Imagination, Relationships, and Reality
Reflections on how the things we imagine become more real as they are seen and heard.
I’ve been wondering, do things we imagine become more “real” as we begin to invite them into our relationships with others, with places, and with our lives?
When my oldest son was in preschool he had an imaginary friend named Mouse. Mouse was a mouse and he lived in a tree in our yard though often he stayed with us because his parents were away.
Mouse had many adventures: he went to school with Ryan and he traveled in his pocket. Generally, his adventures paralleled our lives or joined Ryan in imaginary play. At times Mouse’s stories would seem to be inspired by stories or family events. Mouse spent a week in a wheel chair, only able to go in certain rooms of our house after we first visited Ryan’s great-grandmother when she was in a wheel chair.
The most memorable Mouse moment was one time when he was left behind in the preschool classroom. Baby Kevin was buckled in his car seat, Ryan was buckled in his booster and I had started the car when Ryan realized he left Mouse in the classroom. I assured him we could just open the window and call to Mouse and he would come running out to meet us. I even cracked my door so he could climb in. This would not do; Mouse surely could not hear us from the classroom to the parking lot, and he could not walk in the parking lot alone and find us. We HAD to go get him.
So I turned off the ignition, I unbuckled, I helped Ryan unbuckle, we extracted Kevin from his baby seat and we all returned to the school building and to his classroom for Mouse. The teachers were cleaning up for the day and kindly offered to help look for Mouse. I assured them we would be quick and that only Ryan could find him. “Oh, here he is, come on Mouse,” said Ryan, and we were ready to go. The best part was the kindness of his teachers, rather than wonder if I was delusional, they patted me on the back and said I was a good mom. We went home and had a smooth afternoon of lunch and naps.
This is one of the few times I remember Mouse interacting with or being mentioned outside our home, he was mostly just a member of the household. And I am grateful that his teachers were kind and understanding. Life with a toddler involves a lot of compromise and the extra walk into school was one I was willing to make in exchange for a peaceful transition home at the end of the day.
I fully recognize that Mouse was an imaginary friend. And yet, he was also a real part of our lives in Ryan’s preschool years. Some of my favorite memories are of the stories Ryan would tell about Mouse. By listening to his stories and imagining this friend along with him, I gained access to his understanding of the world and events. It was a playful and on-going conversation and relationship. I’m grateful to have had this connection and grateful that his teachers were also affirming of Ryan in the event I described. By having his imagination be seen and heard, he was affirmed in his ability to imagine and to tell stories.
I’ve been thinking lately about the things we imagine and the ways they become more real when we offer them in relationships with others.
Chronicling my Courtship with Creativity
In February I met for the first time with a new writing group. It was my turn to share; my friends read an essay that will become part of the third chapter of my book. This felt vulnerable. Right now my book exists mostly in half-finished word files piled in folders on my computer. They are in need of editing, in need of conclusions, transitions, something to tie them together. For our meeting, I chose one with a catchy potential title and spent a day editing it into an essay. It felt new to share something that is only a piece of a larger whole, and, a larger whole that up to this point has only been seen by me.
The discussion went well. The group enjoyed what I wrote; they had some ideas for restructuring and helpful questions about how the piece fit in the context of the larger chapter and book. They wanted to know more about what would come before and after; answering their questions helped me to outline additional sections I want to write to flesh out the chapter.
I think the most powerful thing about our meeting was that my book project started to feel “real” to me. Having this small part be seen, heard, and received with love and care by a few close friends allowed me to gain confidence in the writing and in the project in general. It does not now live entirely in my head, a small part has ventured out to interact in relationship with others too.
From Pinocchio to The Velveteen Rabbit, stories of becoming “real” often involve trials, adventures, and the need to prove oneself. All these things come down to relationship, to the story’s characters entering into and deepening relationships.
At an art education conference in New York, I heard an artist speak about his early experience as a studio assistant for a famous painter. Each day during the lunch break, the famous painter would retreat to a smaller room off the main studio. The assistant never entered this space and noticed it was always kept locked. Was the artist sleeping? Reading? Just needing some quiet space away from the studio?
One day the artist was out and the door was left open; the assistant peeked in. What was inside was a huge surprise. The room was filled with small paintings. And they were nothing like the artists’ body of work filling the studio. The assistant closed the door and went about his work, curiosity satisfied. It was many years later, when he had moved on in his own career, that he slowing noticed how the artist’s work transitioned toward this different style.
At the conference I remember feeling reassured that even a famous painter with studio assistants felt the need to hide his earliest new experiments. Can you relate too?
What helps you begin to share with others?
Do you have groups or friends who are your first introductions for new work, new dreams, new wonderings?
What experiences in your life have helped things to transition from imagination to reality?
What form does that reality take?
Is it the realizing of a dream or goal?
Or maybe the telling of a story or sharing of a character?
Thank you for reading and being a part of creative community through this newsletter.
With a grateful heart,
“Real isn't how you are made,' said the Skin Horse. 'It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.'
'Does it hurt?' asked the Rabbit.
'Sometimes,' said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. 'When you are Real you don't mind being hurt.'
'Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,' he asked, 'or bit by bit?'
'It doesn't happen all at once,' said the Skin Horse. 'You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand.”
― Margery Williams Bianco, The Velveteen Rabbit
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Kathryn I love this story. Thanks for sharing it so others can appreciate imagination and recognize what each of us has inside to offer. Rose DuPont
Kathryn, I love this. It's truly encouraging and helps me know it's okay to start with my imagination and see where we get to. What an amazing story about your son and Mouse! xo Annie