NASA 360 shared an image on Facebook the other day that got me thinking about imagination, storytelling, and bowling alleys.
The image shows a rendering of the surface of Jupiter with one of the planet’s moons in transit, and was posted to celebrate the arrival of NASA’s Juno probe in the giant planet’s orbit. Looking at the swirling clouds of Jupiter’s atmosphere, including the iconic Great Red Spot, reminded me of one of my favorite games when I was young.
When I was a child, I enjoyed going to the bowling alley. Not because I had any great love of the game – which I freely admit I was never very good at – but because to my young mind all of the bowling balls with their swirling, multicolored surfaces looked like nothing so much as various planets, real and imagined.
I would take the bowling balls off the rack and line them up on the floor to create my own solar systems, name my worlds, and make up little stories about the people and aliens that lived on them. Which planets were at war with each other, which had formed alliances. Which alien races were rising and developing new technologies, and which civilizations were waning. It was great fun, until the impatient grownups who were there to knock down pins had had enough of it and put a stop to my “nonsense.”
As with so many things, I lost interest in bowling alleys by the time I entered my teenage years, but whatever urge pushed me to set up those little universes on the floor stuck with me. Rather than spending my evenings creating tripping hazards in dimly-lit bowling alleys, though, I open up my laptop and create my new universes on the page. The point of this all – and I say this as much for my own benefit as for anyone else – is a reminder that story can come from anywhere, if you’re open to it.