Sunday, November 8, 2015

Living on the Star-trails of Fantasy

In her wonderfully evocative and imaginative book, What It Is, the multi-talented Lynda Barry maps her own journey as a creative person using drawings and words. She tells us things about her own explorations. She asks us questions about our own journey.

On a page brimming with her drawings -- a little girl crying near the fire with a mouse looking at her, a bear scratching its way out of the page and patterns of birds on branches -- she tells us about the child that she once was.

"There are certain children who are told they are too sensitive, and there are certain adults who believe sensitivity is a problem that can be fixed in the way crooked teeth can be fixed and made straight. And when these two come together, you get a fairy tale, a kind of story with hopelessness in it."

A kind of story with hopelessness. A story that points to where you are in its unfolding. A story that has been played out before and that is spreading its wings in your own life right now. 

Barry tells us how immensely helpful this can be, how recognizing the myths we are living can help us transform our feelings. 

"They can't transform your actual situation, but they can transform your experience of it. We don't create a fantasy world to escape reality, we create it to be able to stay. I believe we have always done this, used images to stand and understand what otherwise would be intolerable."

We don't create a fantasy world to escape reality. We create it to be able to stay. I love that she says this, that imagination can be used not as an escape, but as a way to engage with reality, a way to be in reality without going mad. When we give up our connection to a larger story, when we give up our imagination and just bow down to the clunky reality and rationality, we are crumbling our soul. 

We forget that we bring our own way of looking to the experience. We can think of ourselves as bobbing away helplessly in a sea of experiences or we can bring our own meaning, our own imagination into them and make them liveable. 

Without the essence of the meaning, without the spark that our imagination gives them, our experiences are meaningless, random things happening to us. 

Of course, sometimes we can use our imagination to our detriment. We can become ungrounded. But what Barry is telling us is the positive use of imagination. It gives the golden thread to our life. We don't throw ourselves on the rocks of so-called reality that can sometimes be hard and cold. 

We have this instinct to spin stories and meanings right from the time we are little. 

Think about a child reading books that makes them cry, Barry tells us. Think about what these stories mean. They tell the little child about who he or she is. They hold up a mirror. Something in them connects to their essence. They provide a shelter for their growing self. Remember how as children we curled inside our stories for comfort? 

What would happen to this child if they couldn't imagine, couldn't find their place in the story? 

"It seems that human beings everywhere understand that a child who is never allowed to play will eventually go mad. But how do we know this? And why do we know this? And what happens when we forget?"

What happens when we forget? 

We do forget as we grow up. Maybe, we give up our playing, our pretending, our imagining ourselves into our stories because we think that that is what grown ups do. But maybe we need to make up our own stories, look for stories that seem like our own and settle down in them to be really comfortable with reality. 

We need this to connect to something bigger when things are hard. We need this to steer clear of the harsh edges of things that don't make sense. Our stories lead our way forward through dangerous terrains. They tell us that our answers are made inside of us. We can't find them outside. 

What would happen if you again became friends with your imagination? That is what I am trying to imagine. Maybe things will again seem softer, more fluid. Maybe things again will have a shine in them, a reason for their happening, a reason for our going through them. Maybe, the wild imagination that looks "unreasonable" to others is exactly what clears the way for walking on solid ground. 

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