Children believe all sorts of nonsense. They believe their parents know everything. They believe a fat, bearded man flies around on a sleigh pulled by reindeer delivering gifts down chimneys of children around the world, all in a single night. They believe they can be prima ballerinas or presidents of countries. And even if, in an attempt to apply a compassionate balm of reality, an adult tells a child it is unlikely she will ever be a prima ballerina or a president of a country, the child will summarily dismiss this and go on practicing her autograph technique and her curtsies, because she is certain we are mistaken.
Children believe in possibilities that adults cannot even begin to fathom, and we grown-ups, in all our wisdom, spend the ensuing years assuming them into our sensible reality instead of letting them seduce us back into their world of magical possibility and endless promise.
Why do we do that?
When I was a little girl, like many children, I played the game where, lying on the warm summer grass, I would gaze up at the clouds and see all sorts of things: elephants and choo-choo trains and ice cream cones. If I looked long enough, I could divine what a cloud was meant to be and bestow upon it the rightful name for the shape it had taken, at least until the wind blew. Even then, I wasn’t discouraged; it was merely an opportunity to start again and consider how to succeed in adapting the new shape into my game. This shifting skyscape was never cause to get frustrated or to give up altogether.
As I’ve gotten older, finding endless shapes in the clouds has, ostensibly, become more difficult.
Frequently, the clouds I contemplate now are thin, wispy cirrus clouds refusing to mind any formation whatsoever; so fickle. They whisper their potential, hinting at whimsical promise, but are, alas, unorganized and thoroughly undisciplined. They aren’t capable of such an important job as representing my dreams.
On rare occasions, they are stratus, just ghosts of clouds holding vague memories of what they might have been if not for other natural elements taking their courses and diluting these clouds into a haunting, ubiquitous fog. They are an overcrowded cloud graveyard, despondent with no hope whatsoever that they might someday achieve density.
Sometimes they are cumulus, appearing so close to me and nearly tangible, with clearly defined edges. These hold the shapes of my dreams vividly and I can almost reach up and touch them, but they climb higher and higher, and the reaching exhausts my arms until they collapse at my sides, weak from the effort and too afraid of failing to try again.
Occasionally they are cumulonimbus clouds, volatile, brutal, and ferocious; almost reckless in their compulsion, driving me to exhaust myself in an effort to satisfy their urgent and relentless demands. And yet, these are perhaps the most beautiful for they have tenacity of purpose and a singular focus on their defined goal.
They exhaust me and they consume me, but they do not scare me.
The only thing that scares me is the thought that, due to distraction, disillusionment, or surrender, one day I’ll stop looking up and, in a moment when I’m not paying attention, a wind so subtle as to be barely perceptible will blow my dreams away completely and I won’t be able to conjure them up into any shape whatsoever again.
For now, they are safely ensconced in the playground of my imagination and the laboratory of my ambition where I can still gaze upon them.
And when I tilt my head just so, with clear definition and vivid color, they take the shape of a writer.