This is a celebration of the imagination. This is how pretty and bright and living the junk in our mind can be. Yes, it’s a cluttered mess, but doesn’t that make it all the more important to shed light on it, straighten it out, expose it? Yes, it’s totally different from all the scenery we know about, but doesn’t that make it more interesting, more unique in comparison? Yes, the forest in the background is equally interesting. I want to go there sometime, too. But for now, for this moment, I want to see what our own minds are capable of conjuring. Put the known objects we have been collecting since childhood into black-and-white. Paint the clutter in our imaginations. Write a descriptive essay about it. Write a poem! Be surreal. Don’t bother making connections. Who cares if that ladder looks like the one we used to climb into the haybarn? For now it isn’t even a ladder. It’s a bridge. Or two doorways leading to another land. Or a new form of punctuation signalling the end of a blog post.
I knew that some people don’t want their children to read fairy tales or other books that involve magic, but I didn’t know anyone like that personally. Until recently. So I’ve thought more about that. It puzzles me. Magical elements in literature have never been denied me, and honestly I can’t imagine a life without fairy tales like Cinderella and Snow White. My kids and I are reading Hans Christian Anderson’s Snow Queen right now, and it is full of cool (shiver!) magic.
I don’t know all the reasons behind choosing to filter magic out of a child’s exposure, but I’m guessing part of it is because the magical powers do not come from God. Perhaps it comes from the devil? I rather admire these parents for sticking to their guns because it must be really difficult to keep magic away from a child. So many fairy tales and other books involve magic in some way.
I believe the imagination is magical (and I also believe it is God-given). The imagination can conjure entire fantasy worlds, plot game after mysterious game, and create pictures in the mind that could never exist in real life. And I believe fairy tales stretch our imagination in really good ways. Real life can feel so limited sometimes! I love falling into the realm of the imagination, and I want that for my children too.
On the grown-up level, magical realism might be my favorite genre. I’m thinking of authors like Alice Hoffman and Toni Morrison. I want to write magical realism. I’m practicing.
Rousseau was one of those artists who died before his paintings received great recognition. He also had a tough life; two wives died, along with seven children. He died of a leg infection at the age of 66. When I look at some of his paintings, I think of worlds that exist only in a child’s imagination. I think of tall tales and wild dreams. This is where the definitions of “wilderness” and “wildness” overlap. I think of escapism, but not like a cheap novel. This is a one-of-a-kind escape from the everyday world. This is the artist allowing us into his psyche. I must say that I enjoy it. His paintings are fun and weird and they invite the viewer to be fun and weird, too.
I call people rich when they’re able to meet the requirements of their imagination.
— Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady, 1881
I am in the midst of rereading this book. It’s one of my favorites. Henry James has such of a way of delving into the human condition that I come out of the book feeling like I have never properly known anyone, and neither have I had a real meaningful conversation. I love knowing James’ characters, and I adore the things they say to one another. The quote above is something Ralph said to Isabel. I’d like to write a bit to figure out what it means.
Both Ralph and Isabel are wealthy, thanks to the money left to them after the death of Ralph’s father. So what does it mean to meet the requirements of your imagination? I think it means being able to make your dreams come true. Throughout the book Isabel is accredited with much imagination. Although she doesn’t do much, it is what she doesn’t do that makes her interesting. She doesn’t accept the first (or second) marriage proposal that comes her way. She doesn’t want to settle down until she has lived life, experienced things, seen people, gone places.
What I like about Isabel is the way she is always moving forward. She doesn’t go back to her old life in the States. She doesn’t regret things. She’s always looking to the future, accepting the present, moving onward. That requires imagination.
Children should have the best of everything, don’t you think? Give them great art to look at and good books to read, and they will appreciate it. They aren’t pre-programmed for cartoonish drawings and short, boring stories. Their minds have great potential, and their imaginations can get lots of ideas from beautiful things.
Click here to read the poem I wrote about this painting.