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In Michael Chabon’s Manhood for Amateurs: The Wilderness of Childhood, he writes “Childhood is a branch of cartography.” Chabon muses about the long passages of time when, as a child, he was able to roam free, inventing his own reality as much as exploring it, creating an emotional map of the places where things happened.
This emotional map is largely absent today in a time when children’s lives are circumscribed by schedules and “playdates”. For all our honest concern for our children’s safety and enrichment, we have largely removed that necessary freedom to explore, create and imagine from our children’s lives.
But children are resilient. And they are natural explorers. As Chabon writes, “Childhood is, or has been, or ought to be, the great original adventure.” At a recent outdoor concert in a nearby park, I allowed my two young sons to drift away from me, only to discover them minutes later – one ankle deep in a nearby creek and the other halfway up a tree. They had no interest in listening to the music. They wanted to explore the boundaries of their world. They were playing out scenarios of adventure I saw on their faces and read on their lips as I discreetly watched them from the underbrush so I didn’t interrupt their explorations.
This desire for adventure is at the heart of our love of story. Even as adults, we feel a need to share the stories that inform our existence or explain to us, and to anyone who reads our words, the contexts and conditions of our lives.
Adventures are best created in the absence of structure. The essence of imagination is the freedom to dream. Just now the summer spreads before us like a glimmering, golden field. It is an invitation. Go forward and embrace it. Explore it with unstructured joy. Then write what comes to mind, adding details to enrich the map that little by little will tell the many stories of all our lives.