When imagination is the only thing in your life you can control, it can become everything.
Everything. And, anything.
When I was young, I first perceived “imagination” as a consolation adults offer to children when they’re unable to find other kids to play with. “Use your imagination,” they’d say.
“Think of ways to amuse yourself without bothering me,” they meant.
After a time, however, I realized that, even with friends to play with, imagination was needed. Otherwise, you play only the same old games, the same old way, which gets boring, frankly.
I started reading very young. As people who like reading instinctively know, a book is a like a friend, and one with a very good imagination, to boot. In addition, books spurred my imagination, although they also revealed a deficit in my particular imagination, namely, my inability to “picture” things in my head. Children’s books provide pictures, however, as do comic books, so for years — possibly including this year — children’s books comprise many to most of my favorite books.
It’s one of the reasons I use a photography service in my blogging. I’m inspired by the visual imagery of others, but unable to generate much on my own.
My sister had a collection of marionettes when we were growing up. Puppetry is still alive, of course, both as a practice and an art form. Still, in decades and centuries past, it would have been a necessarily larger part of the imaginative life of children.
When my sister left home for college, I temporarily moved into what had been her room; in it, I found boxes of marionettes. I didn’t remember ever seeing them before; being seven years younger than she was, it was quite possible she had enjoyed them most in times before me, or at least, my memory.
I remember that the Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood show made extensive use of puppets. So did Sesame Street, of course; but somehow, I never thought of the Muppets as puppets. The Mr. Rogers puppets were more old school traditional puppets.
I remember trying out some of my sister’s marionettes, but I couldn’t seem to create any sort of life in my manipulation of the strings and wires. My father saw me doing it, and boxed the valuable marionettes back up before I could do them mortal damage.
Which I no doubt would have.
A year and a half after my sister left home for college, my brother left for the army.
Even though he was five years my senior, we had been pretty close; or, at least, we had a good relationship. Now he was grown up and gone, and I was thirteen and very unsure of how family life was going to go, being the only kid left at home.
Books and comic books (particularly the latter, by this point) were my great solace. I had a hard time making friends at school, because, bluntly, I was a jerk. Gradually, I met other jerks (just kidding, I met kids with similar interests who tolerated my misanthropy), but most of them, too, loved books and comic books.
I was interested in girls by that point, as well, but few of them that I could find had much enthusiasm for comics, or indeed, for me. So now, imagination started serving another purpose, one I couldn’t really help at first. I found myself beginning to imagine being with girls.
You’ll often hear superhero stories described as “adolescent fantasies”, and believe me, for me, they were. I wanted to be impressive to girls, but reality wasn’t permitting that. However, in the world of my imagination, I could be.
It was all I had.
I remember my favorite fantasy, although I’m sort of embarrassed to tell it. I would imagine having the power to stop the rest of the world, i.e., to freeze everyone except me and the girl. Somehow, in my fantasies, if the rest of the world was just “stopped”, the girl would fall for me.
A better story, of course, would be her immediate and passionate attempts to get the rest of the world turned back on so she could be continue her own fantasies about pop stars and football players. Because she wasn’t having them about me.
Real life rarely goes exactly like we want it to, but made-up stories can. This is one of the chief solaces of imagination. As adults, we are expected to understand the difference between fantasy and reality, however.
In real life, we don’t have superhero powers. We’re all just human beings, presumably dealing with each other respectfully and as equals.
Or we should be.
A young woman friend of mine asked me, just two days ago, if couples that had been together as long as my wife and I have been still have troubles. I laughed.
“Yes, we do,” I said.
“Somehow, I always imagined that, when you get past a certain point, everything kind of smooths out.”
“I like that picture,” I said. “Yeah, it was touch-and-go there for a minute, but I hit, like, fifty, and, now, everything’s great.”
Now, she was laughing. “Are you saying what I imagined was silly?”
“Nothing we imagine is ever silly. Not really.”
Not really, indeed.