Editor’s Note: the original version of this article was first posted on the C2C in 2010.
My new favorite word is paracosm. A paracosm is a detailed imaginary world that children create. This imaginary world has its own geography, language, culture and history and its often filled with fantastical creatures. It is one of my favorite words because, as you know, I am creating a paracosm for my novel. Actually, for the most part I have already created it. I have spent most of the time these past 3 years creating the detailed world that my heroine encounters, and I keep adding to it as I go along.
Writers are probably the only few people (maybe the only people) who continue to develop their paracosms long after childhood. We constantly develop new paracosms, one after the other, each as detailed and unique as the next. It is an ongoing process that I would imagine would overwhelm most people. It is a delicate balance to hold all these worlds together while at the same time holding these different worlds apart. But the greatest challenge is keeping the paracosm-building process away from the real world.
I’m not saying that you get confused as to what is real and what is not real, a la “Inception”… but sometimes when you are building so many paracosms on a consistent basis, that you get used to letting any little imaginary story snowball, and any little idea turns into a giant paracosm. Even an idea that happens to have you as the main character and your real life as its setting.
For instance: You might get a new job and suddenly you start to imagine how long you’ll be there, and when and how you’ll rise in the ranks, and how eventually you’ll move on and be the head of your own company, and suddenly you’re on the cover of “Time” magazine for some reason. Wow, how did that happen? You don’t even know if half of what you just imagined was really what you wanted, but you’re so used to allowing a single idea to snowball into a paracosm, that even the most mundane thought can explode into something else.
The Downside of A Wild Imagination
Now maybe this is just an issue that I deal with, in which case that makes me the loony, but I don’t think this is so. I think even non-writers get carried away in paracosms of their making. For example: they go out on a date, one date, and suddenly they imagine being married to this person they are dating, and buying a house, then traveling to Europe, then comes the affair, and then the divorce–and now it’s obvious as they look across the table at their date, that the fact that he didn’t laugh at their clever joke means that any relationship they have with him will certainly end in divorce. So comes The End of a story that never began.
Our habit of creating paracosms, or ideal worlds where all of our desires are met, can get in a way of life. It can drive a wedge in between what is actually possible and what is not. It can restrict us, instead of free us. So we look around and consistently see the world as not meeting our expectations. A partner is seen as: “not the guy (or girl) I had in mind when I imagined him/her.” A job might: “not be where I thought I would be at this age.” Your current struggles are: “not the kind of thing I would think I would ever have to go through.”
But who said so?
You imagined a world, a paracosm, and every day you try to make the real world live up to that ideal one you created. But how do you know this world is really the ideal? How do we know what is really good for us, and what isn’t? Aren’t we at risk of blocking something really good that may be coming into our lives, something we never expected and never did imagine, but that is very good and possibly ideal for us anyway?
Is it possible that our imaginary worlds can become, at times, a drawback and not a plus? Our life surges forward, but we don’t swim with the current because we never imagined that this was the direction the current was going to lead us. So we resist, we push back, and then we get stuck. Never going anywhere because we are waiting for life to go the way we want it. Until that happens, we’d rather stay put.
But what if we stop holding reality up to the blinding light of our imaginations? Why not open ourselves up to the idea that maybe “the good” of life has always been flowing our way–it’s just that we kept on throwing that good back, because it didn’t measure up to our imaginary idea of good.
What If Our Ideal World Is Already Here?
Lately, when it comes to my real life, I’ve been putting the brakes on my world-making. The process has only served to set myself up for failure in the past, which is unfair to me and to others. I’m not saying dreaming is a bad thing, what I am saying is that maybe we don’t need to dream as much as we thought we had to. Maybe what we always wanted, and what we always needed, is already here with us. Maybe we have more power to form and shape the real world to our liking than we previously thought. Maybe we don’t need to wait for the real world to catch up with the ideal world of our imaginations.
We are always looking for a great tree, the true symbol of our awakening, our best selves, and our best life. But maybe that tree we have been looking for has already arrived.
We think we must conjure up some magic image in our minds to make that great tree appear in real life. But what we really need to do is pick up the seed of that tree in our hand, start digging a hole, plant it, and first wait for the bud to appear.
The tree will come later… and who is to say it won’t appear even more magnificent than anything we had ever imagined?
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