When I was younger and my Internet usage was limited to thirty minutes per day for playing Webkinz, I would make up elaborate fantasies in my head to entertain myself. Sometimes, I couldn’t wait to get home from school so that I could stare at a wall blankly for three hours, completely vacant, imagining myself as Laura Ingalls Wilder roughing it on the prairie.
As time went on, and I read more books and got more source material, my worlds doubled, and tripled, and quadrupled. To keep it all organized, I would slot each of my worlds into imaginary drawers – a veritable file cabinet all in my mind. Some fantasies were plagiarized entirely from books, others were originals (who could forget the infamous tomato one, where I was one of a large family of sentient cherry tomatoes living in a cabin and eating porridge for every meal). Each of them was detailed down to the arrangement of furniture in every room of wherever my little imaginary people or tomatoes happened to live. In a millisecond, with a quick de-focusing of eyes, I could transport myself into a different reality, immediately picking up where I left off in each one of my detailed fantasies, like a serialized TV show. Except it was interactive. And all in my head.
I haven’t been able to appreciate the virtue of this very involved form of imagination until recently – when I was younger, how much I looked forward to it and the sheer volume of time I would spend in some made-up imaginary world kind of scared me. My parents always told me imagination was good, but were hours of vivid, intense imagination in over twenty alternate realities every day good? I tried to limit it, but life was boring and this was my only way to entertain myself.
As I grew older, however, I stopped spending hours inside my head. There was other stuff outside my head. I moved to a new school with a faster pace than my old one, and I didn’t drift off so much during school hours. My social life picked up from nonexistent to maybe-existent. And I was faced with the hard truth that no, not everyone had these fake worlds. It was weird that I had them. Maybe I shouldn’t have them. I was grown up now – I needed to start living in the real world.
The imaginary drawers started getting dusty. I spent less and less time pretending. No more hours spent lying in my bed, staring vacantly at the ceiling. Maybe a little imagination before bed, as a special treat.
By the time I reached eighth grade, my worlds had winked and faded away, one by one, with little fuss or fanfare. Now, I can’t remember a majority of what I used to dream about – I can only recall about three or four, and no specifics at all. Growing up groomed the imagination out of me.
Of course, I still have some imagination, I should hope. But it is well known that kids are practically exploding with imagination. This is how my imagination manifested itself – conveniently organizing itself into neat worlds that fit inside neat drawers in a neat filing cabinet, each available for my perusal and personal enjoyment. But even if this isn’t how everyone’s imagination showed itself, I can guarantee that every single person in the world had an active imagination as a child. Some may have been more active than others, but they all existed at least.
What happened to us? Where are our imaginations? When did we learn to be satisfied with boredom? When did we decide that things couldn’t be made better if we only lived a little in our heads?
Having an imagination doesn’t make you weird and different. Well, it does, but in like a cool way. The entire reason we have imaginations is because the real world sucks. Imagination exists to make up the slack when reality falls short of what we want. So why shouldn’t we use it to fill in that gap? We would all go crazy if we couldn’t at least imagine something better.
So here’s what I have to say: don’t be ashamed of your imagination, and don’t let it wither away because maybe it’s “too much.” Of course, don’t live entirely in some fantasy world, because that’s obviously not good. But if you want to dust off your ol’ imaginary filing cabinet equivalent and spend a good few hours staring at a wall, go for it.
Growing up is inherently sad. Don’t make it even sadder by adding imagination to the pile of things you leave behind.