I read somewhere, just a few days ago — in a place which I failed to bookmark or otherwise annotate, so I can’t give you a reference just now – that the remarkable thing about children is how easily they switch back and forth between reality and fantasy.
Two days later, we were in the car on the way to the zoo. I asked them what animals they wanted to see.
Robbie said crocodiles.
Zeke said snakes.
Mara, my 5-year-old, said, “Unicorns!” Then she caught my eye in the rear-view mirror and cracked up laughing.
The next day they were eating a snack and I was puttering around the house, half-listening to their conversation.
“What if this cheese was a rocket ship?” said Robbie.
“Yeah!” said Mara. “And it shot up to the moon, and crashed into it, and then it was part of the moon because it’s made of cheese! Like on Wallace and Gromit!”
Laughter all around.
The truth is, when they jump into the fantastical straight from reality – my world, our world, the grown-up world – I have to stop myself from correcting them.
“No, kids, the moon isn’t made of cheese.”
But why? They know it’s not. They get the line between fantasy and reality.
Mara knows there aren’t really unicorns at the zoo, but she still can imagine that there are, and jump into that imagination quickly, smoothly.
For most of us grown-ups, there is a disconnect.
It’s a not a smooth hop into fantasy, it’s a big, unfamiliar, bumpy fall. I don’t know if we’re scared of the fall, or scared that we’ll never be able to climb back into reality, like Alice in a wonderland she can’t escape. That does happen sometimes, and we know it.
So are we scared of our own inability to separate truth from fiction? Do we think we’ll succumb to a fantasy world, and really try to fly a rocket ship made of cheese to the moon?
Or are we too attached to the facts of reality as our comfort, our familiarity, our controllable environment? Does the disconnect between fantasy and reality exist for us because we want our world to be ordered, and blurring that line means that it isn’t?
I’m not sure, but I think we would do well to be a lot more childlike.
1: Most of us aren’t going to slip into delusional disorder or schizophrenia.
2: Most of us could use more creativity, and fantasy can support that (see: Why Daydreamers Are More Creative).
3: Much of what is reality now (airplanes, Internet, cell phones, modern medicine, cars, rocket ships…) was once only a fantasy in somebody’s brain. How do you think it became reality?
The key with fantasy – or, rather, with allowing the line between reality and fantasy to blur – is in allowing the fantasy to feed your reality, not become your reality or your escape from reality.
When you can get more comfortable with the back and forth, you get the ability to pull from fantasy and start creating in reality.
And if that means you check the zoo map for the Unicorn Habitat, so be it.