Like so many other little girls, some of my favorite childhood books were authored by Beverly Cleary. Her ability to capture the essence of childhood angst and drama created by everyday experiences against a background of suburban America resulted in a series of treasured children’s tomes which have resonated with generations of young readers. One of the stories I have never forgotten comes from Beezus and Ramona, when Beezus attends her art class.
Ramona tags along to Beezus’ art class, dragging a string with an imaginary lizard, Ralph, behind her. Ramona is supposed to stay outside and play while Beezus is in class. On the way to class Beezus worries about her lack of imagination, especially in contrast to Ramona, who seems to have no limits on imagination at all. In class the teacher gives the assignment of painting an imaginary animal. Beezus decides to paint Pegasus, but is ridiculed because her painting looks like the Mobilgas billboard. An incident ensues involving Ramona, a pesky boy, a lollipop and spilled paint. By the time Beezus starts a new painting the class time is almost over. Beezus decides to paint Ralph, Ramona’s imaginary pet lizard, but it turns out to look more like a dragon. When she decides to paint flames coming out of the dragon’s mouth, she has no orange paint so she uses pink. The pink looks more like cotton candy than flames, so the dragon ends up with a row of lollipops down its back. The art teacher is thrilled with Beezus’ painting and it ends up in the center of the bulletin board.
We all know a Ramona, or perhaps you are one yourself. Ramonas, who are not too much concerned with following the rules. Ramonas who, armed with a vivid imagination and a rebellious streak, are able to hear that different drummer and follow the beat, dancing instead of marching in a straight line. Ramonas color outside the lines, wear socks that don’t match and make huge and delightful messes. Ramonas look at the ordinary and see something extraordinary.
Beezus, on the other hand, sincerely wants to do everything right. It’s an admirable goal. We need the Beezus’s of the world to ensure that everything continues to function properly. The people who pay attention to details, read the instructions and generally keep things from falling apart. Beezus never lacked imagination, she just subjugated it (as many of us do) in her quest for an orderly, perfect existence. Once Beezus gave herself permission to break the rules she loosed the bonds that held her imagination in check and she became an artist.
Many of the rules we follow are self-imposed. Some we learned as children, others we adopted based on our life experiences. Of course it’s right to follow rules imposed for the safety of others and ourselves. But more arbitrary rules, the “we’ve always done it this way” rules, the kind of rules that chafe the Ramonas among us, those rules we can turn on their heads once in a while. Once we let ourselves laugh at our expectations of perfectionism, we can let ourselves paint cotton candy breathing dragons, and what a joyous experience that is!
What rules might you break today? How will you nurture your own creativity? How will you paint your dragon?