Trees, red dwarf stars, books about pirates and elves, giant wooden spoons and forks that hang on the dining room walls, these childhood sources of wonder inspired flights of fantasy and ignited life long fancies that have sustained the spirit in the most trying times, reminded sad souls how to smile, and lit paths for journeys well traveled and still yet to be taken. In her article about genre narratives, “Stranger Things” by Debra Spark, published in The Writer’s Chronicle, Volume 42 Number 1, September 2009, Spark speaks of childhood awe:
[M]y inquiry has made me think about a writer’s “source of wonder.” If your “source of wonder” as a child (or perhaps even as an adult) comes from genre narratives, is there a way to recombine those narratives into the fiction you are writing now? If, like me, you aren’t drawn into such narratives, what is your “source of wonder”? Can you locate it–not find it on a map but haul it up our of your unconscious–and incorporate its pleasures into your own fiction?…Why not remember what it was that so charmed you about the stories of your youth and incorporate that delight into your fiction?
Why not indeed? Urging us to dust off our innocence, Spark asks us to rekindle what may be a long spent fire of optimism and curiosity. Our task now is to create a list of twenty items, including objects, memories, images, songs, movies, dances, books, characters, and art pieces that conjured wonder when we were young. Just list, for the moment. Don’t edit or over-think the list or any one item but try to keep memories of your childhood and adolescence.
Then chose one or two a day, and, as a regular writing exercise consider the what, when, where, why and how that bore this source of wonder in your earliest days. Examine each carefully as if it were a precious stone or a relic from your past, which it is. That blanket you couldn’t sleep without, the song your mother sang when doing the dishes, as she reminisced when she thought no one else was watching her, or the strange portrait your grandfather nailed to the living room wall that was never explained to you perhaps because you never bothered to ask, these are the stuff of marvel, the magic talismans that can unlock characters you’re struggling with, resurrect seemingly dead-ended plot lines, and jump start essays or provide a missing thread to a braided narrative. Keep this list close at hand and you should be able to draw from it as a source of inspiration and wonder, allowing you to reaffirm your roots, and, at the same time usher you into the marvelous.