March 2013

The Joys of a Vivid Imagination

This post first appeared on March 9, 2013 on .

oakley_0309b I won’t grow up,
I don’t want to wear a tie.
And a serious expression
In the middle of July.
And if it means I must prepare
To shoulder burdens with a worried air,

I’ll never grow up, never grow up, never grow up
Not me,
Not I,
Not me!
So there!  – Peter Pan


How often have we heard the phrase “Oh, grow up!” Being an adult can be so very serious. There are all those responsibilities. There are all those expectations. Adults have to work, do lots more chores, care for others, worry. That sounds like it could be pretty dreary and dull.

But, it doesn’t have to be all work and no play. Even if we are all grown–up, we still need play and imagination.

For example, conserving energy is serious stuff. It is important and necessary for the health and well being of the planet. Right now, it is still winter. The weather outside is still cold. In the interest of saving energy, we keep the thermostat set pretty low. And, at night, we turn the thermostat all the way down, essentially turning off all the heat. But, even though conserving energy is a weighty matter, play and imagination can make it all quite fun.

Let me tell you a story.

When I was in college, I lived in a single room on the very top floor in an old dorm. I loved my little room, with its gable window, wood floors and sloping ceilings.

During the late fall in my senior year, it became quite apparent to me that my radiator wasn’t working. No matter how I tried to fiddle with the radiator’s knob, no heat emanated from it. Instead of reporting the fault, I decided to embrace the challenge. It was time to pretend that I lived in a garret in some Victorian boarding house from some Dickensian novel. (“The Little Princess” by Frances H. Burnett was one of my favorite childhood books.) For the remainder of fall, up until Christmas break at the end of December, I came back to my cold room, donned a hat and mittens, and did my homework by whatever dim light I decided to switch on. (I would have used candles or oil lamps, but they were not allowed in the dorms). I was a young adult, but still lost in a world of imagination, adventure and pretend–play.

Even now, when it is cold in the house, I pretend that I am a real homesteader, living out on the prairie in a drafty cold house.

When I was a little girl, I used to play “pretend” a lot. I immersed myself in the world of books and then I acted out the stories in my own little world of make–believe. I became one of the characters in the books. I extended the stories, made up new characters and lived in the imaginary worlds I read about. Sidewalks became rivers with crocodiles snapping at my feet. The back porch became a cliff that I had to scale. Usually, I was some kind of adventurer, facing danger, being brave.

Some things never change. I still pretend.

  • On a bitterly cold day with sub–zero temperatures and the cold biting my cheeks, I am an Antarctic explorer, trudging toward the South Pole.oakley_0309c
  • When I am trying to clear the logs and branches from the tree we had just cut down, I am a pioneer, building a log cabin.
  • During the Maple City Half-Marathon walk, I am Frodo and the Nine Companions, walking with determination toward the unknown.
  • When I swim, I am a diver, swimming with the whales. Better yet, I am a whale, diving into the deeps.
  • Riding my bicycle on an arduous, seemingly endless, uphill climb, I am in the mountains of France, riding for the yellow jersey.
  • When I sit down to practice the piano, I sweep the tails of my tux behind me and become a concert pianist.
  • When I am in one of those rare cleaning moods and am sweeping my way through the house, I am a housemaid in “Downton Abbey.”
  • Even when I am plodding along on what can generously be called a run, I am an Olympic marathoner.

In “Peter Pan,” by J. M. Barrie, grown–up Wendy has a conversation with her daughter, Jane.

oakley_0309a“Do you know, Jane, I sometimes wonder whether I ever did really fly.”

“Yes, you did.”

“The dear old days when I could fly!”

“Why can’t you fly now, mother?”

“Because I am grown up, dearest. When people grow up they forget the way.”



In our imaginations we can fly. I hope growing up does not mean forgetting the way. I hope growing up never means ceasing to play and to imagine.


The Pleasures of a Life Slowed Down

This post first appeared on on March 2, 2013

“There is more to life than increasing its speed.” ~Gandhi


oakley_0302a I am in a sling until nearly the middle of April. It is awkward and bulky and I didn’t ask the doctor whether or not I could drive. That is quite all right though – I can still walk. I like to walk. And I do walk – a lot. I walk, not so much for exercise, but to get to the places I want to go. When the weather gets warmer I may start to ride my bicycle, but, in the winter, my preferred mode of transportation is walking.

In order to get to places in a timely manner by foot, I have to allow enough time. The emphasis here is on the word allow. What that means, is that I have to slow my life down so that I have the time to walk.

I began walking in earnest during graduate school. I was living in Evanston, Ill., and going to Northwestern University. I didn’t own a car. I didn’t even have a driver’s license. A friend gave me an old single-speed Schwinn that reliably took me from my apartment to campus, a distance of almost two miles, nearly every day. But, every few weeks, an event would happen which would trigger my “slow down and walk” reflexes. I am, of course, speaking of <<drumroll, please>> an exam.

On the day of an exam, I would always walk to campus. Not only that, I would always take a longer round–about route, which took me closer to Lake Michigan and the wonderful walking trails in the parks that bordered the lake. The detour added about three quarters of a mile to my route, but it was worth it. I definitely did not need to rush to school on my bicycle. What I needed was time to decompress from the frenetic activity of studying and worrying. I needed time to clear my mind, to see the world around me, to get far away from busy roads and fast-paced cars, to breathe deeply of the air, to smell the water in that big beautiful lake.

When I walk, time slows. Well, not really, but it does take a longer passage of time to traverse a fixed distance. So, in a sense, my time slows and I am able to experience things I would not have been able to otherwise.

  • the starchy crunch of snow under my feet on a really cold day.
  • the adventure of navigating puddles on a wet slushy day.
  • the patterns of frost on a line of trees.
  • the commotion of a choir of birds, fluttering in a bush.
  • the smell of smoke from the chimneys of wood stoves.
  • the red glow of the full moon, huge on the horizon.
  • the brilliance of the stars in the night sky.

I so often see people rushing about, cars swooping around other cars to shave off that fraction of a second. I want to tell them “Slow down!” In slowing down, we can see more of what is around us, we can appreciate more of what is around us, and we can enjoy more of what is around us.

And, perhaps, the first step is to go on a walk.