[N.B. I seem to remember writing this before but it may just have been a draft in my head. If it’s a repeat, sorry.]
I have always had “an imagination.” School reports called it vivid. And it let me write sprawling stories with characters and adventures and ideas. My head was full of stories. I told them to my sister, or to friends. We had the most interesting games- not all my doing, obviously. I still have that in me, although now I’m more likely to grasp and twist an everyday event than make up a long adventure story in the manner of Enid Blyton or Nina Bawden. Having “an imagination” is useful: midway through an essay I discover a clarity, a new angle. Or I complete some Creative Writing.
Monotonous jobs have never bored me, really- once I get the knack of the task, I narrate in my head. Everything, everybody, has a narrative- circular, linear, skippy- it doesn’t matter. We are all made of stories. A lot of the narration I lose, but it gets me through days, and sometimes something sticks and becomes a poem or a story. Or I tell stories to my little sister, to my brother when he was small. I remember calming my littlest sister down on a car journey when she was two by making up a prince and a princess called Egbert and Eggalina, who knew a friendly dragon who rescued Eggalina from a very dull tower so that she could play football with her brother. There was a whole series of these, as well as one about the Green Man from traffic lights escaping- again, through his boredom. For want of audiobooks, I remember stories I have read quite clearly and sometimes it helps with sleep/It’s great having “an imagination”. It definitely makes for good grades.
Then there’s the flip side. I used to have nightmares. I would wake convinced, not that there was a monster under the bed (we had bunk-beds) but that entire scenes from the news (I was scared by the news) would be playing out inside my cupboard. Or I would lie awake thinking that a dead character in a Three Investigators novel had the same name as my sister, and what if she died, and did we argue before she went to sleep, and will she become a blue ghost on a merry-go-round? I remember that night clearly, though I don’t know for sure now that the ghost was blue, or whether that was the colour of the book’s cover, or just the colour that stuck in my head with her. I remember that the book had to be hidden from me, that I couldn’t even have it in my room because I could feel it hiding in the wardrobe. My sister had a similar thing about Jurassic Park. Also an imaginative one.
And now, at 26, the flip side seems even more of one. I still have nightmares now, some imagined, some remembered. My mind will grab on to something (see numerous entries about Norwegian sea-ghosts and sand men). It doesn’t let go. Baby’s fist clutching a finger. I’m not necessarily talking about the kind of grand-scale terror that I had about the ghosts. Most of the time it is pretty harmless. Everyone scares themselves from time to time and afterwards they laugh, share the moment with friends, remember it now and then… and move on. I’m not that special, most of the time that’s what I do as well. But sometimes… sometimes I can’t let go of an idea. For example, now, my mind is running over all the fears about ghosts like a finger over a disrupted surface. Back and forth, uneasy with the discrepancy. I woke up after two hours’ sleep and thought suddenly: all the villain needs to do is say Boo. Sick uneasy feeling from shoulder to shoulder. It’s a continuation of once you’ve seen it you can’t unsee it. It’s part of that sequence. I’ve been comfort re-reading His Dark Materials and I think it’s the Shades that unnerved me. Once you can see them, you can’t unsee them… and once you have seen them it is only a matter of time before they get you.
And I am sat here, edgy, nervous, my attempt at a New Responsible Routine disrupted by a sudden surge of imagination, or the borrowing of someone else’s. My head said: Deus ex Machina and that’s when I thought about the villain saying Boo! He/ she/ it is under no obligation to wait until the end of the story. It mightn’t make for a better story but… it might make for a realer one. We can all be grasped away, or back (?), at any time.
The flip side of imagination is fear.