When I was about five years old, an odd persistent idea came to me while I sat looking out the window at the house across the street. A kid named Jacky lived there; he was a year older than me, and we were friends. I was thinking about his life, my life, our very different existences. I wondered what it would be like to be him, instead of being myself. I got so fascinated by the idea of trading lives with this kid that I began to imagine it was something I could possibly do, by sheer force of thinking about it hard enough and deciding to do it. But then, I thought, if I became Jacky, who wasn’t that bright, how would I ever know I was really me? How would I ever get back into my own life? Because whatever little thing about his life I might have envied, I definitely preferred to be me. So I decided not to do it.
Then, when I was maybe about ten, when I had the imagination/reality thing more sorted out, I had another mental adventure that has defined my life. My father was driving from Seattle to Pennsylvania with me as his only passenger. I watched Montana roll by for days, trying brain experiments like “can I look at every single power pole?” I discovered I could only look at every inch of the journey if I never stopped to look back or think about anything I’d seen. I knew at the time that this was going to matter to me for a long time, that this was a really big idea. I may have even known the word “profound.”
So, me and my imagination balance constantly between reality and ideas about reality. What is, and what could be. I travel as deeply as I can into other people’s lives, minds, hearts, without abandoning myself. I bring back characters and stories. In a spirit of self-preservation and curiosity, I watch what’s happening along my life path, but many days can go by in unnoticed chaos because I am too busy making word pictures of things I’ve seen or heard or felt, maybe yesterday, maybe years ago, often from a point of view that wasn’t even my own.
All well and good so far, nicely artsy-fartsy, even quaint, befitting a silly old writer. Usually, these days, my imagination is a blessing, a fruitful pleasure. But I’ve said snidely of other people, the ones with excess drama in their lives: “She should be a novelist; that’s a lot of imagination going to waste.” Love, hate, fears, insults, jealousies, traumas. These things can all be imagined, or at least made larger than life in any human mind. Reality incorrectly imagined lies somewhere between lying to oneself and true craziness (misunderstanding the “real” world too completely.) That’s imagination’s curse. I can’t say I’ve never been down that road, or even that I haven’t gone there lately. Today though, I’m blessed. I’m 100% me, here, now.