Tuesday, August 5, 2008


Today I realized that, though I am a non-fiction writer, I am a creative reader and thinker. By creative I mean, well, fiction. The what-if; the could-have-beens; the change-a-factor-and-see-what-happens kind of thinker. I can probably pinpoint the beginning of such thinking to when I first read Ray Bradbury's short story, "A Sound of Thunder." In the story, a trip back in time to the dinosaur era, and the accidental killing of a single butterfly, causes a time paradox: this tiny alteration ultimately causes a domino effect of changes that carry into the future, all the way up to the year to which the travelers return.

Ever since then, I have loved the idea of the possible. What if I had taken that job in the bank instead of at the art college, where I began my journey toward becoming a writer? What if my parents had bought that apartment in co-op city instead of the house in Westchester in which to raise me? What if I had decided not to go to the restaurant with co-workers the night I met the man who would become my husband? The variations these choices could have made on my life are mind-boggling.

The interest in the topic has led me to read a series of variations on my favorite book, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (good) and also causes me to contrive horrible potential scenarios anytime my children undertake any kind of adventure, such as a class trip (bad). But overall, I have decided that such musings on what could be are just the kind of thinking I want to pass on to my children.

Giving the next generation the ability to see the best in people, to imagine the rosiest outcome and to see the great things they can achieve with the right attitude is giving them a gift. I'm not talking about being unrealistic or overly optimistic: I'm talking about teaching them how to imagine all the different ways an encounter, an opportunity or a situation could unfold, and the power that they hold to affect those possibilities. How will this person react if I smile at them instead of frowning? What emotions will fill the child who receives this toy I am donating? How much better will my street look if I pick up all of the litter I see on it, and how will it better the Earth? And best of all, how will it make me feel to do these things?

The one thing children crave, from the time they are infants right through their teenage years and even into adulthood (don't deny it--you crave it too), is control over their world. Making a difference is something we all want to do, beginning on a small scale when we are young and expanding to the world at large when we are older. Seeing the impact we make--and feeling good about it--is what makes life worth living. The earlier we can teach our children how to make positive impressions in the world, by showing them their options and illustrating the potential outcomes, the better their worlds--and ours--will be. Just imagine the possibilities!

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