Too Much Imagination

Rooster with red eyes

My memoir, Hope and Other Luxuries, tells about my attempts to cope with my daughter Elena’s anorexia nervosa. But it also tells the story of my creative life from the beginning of my writing career. I’ve decided to share those sections of my memoir that deal with creativity, writing, and publishing here on my blog.

This episode, from page 254, illustrates one of the problems with the way my mind works: it automatically pictures everything that can be pictured. This helps with story creation, but it makes metaphors needlessly distracting, particularly when they don’t create a picture that makes sense.

“Helicopter parents,” the counselor said. “It’s one of our biggest challenges.”

I was sitting in an auditorium-style classroom, in a comfortable padded chair. That was new. College classrooms didn’t have padded chairs in my day. Around me sat people of my same age and situation: the men with thinning hair and the occasional streak of silver; the women with short, discreetly dyed, practical styles.

This group of steady grown-up types had come together for our children’s college orientation weekend. Our youngsters were off somewhere on a campus tour while the counselors sat us oldsters down and talked to us about parenting—

Specifically, about the need to stop.

“Helicopter parents,” the counselor said, “are the moms and dads who pop by campus all the time. They show up at class. They want to know things we’re not allowed to tell them—things about attendance or grades. We call them helicopter parents because they hover. They can’t let go of their children.”

My imagination presented me with the image of a college student. He had longish hair and a bored expression, and he was walking across campus to class. Meanwhile, his two anxious parents hovered along after him. They hung in the air a few feet above and a few feet behind him, their helicopter blades gently humming.

The image caught my fancy, and I smiled. I glanced around at the nearby faces to see if anyone else was smiling, but the other parents looked grave.

As a group, we were soberly dressed, but with a few well-chosen bright touches—chunky silver jewelry, perhaps, or a kelly-green cardigan over a linen shirt. I still know how to have fun! these touches said. I’m not old yet! But in fact, our definition of fun had changed considerably since our own college days, along with many other things about us. The close attention we were all paying to the lecture, for instance: that was something I didn’t remember from the old days.

“It’s important for you to step back now,” the counselor said. “You’ve done your job. You got your children here. And that’s great! But now it’s time for them to take over.” He paused while we all pondered that extraordinary thought. “You’ve given them roots,” he said. “It’s time to give them wings.”

Roots? Wings? My imagination spun for a second or two. Then it coughed up an image of an eagle whose claws had grown into the ground. He was flapping his wings, trying to fly, but the root-claws wouldn’t let him.

Roots and wings? That made for one very unhappy bird!

And once again, I smiled.

But once again, as I glanced around, I found that no one else was smiling. The other parents were nodding solemnly.

Text copyright 2015 by Clare B. Dunkle; text courtesy of Chronicle Books. Photo of rooster with red eyes copyright 2014 by Joseph Dunkle. To read my latest blog posts, please click on the “Green and Pleasant Land” logo at the top of this page.

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