Does Imagination Die When We Grow Up?

(Featured photo above by John Salzarulo on Unsplash)

Full disclosure: I never read Harry Potter. I thought the very first chapter was extremely boring and couldn’t force myself to get through it. So forgive me if I can’t quite equate this feeling to the disappointment of not receiving a letter from Hogwarts at age 12, but because it seems like the perfect comparison, I’ll try.

Like that faint glimmer of hope that something magical will happen dying away when no letter makes a forceful appearance via owl or chimney or sudden outpour through the mailbox, at some point in my life, I forgot how to dream.

When I was younger, I read every chance I could get. I loved fantasy novels–ones that teleported me to another world where the laws of ‘reality’ were more like suggestions and people could be and see and experience anything. The idea of magic followed me everywhere I went. It was in the wind, the rain, the clouds, the sunshine, the moonlight, the sand, the blades of grass, the oceans, the rivers, the trees–hell, even the bubbles I blew from my hands when I washed them. It was behind my eyelids when I went to sleep. It was in my dreams. It was outside of every window. It was in every animal that crossed my path. I didn’t know its source, but I would gladly amuse any theory; maybe it was God, the energy of the universe, a plethora of gods, or just ‘mother nature’, selectively pouring magic into whoever she deemed worthy of receiving it.

I would write, too. I saw stories in everything. I once wrote a twenty page story about a cat and its relationship with geometrical shapes (and it only ended at twenty because my third grade teacher told me very kindly that was way more than necessary), and filled two composition notebooks in the fifth grade with a Narnia-esque story about several girls from a parallel earth with two moons where magic was real and they were royalty cast away for their own safety. I stayed up until sunrise writing stories inspired by Greek mythology, the wars of kingdoms inspired by Eastern cultures and martial arts, or celtic-inspired fairy tales set in modern times.

I could emphasize with my characters so much that when they cried, I cried; when they rejoiced, I did the same, and when they came up with an epic clapback that I could only dream of being capable of in the moment, I grinned with pride. I was drawn by the mystery, passion and strength involved with such a life.

Maybe I came to realize that there’s enough passion and strength required in reality, without half of the mystery and fantasy. But it doesn’t feel the same. It feels rather…empty and hopeless. Worse so, because I no longer find reprieve in the stories that I loved so much. I’ve traded in that love for my big girl panties, and I can’t say I like the fit.

How do I find a happy medium in this? And if I’m just disenchanted, could I possibly enchant myself again? That’d be just lovely.

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