I watch my kids play and they’re in their own little world. Then someone does some bullshit and they’re back in my world, screaming, but nevermind. For all intents and purposes, they’re in never-never land.
My children’s imaginations are so real. Their stuffed animals have names and backstories, and all hell breaks lose if one is left behind. They believe in fairies, Santa Claus, and yakas. To them, animals have as much (or more) personality than any person. They’re transfixed by stories as if they were the news. I asked my daughter which religion she liked and she said all of them.
I watch them play and I think, how dull and dreary am I. I had an imagination once, but then it went and died. Here I am weaving through traffic, handing paper money to a toll booth, plotting a path through the city back home, just living in this dismal and deadly ‘real’ world. But then I realized. I am imagining. I’m imagining all the time.
Traffic rules, money, maps, they’re all made up. They’re social imaginations. They’re things that adults imagine together, and in this way they become real. Road rules, money, borders, nations—none of these things are inherently real, but they become real by social consensus. This nightmare is the sum total of our insipid dreams.
Raising children is taking their personal imagining and slowly hammering into the social one. You stop thinking that animals have feelings and just torture and eat them without a second thought. You stop believing in Santa Claus giving children things and believe in an ‘invisible hand’ that says you can’t. We trade our colorful dreams for a bleak reality and call this growing up.
And we just have to do it, because social reality will run us over, cage us, or kills us if we get it wrong. While social reality is made up, the consequences of ignoring it are very real. That’s why we hold children’s hands when they cross the street. Should children be able to run around without getting mowed down by someone’s metal living room? Absolutely, but that’s not the way it is.
We don’t think about it, but our adult imagination is working overtime everyday. We go out onto the road protected only by paint, light, and our shared illusions about what they mean. We trust in numbers, in nations, and numerous things that aren’t real except in our imaginings. And it all works because we believe that it works.
Growing up is becoming a cog in this machine. Your imagination is still there. It’s just caught up with crossing the street and buying food and not getting beaten or caged, all the things we try to protect children from. It is only within the barbed wire playground of adulthood that children are able to play. They can only imagine unreality within the reality we’ve imagined this way.
Being an adult is not the death of imagination. It’s just the constant imagination of death.