What started it all was Mrs. Frank and her idea boxes. It was the early days of the gifted education program and a little girl in Laura Ingalls braids got to spend one day a week in a portable classroom parked just off the playground of the crosstown elementary school. It was a magical day where she could be just as smart as she pleased and imagination was not only accepted but encouraged. From chemistry experiments to Oregon Trail (the old one!) she loved spending the day amongst friends like David, Leslie, Tim, and Kristen. What she loved most of all, though, were the idea boxes where she could mix and match plots, characters, settings, and themes. It was a gilded time, idyllic even, before the inevitable pressures of junior high school turned those pigtails into a much more grown-up Wonder Woman ponytail.
Memory is a tricky thing. Did Mrs. Frank hold court for 4th, 5th, and 6th grades? Didn’t she direct the Christmas play where I played Tiny Tim and limped on whichever leg happened to be closest to the audience? Lord help us, did she actually get a bunch of 6th grade kids to perform Macbeth? I distinctly remember a kid creating thunder by rolling a bunch of marbles around inside a jumbo laundry detergent box. Some of us classmates have kept up with each other over the years. I’ve lost touch with many, but I can still picture us taking turns down the fast slide. I think that thing had a hump in it and we would launch ourselves at top speed. No telling how many broken arms that and the 30 foot jungle gym tower caused. Those were the days when kids could play unfettered by foam landing pads and safety regulations.
I never lost my love for putting together stories. I’ve used Mrs. Frank’s technique much to the delight of my own students. My first novel pretty much resulted from a very gifted high school senior challenging his teacher to mix theme and setting. Becoming a published author was a dream that I deferred for many years, but I continued to dream on. The wisdom of Aerosmith tells us that we should dream on until our dream comes true.
My question lately has been what happens next? Oscar Wilde, albeit more literary than Steven Tyler but definitely as eccentric, said that the two greatest tragedies in life are not getting what you want and actually getting it. Dahl had something to say about this idea through Willy Wonka. Randy Pausch’s famous “Last Lecture” also addressed it. Even Miley Cyrus recognized that it’s not necessarily about the mountain tops of life, but the climb.
Those fairytales a little pigtailed girl knit together in a quiet corner of a makeshift classroom rarely ended with “and they lived happily ever after”. She was onto something, but it took her many years to realize the story’s not in the ever after; it’s in what happens next.
So, what do you do with a dream come true? You pull another card out of the idea box and build the next dream.