I believed in Santa as a kid, except in the sense that I never believed in Santa. It was a subject that we danced around, in my family. I think that if me or any of my siblings had asked about Santa directly, the answer would have been either vague or evasive, along the lines of “what do you think?” or “Santa is a state of mind.” My family was big on imagination, but grounded in the real. Santa lived in the gray area between, and as a kid, this was enough. I never believed in Santa, I never didn’t believe in Santa. I never stopped believing in Santa – my relationship with him just changed.
Our conception of reality changes as we grow, and person to person, how much we remember the child-like perspective we once had varies. This change was first brought to my attention as an adult in college, by Wordsworth, in Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood. I won’t get too deeply into it, but basically:
THERE was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
The earth, and every common sight,
To me did seem
Apparell’d in celestial light,
The glory and the freshness of a dream.
It is not now as it hath been of yore;—
Turn wheresoe’er I may,
By night or day,
The things which I have seen I now can see no more.
So it goes. The elves sail for Valinor, the last unicorn disappears into the forest, and the back of the wardrobe turns to oak. Things pass away, and some of us are left perpetually looking backwards, trying to hold onto – or perhaps just understand – what we’ve lost. This phenomenon – of the imaginary and the real living side by side – is something uniquely human, and something that I’ve been quietly obsessed with my whole life, as I struggle with a commitment to science and objective (ha!) truth, and a fascination with magic, symbols, and mythology. I’ve touched on it in this blog; it keeps coming up, as I talk about things I used to love or still do: science fiction and fantasy, role-playing games, monsters, mythology, and fairy tales – the imaginary crashing against the real, through story. I’ve long believed that what we imagine to be real is to no small extent imaginary, and what we see as imaginary is in many ways, quite real.
Fiction – story – involves diving into and accepting an imaginary world: living for a time suspended between fantasy and reality. When I read a work of fiction, I don’t stop to remind myself that the characters I’m reading about aren’t real, any more than I consciously thought about Santa being make believe: I just accepted that sometimes, the imaginary lives alongside the real. This isn’t just something that takes place in novels and short stories; it happens every day, in the stories that I tell myself, to help me understand my life and the world.
I’ve been absent from this blog for the last month or so. We moved, from the suburbs into the city, and the new place is still filled with boxes. I’m spending a good amount of time unpacking, and after that we’ll be selling things, donating things, organizing things, and settling in. I’ve been using this transition to think about this blog: why I do it, and what I want it to be about. An important part of getting older is learning to manage your expectations – I would have struggled against that idea twenty years ago, but it seems wise, today: the importance of being engaged not with the future that you’d like, but with the world as it is, and is likely to be. I started blogging at Foes of Reality with Dan and Miranda, and then jumped to posting here about ten months ago. I’ve been generally satisfied with the results, but it’s a process that I continue to tweak. What I want is for my writing here to be an important aspect of my overall writing. At the same time, it has to be distinct from the other things that I’m working on. So what does that mean, for blog 3.0?
I think it means indulging – channeling – some of my obsessions, specifically magic, mythology, and monsters. I’m interested in the things under things: the symbolic content in the world that regardless of conscious awareness, we internalize and act on. This is where monsters and magic live. The myths that infuse our day-to-day lives, and the ways we talk about them. The world of the imagination that exists not just beside, but intertwined with our own. That’s the conversation I think I want to have, that I’ll be feeling my way into, moving forward.