quite enjoyed. and yes, people started asking for performances. those requested performances never went as smoothly as i recall. can't force the muse.

for me they may have been more of a bridge burner. :D

Stace said...

Through grade school, my best friend and I made bridges together, I suppose.

Lately, I have noticed that my ten-year-old daughter is able to boss her friends around simply because she's the one with the ideas for all the fun, imaginative games they play. Even the older brother of her best friend is willing to let her tell him what to do, because imagination gives her some kind of powre.

takoda said...

I love Katherine Paterson. I heard her speak at a conference last year. "Bridge" is based on a true story (about the friendship between her son and another girl, who really did die). I remember her saying at the conference that her first draft was more about working through issues of death, and her editor asked her if she wanted this to be a story about death, or about friendship. She said friendship.

If you liked "Bridge," you'll also like "The Great Gilly Hopkins" and "Jacob Have I Loved." In fact, you'll like all of her work.

Sorry that's a tangent to your real posting about bridges....

Terri said...

It's funny that I read this post now, since it was only this morning that a memory surfaced of when we were kids and we used to go on camping holidays; We'd sit around when we were bored and tell stories... or rather, my sister would bug me until I gave in... "Terri tell us a story!"
And then seemed to lose my imagination in my late teens and twenties and it's only in the last few years that I've rediscovered it.
That's why I like your short fiction contests (even though I often miss the deadlines) and if I may offer a huge compliment, it's why I love to read your blog, Jason; your writing inspires me to be creative and imaginative.
And I'm sure I'm not alone.

Beth said...

I loved Katherine's story above very much. I've been writing since I was about 3. Just for me. Never laboring over it, just kind of doing it.

My parents recognized this and bought me first typewriter when I was in 5th grade. I didn't think they were even paying attention so it meant a lot. I still have it.

GeL (Emerald Eyes) said...

Hi Jason,
(I first found you via Mermaid's blog several months back, then forgot to put you in my favorites. I was reading a comment thread and saw you there, so here I am again, to my delight.)

Such creative kinship moments are beyond the wonders of childhood. I *still* feel those times and relish each occurrence. Whether it's from someone I know like a friend or family member or a stranger, it's always a pearl, glitening in the pure milky smoothness of that world of imagination we artists see, feel, interpret differently than others.

I was enthralled following your flashlight beams through time. I thoroughly enjoyed this post.

Anonymous said...

C.S., sounds like he looked up to you. :)

Miranda, I used to play boat also with a blanket on a hard wood floor. I could slide around a little to pretend I was moving. Sometimes, I volunteered the dog to play me. ;) Your proto-human game made me smile.

Kaycie, I was an only child, so I understand what you're saying. I couldn't count on having friends around. At times, they were, but many times, they weren't.

Katherine, what a charming story! I'm sorry that the nun couldn't see the amazing good that you were doing. Plus, we all know the saying about forbidden fruit! She just made you guys want those stories all the more.

Anonymous said...

KC, letting them out is so rewarding! Scary, yes, but rewarding.

Jaye, I was often the odd man out in friend circles. The kid I'm talking about was a grade over me. He met a guy in his own grade soon after the time I describe and started to hang out with him instead. Having a lonely childhood was tough, but it did pay off. :)

Anne, sometimes people deserve to be tortured. Especially troublesome siblings. ;) The wetting the pants part is great!

Stace, what you're saying really rings true for me when I think back. Being the idea person did give me power. Sometimes it was frustrating. Sometimes I wanted to share the experience and not have the stress of coming up with everything.

Takoda, I really liked the movie/story. However, I really did NOT like how it was advertised. It is in no way a children's movie (my kids are 5 and 7), in my opinion. It's a serious story for more mature viewers.

Terri, wow, what a nice thing to say!! I'm not sure there are any better words for a writer to hear. Your support and creative vision have inspired me also. :) And you're not missing the next contest!

Beth, did they share the experience with you and read your stories? If they did, that's wonderful! Mine never took a real interest.

Gel, it's wonderful to see you back! I have to link to you also. I remember enjoying visits to your blog very much. **I do think that we remain bridge makers. Sometimes it's less apparent and little more muted by everyday life, but I labor on those bridges more strongly then ever.

takoda said...

Jason, I forgot how it was advertised, but all of her work is for 8 plus, in my opinion. The issues she tackles in her books are for more mature ages.

Church Lady said...

Okay, just wanted to drop a quick message to say 'Takoda' is now officially 'Church Lady.'

Thanks for the link!!! I really appreciate it!

Wynn Bexton said...

I was the neighbourhood and class playwright when I was about 8 - 10 yrs old. Always an imaginative kid. I loved it at bedtime when my parents would tell me stories about themselves when they were little. I guess that was my 'bridge' to my creativity.

The Quoibler said...


I just adore this post for so many reasons, but the main one is the feedback it has generated in such a short time! I love hearing all these childhood stories--it makes me wonder what my son will say about his youth when he's older.

I wouldn't characterize myself as having been a "bridge builder", per se, but I did tend to be a leader in my very small circle of friends.

Okay, truth be told, I was bossy. Really bossy. I'm an only child and thought I was God's gift to humanity. Then I became overweight for several years and my self-esteem tanked. (I eventually reclaimed it, but that's neither here nor there...)

Yet my imagination certainly never left me, even in the "Dark Periods". And I'm using it to help build bridges with my little guy... supportive, reliable bridges that can guide him over the dangerous swamps and canyons we encounter in life.


Beth said...

Jason, my parents never wanted to read my stories and never really were ever interested in my writing. I think that's why the typewriter was so special. I was shocked they even noticed.

Shesawriter said...

Yes, when I played Barbies. I would create a backstory for each of my dolls, and my friends would watch me act this stuff out for hours at a time. It was like a soap opera. :-)


Anonymous said...

Church Lady, I'm sure the book was always advertised for what it is. Disney, however, advertised the movie like Narnia. Obviously, the Bridge to Terabithia is not Narnia.

Wynn, welcome! That's a different angle. I like that! Those true stories helped you understand your parents as people.

Angelique, that just goes to show that only children don't fit into any particular paradigm. For me, being an only child meant risk of being alone. It made me work harder to keep people interested in me. I became watchful and skilled at reading people.

Beth, it's great that they supported you by providing the tools. My parents were similar, but I always wished they took a more active interest.

Tanya, good to see you! The way you entertained your friends and dazzled them into happy silence is wonderful.