Art and About
Engaging with the creative force in everyday life

January 13th, 2008

Imagination is Intelligence Having Fun

Posted by christina in Web Columns

“Imagination is intelligence having fun” is an anonymous quote that is one of my favorite sentiments. It helps me keep in perspective the inherent intelligence of children, all children, who are born with magnificent imaginations and gravitate toward imaginative play. Anyone who has watched their privilege child opt for playing with the Christmas boxes rather than the shiny, spiffy toy inside has seen this in action.

Sometimes as adults, it is not so much fun to use our imagination. If we can solve a problem by buying a solution, or paying someone else to come up with a solution, then we often take the easy road. Like any other mental ability, using our imagination takes practice and if we don’t practice, it becomes harder to do.

Christmas is almost three weeks ago, but a Christmas conundrum from this year will undoubtedly be churning away in my imagination for the next 11 months. Our tradition is to cut down our own Christmas tree, and this year was no exception. My husband and I had a brief discussion about whether we would be better environmental citizens by getting an artificial tree, but we opted for the tradition because the arguments for real versus fake keep the scale almost balanced. We know that having no tree at all is best, but we are not quite ready for that step yet.

The difference between this year’s tree felling and year’s past was that we cut down a huge tree. The biggest our house could fit — 9 1/2 feet high and fairly bushy. It was the culmination of a quest I began 13 years ago when my husband and I went searching for our first tree together. As a child, I always wanted Clara’s mega tree from the San Francisco Ballet production of “The Nutcracker.” As an adult, I intended to get as close as I could. We kept buying houses with high ceilings, and I always envisioned a tree scraping the top, but none ever did before this year.

I knew that this year’s tree was THE tree the moment I approached it at the tree farm. The family didn’t disagree and a mighty effort was put forth by all of us to chop it down. It was heavy and awkward, but we got it home and decorated and it was magnificent. Underneath it, I placed some large-scale family wood toys of a rocking chair, rocking airplane and train to represent the over-scale toys under the giant tree in “The Nutcracker.” The effect was better than I ever imagined.

Except for one thing. I felt great guilt for killing this mighty tree just to decorate our house for a month. My head told me it was beautiful but my heart was conflicted. Here’s a true confession: I usually talk to our Christmas trees, offering a “good morning” and “good night” as I water them each day, calling them “Mr. Tree” and making sure they are given proper anthropomorphic attention for the important purpose they serve in our holiday celebrations. I never called this year’s tree “Mr. Tree” and barely said a word to him. It was the elephant in the room — he was dying for our pleasure and I couldn’t look him in the eye and admit that.

I convinced myself that this tree was our call to action to stop killing trees. I started introducing our tree to people as “our last living Christmas tree.” After Christmas, we shopped some artificial tree sales, got some branch samples, and pondered what a reasonable budget would be for a fairly frivolous and extravagant purchase. How much is an artificial expression of a tradition dating back hundreds of years worth? We couldn’t arrive at a satisfactory answer. We nixed the potted tree solution as impractical because I would really like the ultra-large tree. I started exploring other ways to express the tradition that may be a little more metaphorical or abstract. No solutions yet.

The decorations came down on Epiphany and our waste management company was coming to collect trees the next day. Our tree was still drinking a lot of water meaning he was far from dead. Instead of sending him with the compost truck right away, we removed the ornaments and lights, but re-erected him in the tree stand on the patio outside our living room so we can continue to enjoy his majesty as long as it reigns.

The first night out, it rained and we awakened to a sunny but cold January morning with water droplets shimmering on the tree branches. At breakfast, my husband commented that they looked like small lights with the sun shining through them. My kids saw the “lights”, and then described the “ornaments” they could also see among the branches with the light playfully weaving through. In our imaginations, the tree is still decorated and standing proud — maybe even more glorious in his natural environment than he was in our home.

One thing I know for sure: Whether we end up cutting another tree, purchasing an artificial one, buying an artistic representation of a tree, making an artistic tree ourselves or finding an alternate solution to honoring the tree tradition, this year’s tree will be the gold standard as we endeavor to match nature’s sculpting of branches and needles. He has challenged our imagination to intelligently come up with a solution.

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