Growth through ‘imagination’

I never played “wedding” as a child; my Barbie dolls were always single novelists living in the city, and I was appalled when my favorite Disney character – Ariel from The Little Mermaid – left her life under the sea to walk on land with a man.

It might’ve been my mother who turned me into an early feminist. She was the one who lightheartedly taught me to say, “All men are chauvinist pigs” at the ripe age of 4 in order to floor my semi-bigoted uncle.

But I think my fierce independence ran deeper than that.

As an only child, I spent much time by myself either playing in the forest that surrounds my childhood home, or in my head while writing fiction. I felt enlivened and free in the fantasy worlds I created.

When the film “The Craft” came out in 1996, my 11-year-old imagination went to town.

I bought several books on magic and Wicca. Converting from Christianity never crossed my mind. I simply wanted to learn about things I didn’t understand. I was bound and determined that I could make things happen with my mind.

My mother knew that I wasn’t worshiping Satan or any such nonsense, and so, with a distant but mindful eye, she let my curiosities run wild.

Unfortunately many of my friends’ parents didn’t approve.

I was at a sleepover and had brought a book on candle magic; my friends were interested, so I delivered.

At the end of the evening, we cuddled under blankets in the living room and watched TV.

During the movie my friend’s mother called me into the kitchen. When I got there, I saw that my candle book was lying on the table.

“What is this?” she asked. Her expression was mixed with anger and fear. I was speechless; I couldn’t believe she’d gone through my things. When I failed to respond, she said, “Your mother’s on her way.”

I didn’t understand what I did wrong.

One of my favorite traditions is 11 o’clock mass on Christmas Eve. It’s a ritual where everyone in the congregation gets a white candle, a color that represents unity, spiritual enlightenment, and peace. At the end of mass, the ceiling lights are turned off and people pass the flame to their neighbor.

It’s beautiful; people wrap their arms around one another and usually hum Silent Night. For those few minutes, we are one big glowing community.

While driving me home from my girlfriend’s house, my mother assured me that I had done nothing wrong.

“Curiosity is good,” she said. “Never be ashamed of your imagination.”

But word spreads fast in little towns. My relationships with those girls diminished. Subsequently, the fear of thinking unacceptably has trailed me for much of my life.

I think a large part of not wanting to find a life partner hung on this event; I was afraid someone would get too close and think my fiction – my thoughts – were weird. I didn’t want anyone negatively affecting my ability to be an honest writer, and therefore labeled marriage as a non-option.

Then I met Brian.

Brian is a person professionally involved in the New York City theater scene. When we met New Year’s Day last year, “drinks” turned into a five-hour discussion about art. Now, we tend to spend Friday nights at home on the couch with a bottle of wine. I light candles and he reads stories I worked on that week.

“Do you think my writing’s weird?” I asked him at the beginning of our relationship.

He laughed. “I love your imagination,” he said. He believes that malicious acts and people usually stems from naivete and ignorance. “We need people who think outside the box,” he said. “More people need to expand their thinking.”

I’m nowhere near ready to marry Brian, but the possibility is there. We both agree that it’s parents’ duty to protect their children while cultivating, rather than admonishing, their curiosity and imagination. Kids should be determined to make things happen with their mind, wherever their wonders lead them. It’s a surefire way they’ll succeed.

Sarah T. Schwab is a Sunday OBSERVER contributor and Fredonia State graduate. Send comments to

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