A bright spot of our year so far was my nine-year old daughter, Ani, winning a story contest at her school. Her prize? Having the professional theater group, Imagination Machine, perform her story at a school assembly for everyone to see.
Her story, “My Imaginary Star,” is about a lonely young boy who wishes on a star for an imaginary friend — until the star himself comes down from the sky to be his friend on earth. But when the chief star comes down to remind the star that he has to stay up in the sky to attend to his duties, he realizes he can’t stay with the boy forever, so the star and the boy decide to remain best friends — from afar.
True, they added a few theatrical touches and funny lines for the young crowd that were not hers…
True, when introducing her, the troupe mispronounced her Armenian name until it was literally unrecognizable — my daughter’s first Idina Menzel/John Travolta moment….
But it was still my daughter’s story, her characters, her spirit all over it. And the joy on her face, her excitement in seeing her story come to life, is something I’ll never forget.
And this forty-something playwright, herself pretty lucky to have had her first play production at age 18, found herself amazed that her eldest daughter was having her first play production in 4th grade!! I couldn’t be more grateful or thrilled.
Not only did it fill my husband and I with such pride and joy to see her creativity, faith, humor, talent and maturity so evident in the story, but it also taught me three things as a writer, a mom and a mom of a young writer:
1. Let It Be. Though some have assumed I pushed my daughter into this writing opportunity, into “my” world, I can proudly and honestly say I had absolutely nothing to do with it. Ani wrote the story in class as an optional assignment and turned it in at school, and I only knew about it and read it after the fact. There are so many times as a parent (and writer) that we try too hard to make things happen for our children. But this was a beautiful lesson to me — give her space to imagine freely, try things herself and find success in her own way and time.
2. It Will Never Be Exactly as We Imagine. Ani saw that her story looked and sounded a bit different onstage than she first envisioned and wrote it. She loved it and what the performers did with it, but she also kindly expressed some surprise or commentary about some of the changes that were made (that she was not privy to). But that is par for the course, I told her. And I think it was good for her to see how a story can change depending on who is telling it and how it is told — but that a story’s true spirit and voice never go away.
3. We Are Not Meant to Stay in a Vacuum. Stories are meant to be told, shared, and celebrated. Perhaps “My Imaginary Star” won’t be winning the Pulitzer anytime soon, and my girl will write countless diary poems and narratives that will, thankfully, never see the light of day. But eventually, we are called to live and create outside of ourselves: in relation to others, in community, with partners. We are best served by taking the constructive input and collaboration of others to make us and our writing better. In life and art, we will experience so much more that way, and I look forward to seeing how Ani lives out her creativity in the years to come, both on her own and with others.
As I continue to gently but actively encourage both our daughters in writing and creating across various art forms, I look forward to more of the lessons they teach me every day — and discovering all the ways in which the greatest inspiration can come in the smallest packages.