Friday, November 20, 2015

A little inspiration from Walt Disney

Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes trilogy. She has an overactive imagination and a passion for truth. Her lifelong journey to combine the two is responsible for a stint at Portland Bible College, performances with local theater companies, and a love of all things literary. When she isn’t writing, she spends her days with her husband, Matt, imagining things unseen and chasing their two children around their home in Northern California. To connect with Shan, check out her website, FB, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest.

Hello from Disneyland, everyone! I thought it would be incredibly cool to plop down at a table on Main Street, whip out my laptop, and actually blog from the storytelling capital of the world, but alas! Disneyland does not provide WiFi!

It does, however, provide endless moments of inspiration. 

So, from the bed in my hotel room, I give you this quote by Walt Disney.

"Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world."

Such a fabulous quote, right? And one that holds a rather special place in Disney's current fireworks show. I heard the words for, perhaps, the millionth time tonight and it dawned on me that they carry more meaning than I had initially given them credit for. 

Clearly, the Disney folks can and will continue to add on to their theme parks. They're not short on imagination and they have perfected the practice of bringing in top notch thinkers whose sole purpose is to IMAGINE. 

But the past few days have taught me to think a little deeper about Walt Disney's words. 

My daughter, Jazlyn, is seven and she's been to Disneyland several times. As you can imagine, it's quite the experience for her. All princesses and fairies, fireworks and parades. And we've lucked out because she really likes rides as well. Even the big ones. Even the ones that scare her. 

Except . . .

This year, I'm not entirely sure what's happened. Some form of common sense must have kicked in and she realizes, now, that she's not immortal. And that awareness has made her a little skittish. Rides that she's ridden oodles of time have suddenly become terrifying. Teary-eyed terrifying.  

When she started weeping--seriously weeping--at the idea of climbing onto Grizzly River Run, we got to work concocting an origin story. That's right. An origin story. Jazlyn and I talked our way through the fictional scenario that led to our NEED to climb into a gigantic inner tube and float down some moderately frightening rapids. It went a little something like this:

The gigantic wooden bear at the front of the ride looks nice and friendly, right? HOWEVER, if you do not keep him full of salmon, he turns exceptionally vicious. Mickey Mouse asked Jaz and me to see that the bear got fed. BUT! While we were heading off to snag a few fish, a group of BAD GUYS stole our fishing rods and flung them into the river. We were left with absolutely NO CHOICE but to go in after them. I mean, if we couldn't find our rods, we couldn't feed the bear. And if we couldn't feed the bear, he just might eat all of Disneyland. And we could not let that happen.

Silly, yes? But it worked. Jaz climbed onto the ride and then, it became a thing. We brainstormed our fictional origin stories for The Tower of Terror and Splash Mountain and California Screamin' and, even though she wasn't afraid of it, we have a great little backstory concocted for Thunder Mountain Railroad as well. She was having so much fun making up stories, the fear got shoved aside and she was able to enjoy the ride with the rest of the family.

Disneyland is, in huge part, full of experiences that take you inside the imaginations of others. But, as storytellers, we're fooling ourselves if we think our readers can entirely divest themselves of all their baggage when they dive into our tales. We can make them forget for a while, sure, but the best stories, I think, acknowledge that readers bring their own lives to the page. 

Every reader has a history, adventures that have brought him or her to our fiction. And that means magic happens every single time a reader opens the cover of a book. 

Because none of our origin stories are the same. We each bring our own imagination, our own fears, our own hang-ups and hardships to the things we read. The story will not, cannot, touch every reader identically. Our experiences our unique. 

So, while Jazlyn and I may ride Grizzly River Run so that we can find our fishing poles, feed the bear, and save Disneyland, YOU undoubtedly will experience those rapids in an entirely different way. 

And that's not just the magic of Walt Disney. That's the magic inherent in every imagination.

Jazlyn's imagination, her childhood fears and the stories that helped her overcome them, became a part of Disneyland this week. And I think Walt would be proud. I think he knew something every storyteller would do well to remember.

Stories help us conquer our fears. It's never "just a book." If it's a good one, if it's doing its job, it's much, much more.

Tell me, how has fiction helped you conquer your fears? If you're not sure it has, think on it some. I bet stories have moved you more than you know.


  1. Ooh, looks like you had fun in Disney! I haven't been since May this year, and I'm beginning to miss it more and more now I see you've had a great time. (I LOVE Space Mountain, is it similar to Thunder Mountain Railroad?)

    To answer the question, strangely, it has. Reading fiction has comforted me when I learn about characters who are also dealing with tough stuff (not wanting to go to school, bad friendships, life in general), and I've become more resilient to everything that's happened around me, because all these characters around me definitely have recovered from their hard times.

    Writing fiction... I've added bits and pieces of me in my characters, all the quirks and random facts about me that make people think I'm 'strange' or 'odd'. I become less scared about being strange in real life when I write about characters who are as weird as me.

    Huh... I wonders if that makes sense. I'm not sure, haha! Anyway, thanks for this post! :)

  2. Awww. That's adorable about your stories.

    (Also . . . the "common sense kicking in" thing . . . that's what happened to me with rollercoasters. Been afraid of them most of my life; one year I decided that I was done being scared and I was going to try one. And then I rode that one three times that year . . . and the next year I rode it twice and another once . . . and then the third year I was back to being scared, so since then I just ride it once to prove I can and stay off rollercoasters the rest of the day.)

    I'm not sure how reading fiction has helped me conquer my fears, but writing fiction has helped me some, I think, by forcing me to put myself out there a little more.

  3. Oh my goodness, this is so inspirational.

    How has fiction helped me conquer my fears? Well, let's start with reading, I guess. Reading books has helped me realize I'm not alone. That someone understands things I've felt before that I thought were way off the "regular" charts, or even understands an experience I've lived through that I was scared to bring up to anyone.

    As for writing fiction, I think it's helped me conquer my fear of failure, I think. Or my fear of the unknown. Because let's face it--we all have moments where we are just flat-out scared to death because we literally have no idea what's going to happen next. And those moments have happened so often for me while writing stories that I've finally started to learn that I can talk myself out of those rationally, because I've seen that I can and do get through them.

    There's probably more things, too, but these are the general things that come to mind. :)

    Thanks for the post! Glad you had fun!

  4. YES. This is something I've really seen recently. I read a book called A Time to Die, by Nadine Brandes(and the sequel, A Time to Speak), and it was very, very powerful. Through it, a lot of doubts and fears that I had were completely taken away. I have never read a story that touched me as much as these two did.
    ( )
    It's also a wonderfully written, wonderfully developed story, with characters that I could actually care about. I have never related so well to any character as well as I related to Parvin.

  5. I'd say it's inspired me to do more. And if I'm thinking of what I want or can do I don't even think of fear. :)

  6. Awww... that last pic of you and your daughter was so cute... you make an adorable mommy:)