Imagined World

Like a lot of writers, I spend a good part of my waking hours daydreaming. These daydreams tend to fall into two categories: fantasies and imaginings. I much prefer the imaginings to the fantasies, though it is not often clear where I’m headed at first, though some obvious signs quickly emerge.

In my fantasies people I disagree with always come around to my point of view. Usually, this takes a few tries—a number rewrites, as it were—but eventually I get it just right and they have no choice but to change their misguided ways. This is always strangely unsatisfying. By the time I am finished with whoever it is that opposes me they no longer seem like themselves, so I do not have the sense of having revealed anything to anyone. In fact, there is usually a dream-like moment at the end of these fantasies where I look up and discover I am actually alone.

In my imaginings I usually don’t bother with other people. I am aware that my pretend audience is just a prop to allow me to work out how best to say something I have never tried to say before. When I am done I feel satisfied because I understand something I did not when I began the imagining.

In my fantasies, I arrange events in my future like dominoes of convenience. The roulette wheel of life always lands so that I am immediately and generously rewarded. In my fantasies, I am far more interested in where I end up than I how I will get there. The excitement I feel is the false excitement of believing life will be better when . . .

In my imaginings, I see potential connections between where I am and what is possible. Often, I have missed these connections simply because I have never looked for them, or because I believed someone when they told me the connections did not exist. The excitement I feel is like that of the engineer, eager to see if his new design will fly.

When I am writing, I am careful to imagine and not to fantasize. It is tricky, as I said, for one can slip into the other. But the clues are always there. Fantasy characters never surprise me. They aren’t allowed to. They are pawns in a preconceived narrative conspiracy. Imagined characters are the lights that guide me through the darkness of a world I have asked to see.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual and group conferencing.

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The Forge

My son keeps an enormous bin of Legos stored under his bed, the disassembled accumulation of every spaceship, sports car, or castle we have bought him since he was four stirred into a multi-colored plastic soup. Were I a more ambitious father I would have perhaps purchased an elaborate storage system with which to divide the wheels from the windows, the blue from the black, the three-hole from the four-hole.

My ambitions lie elsewhere, apparently, and besides, I’m a philosophical dad, and the philosopher in me likes the plastic soup. It reminds me of life here on earth. When I look into the soup I see everything that has ever been and everything that could be.

My son likes to pretend. He likes to pretend so much that he might break away mid conversation and begin running an imaginary conversation in his head. This habit has made school in particular and life in general fairly challenging, as he finds himself trying to be in two places at once: his imaginary world, and the one he physically occupies.

He told me recently that these stories he tells himself make him feel better. Sure enough, at the first sign of stress, I see his lips begin to move silently and he has gone away to his better place. I more than understand this habit. I have spent a lot of time in my own happy place, and I don’t mean the worlds I create on the page.

For many years my own creative career had felt like those stories my son tells himself—the stories were real, but the result were all imagined. I kept them that way, I suppose because it was safer. And then one day I asked myself, “What do you actually want to make with this world?” When I said this, I saw the world like that bin of Legos, as neutral as clay, waiting for me to put my hands in it.

As a father, I am trying to guide my son back to the Legos, where what he imagines can be made real. The physical reality always requires certain adjustments, as what you first imagine and what you eventually create are never precisely the same. No matter. My son’s stress, like mine, like everyone’s, stems from the quiet belief that what we make, from a story to a cake to a marriage, could somehow be wrong. Yet the soup remains neutral, and within this great forge, fired by our ceaseless imagination, we get to experience the pure magic that is the intersection of what we think, and everything that has ever been.

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