In the last week, I’ve spent time in Middle Earth, visited Japan with Arriety, wandered Wonderland and seen something of the surreal world of Professor Elemental. In the physical world, I’ve not been more than ten miles from my usual haunts. This combination is not unusual for me. I travel more in thought than in body. The mind can go anywhere, unhampered by cost, timetables or physical health. I always was a daydreamer.
In my imagination and meditations, I can go to Stonehenge or Avebury. I can go back to scenes and places of abject wounding to try and reclaim parts of my soul. There are otherworlds to explore, imaginatively, even if I’m not confident of my ability to make real journeying. (How do you tell?) As an author I’ve always lived a lot in my own imagination.
It’s grey, wet and cold here. Yet another rainy day, but at least the wind has dropped. It’s so wet underfoot that walking and cycling are miserable, and I don’t have a car. I have nowhere to go, and am still ill. The imagination calls. I’m surrounded by books, each one of them a doorway into another world, or time, or location. My childhood was full of books, and this sort of escape. Life always seemed too narrow, dreams could take me anywhere, and usually those dreams were shaped by books. Aged 11, I wrote quite a long story for a school project that was supposed to be “how I became famous”. I pictured myself as a successful author, so involved with the fictional world I’d created that I became unable to function in the real world, and was only able to re-engage after a train crash allowed me to fake my own death and start over. That was the future I saw for myself, aged eleven. Lost in my own imagination, isolated, a bit mad, but writing books. However rich the dreamworlds might be, there was always that skein of darkness in the mix.
I didn’t get that life, for which I am grateful. I’ve learned a thing or two about the escapism and the lands of dream and fiction, too. They only work when they hold real life resonance and relevance. Go too far into fantasy and you get nonsense. Alice in Wonderland may be surface nonsense, but it’s the existential crisis of Alice that makes it compelling. How do any of us know who we are, after all? Or what the rules really are? Wonderland is also the insanity of this world.
I escape into books and films looking for inspiration, wonder and enchantment. When life seems grey, or I’m ill, those escapes give me back a sense of possibility and magic. The trick is to bring that with me, back to here and now, and do something about the greyness, or my perception of it, or share a flicker of possibility with someone else.
Two years ago to the day, I married a fellow dreamer. Someone with whom I can make the journeys to those other places, and come back again. It’s the dreams we make for our own shared life that are the most powerful, though. Daring to imagine better ways of living and more potent things to be doing. Refusing to become banal, resisting mediocrity and the insipid norms of the consensus reality. If fantasy tells you that you can’t have those dreams as real things in this life, then the fantasy itself is doing it wrong, and exists to trap you, not to set you free.
If, as my younger self imagined, the journey into creativity is a one way ticket to madness and isolation, you’ve missed the point. It’s not the going there, it’s the coming back, and what you bring with you from the journey. Because if you bring it back and make it shareable, it becomes real. At eleven I didn’t understand the power of a story told, the magic of sharing a daydream. It’s not the lonely place I thought it would be, and out of those dreams, all kind of real things are born.