In a recent Time Magazine interview the creator of the wildly popular online game Minecraft, Markus Persson, talked about how “his lack of artistic ability turned into one of the game’s defining traits, ‘A tree doesn’t look like a tree, but you know it’s a tree. It makes it feel more real, because a larger part of it takes place in your imagination.’ ” I can’t tell you how many times I heard that word ‘imagination’ or how many times I was told to “use your imagination” when I was growing up; and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told my own daughters to “use your imagination.”
I was just one of those kids who loved to complain about there being nothing to do – and I grew up on 400 acres of farm and wheat land, which included two old creepy houses (with cellars!) that had been abandoned decades before I came along; there was a creek that wound its way through the farm and a couple of old, rusty windmills and big, red wooden barns near my grandparent’s farmhouse. There was not one thing about this place that could really be described as ‘boring.’ Not one thing but me…
Yet my grandmother, who lived not far from us on the other side of the farm, loved to here me say that I was ‘bored.’ No sooner had I proclaimed that magic word than she would spring into action and send me off on outdoor adventures to gather this or that somewhere among those 400 acres and then return to her home later that day with what I had found; and then to have her ask me to help her make these amazing mini cherry cheesecakes, play games like Payday or Concentration, or rearrange her bookshelves and the long row of cabinets beneath them.
Ah, those cabinets beneath the bookshelves. I loved them, these little hidden spaces behind closed doors, stacked completely to the brim with books of all kinds and shapes and sizes. It was a space so full of books that you had to shut the door quickly to keep them from spilling out onto the living room floor. Honestly, it was amazing and it was a treasure to me. There were all kinds of books in there, but the ones that stand out in my mind today are mostly children’s books from my dad’s childhood and comic books and baseball cards used as bookmarks and handwritten notes scrawled inside the book covers from people I had never heard of or only heard about. I would lose myself in these cabinets and the boredom would lose itself there, too.
I’m grateful for my grandmother and that old farm and the books that she drew me into and taught me to cherish simply because she cherished them and had no intentions of ever having too many or relegating even one to be put away in a box or attic somewhere. Though she now lives in a house in the city, she still has most of those books in nearly every room of it…and I still get lost in the shelves and their cabinets when I visit her, some 30 years later.
My 80-year old grandmother and the 20 or 30-year old creator of Minecraft have something in common – they understand the value of imagination. And imagination often comes because of good old-fashioned boredom. Both are valuable for us all. So next time your kids tell you they’re bored, applaud them and tell them what my grandma told me – “use your imagination” – then smile and walk away. 30 years later, they will be glad you did.