I’m biddy, Mama. I’m makin’ somethin.’
As ridiculous as that sentence is today, to a six-year-old, it’s the ultimate statement of concentration. I was that six-year-old. And I was always “biddy.” I’m sometimes accused these days of having attention-deficit disorder. I can’t imagine why. Maybe it’s because being “biddy” is so important to me. I always had to do something. Especially when it came to Legos.
My brother Andy and I built a Lego town that would literally fit on a single-sized bedboard. It had everything: An apartment building, houses, a grocery store, the Shelton inn, a hospital (with a moving X-ray arm in one of the rooms), a post office (with a handy little mail drop slot), an arcade, a motorcycle dealership, and of course, Legoland Baptist Church.
Yes, it had a baptistery. It had a balcony. It had a little hand-drawn Bible on the tiny plastic pulpit. And like any good Baptist church, it was always being renovated.
I built Lego versions of “KITT” from the TV series Knight Rider. I even built working transformers (the truck that turns into a robot was surprisingly easy compared to figuring out the fighter jet that turns into a robot).
But I had one problem. Jay. He is my best friend. He liked movies as much as I did… especially the kind of movies that had a really particularly nasty bad guy. One day, Jay came over to play and was particularly fascinated with the Lego police station I built. It had built-in jail. And it had a prisoner.
My brother took a felt-tip pen and drew stubble and a mustache on the Lego prisoner. Jay saw this poor tiny plastic soul and decided that his name would be “Rambo.”
“Rambo” escaped… violently. He commandeered a Lego police car and proceeded to smash into every one of the carefully constructed buildings that my brother and I had constructed. I had never seen Lego pieces fly that far or bounce off the ceiling like that.
Nothing was sacred; not the houses, not the pizza parlor, and not the church. Not even my three different replicas of KITT were spared. In mere minutes, my masterpiece of a Lego Metropolis was reduced to rubble.
I wasn’t a violent child. Well, at least I wasn’t until that point. Surprisingly, Jay is still my best friend. Yes, he survived… barely. Jay I and I laugh about that day often. Of course, this is largely because it was over 25 years ago and it’d be silly for me to hold a grudge for that long. Next time I’ll aim lower.
I’m still “biddy.” Some have even questioned my sanity for being involved in as many things as I am. Maybe they should question it. But there are some things that I’ve learned over the years through those Lego experiences.
First, always know what the special pieces are. There’s a purpose for them. Some of them are hinges, wings, or windows. It helps to know what you’re looking for when you’re building something. Whether it’s a church or a Pride organization, I am always looking to put the right piece in the right place.
Second, be willing to move things around. I kept my loose Legos in a couple of large filing cabinet drawers underneath the big town set. We would rustle our hands through for several minutes to find the right piece. And the best ones somehow always ended up on the bottom of the drawer.
Third, never let your best friend name your Lego prisoner “Rambo.” Okay, I’m kidding.
Third, always have a way in and a way out. Another best friend of mine, whose last name was Mann, was over one day and decided that there should be an imaginary town called “Mannton” on a road sign that was at the end of town. Our world is always bigger if we’re not only focused on what we have in front of us. Build bridges. Know our neighbors.
Fourth, throw out the directions. Yes, I know it’s risky. But to be truly creative, I learned to build from scratch. It became truly mine. When I made those Lego transformers, it stretched my mind and imagination. Why buy them when I can make my own?
Fifth, when struggling, get the directions out. Yes, I know it’s a contradiction. But there would be those times that I just couldn’t make a set work the way I wanted it to. Find out what works. Then use it. Look for what others have done, and incorporate it. Ask questions.
Sixth, put your toys back where you found them. As much as I laughed when my father would stumble on a tiny Lego piece, I still got into trouble. I knew it was real trouble if he started going through the list of names… “Andy-Beth-David-whateveryournameis—GET OVER HERE!” In the same way, as an activist, I have to be mindful of what information I pass out. Context is critical.
I’ve since passed those Legos on to other family members, but I still have the transformers. They are a reminder of the importance of creativity. They remind me that being “biddy” is a part of my life, and it always will be. I don’t play with Legos anymore. But I carry those days with me wherever I go.
These days, the pizza parlor, house, apartments, hotels and church are real. And the people in them are real. So are the problems. But the solutions can sometimes be mere kindergarten rules and Lego instruction booklets. No, not always. But it’s worth a try, isn’t it?