The paradox of retro-aspiration

Retro-aspiration: wanting to grow into something you once were

A trove of art
A flotsam of dozens of crude little clay figures, my seven-year-old’s production from arts and crafts play, engulfed the Kleenex box (whose sole purpose is to provide repositories for snot or dabs for tears).

In a few short days, he effortlessly molded almost a hundred different shapes—some his version of things that already exist, like a Rubix cube, dragons from his favourite show, a selection of balls, a Beyblade, and symbols of the Illuminati (don’t ask because I don’t know). Others are entirely his invention: different dragons, marine, reptilian, mammalian, and molluscan creatures, and strange foods.

The grown-up aboard
I noticed his prolific production while I struggled to fill out a list of things to write about. His work struck me for its ease—every notion worthwhile and unhesitatingly executed. In admiring how freely he could create, I realized I was retro-aspiring to the river of boundless, unselfconscious possibility. I wanted to move forward to the past.

As we grow up, we necessarily take on the cargo of responsibility. Now busy with paid work to deliver others’ visions, my own ideas often get caught in the banks or whisked ahead in the current. When the muse calls, my hands are usually otherwise occupied, or a pen and paper, a phone, my memory, discipline, or energy are absent.

No mariner’s lament
At the same time, let’s not confuse retro-aspiring with the dead zone of wistful reminiscence or the salty tears of regret that serve only vanity. Retro-aspiring isn’t pining for an irretrievable past, like swashbuckling high school glory days or teenage taut skin. It’s rather to motivate us to find some piece of freedom we lost along the way, to shed a weight we’ve loaded and carried through our progressing adulthood, then speed freely ahead with the wisdom we gleaned along the way.

Perhaps it’s a matter of “use it or lose it”. Our creativity may not actually sink; it is there but obscured by deeper water or louder rapids. It’s a matter of listening and forming habits to hook those ideas as they come. Disciplined, successful writers surely follow some method to record then explore their thoughts. And I’ll bet the better you get at staying with them, the more you see.

The opportunities are everywhere and endless. Even the Kleenex box has a flower.

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