You could say we either love it or we hate it. And that's often true.
But it's much too complicated a relationship for such a simple dichotomy. Almost all of us loved fantasy as children. It's after childhood that we often come to fall into one of the love-hate camps.
You might have given it up as an adult, or you may have turned against it even as an older young person. Or you might never give up your love of fantasy. You might read SF or game or make your living as a film maker or screenwriter. But eventually it swings around, and even the biggest fantasy haters come to appreciate it again—for their children or grandchildren.
The odd thing isn't that some people give it up in adulthood, it's how much they come to hate it. They become fantasy haters.
But I say those people still subject themselves to as much fantasy as someone who reads fantasy novels. They are addicted to romantic comedies (pure fantasy), or to pornography (total fantasy), or any number of other socially accepted pass-times that are clearly desperate wish-fullfillment fantasy playing out underneath a false veneer of reality. And personally, I think that kind of fantasy is actually harmful, or at least dubiously helpful, as it tries so hard to pretend to be reality that people get confused and disillusioned and become deeply dissatisfied because their life doesn't look like the lives in those fictitious fantasies. No one carries shame because they aren't as bad-assed as Conan the Barbarian, but how many people are emotionally crippled because they don't look like models?
For several years I tried to capture an idea for a short story based on this dynamic of love/hate, in notes and outlines. Every time I'd work on it, I would come up with ideas for how to turn it into a story, but they never felt right. That's because the concept behind it is so personal to me. I want to champion healthy, uplifting, refreshing, empowering and entertaining use of the imagination for people of all ages.
So it sat and languished, a spark of potential always flaring but never catching fire [tiny violins play a wailing pity concerto for me. Grin].
A couple years ago there was a writing contest I really wanted to submit to, so I sat down and—finally—was able to write the story. Partly I think because the contest was max. 2,500 words. I'd never written anything that short before, fiction that is. And in some ways it was easier to try and get it out in so few words than when I was imagining a much longer short story, or a screenplay. There is always power is trimming something down to its bare essentials to really get at the heart, or the meat, as they say, of the matter. I thought: 2,500 words is five 500 word sections. With only five short sections to convey the whole story in, I realized I could move the narrative forward in time, rather than explore the characters in more depth at one point in time, and the whole thing worked much better. I started with the characters as children, advanced to high school, then on to when they are post-college age young adults, and at the twenty year high school reunion time, and ended twenty years after that. That way the story came full-circle as those children, who had all loved fantasy in their play, were now past all the hate and just wanted to see their grandkids having fun.
I've submitted it three or four times to contests and publications with no success. I know it's too soon to say no one wants to buy or publish it, but I guess because it's so personal, I wonder if anyone else gets it. Maybe it's too...me.
If anyone is interested in the subject matter of the story, and would like to read it, let me know. I'd be happy to share it with you. I just don't want to post it anywhere and lose the possibility of having it published one day. I'd be really interested to know how it comes through to people who are not me, but who care about the topic.
Children are literally force-fed wonder. And all too often, the dose is administered with a spoon full of sugar.
It's everywhere in their lives. In stories, in school, for the holidays. In their games and toys. In their books, movies, and computer games. On their sheets and cereal boxes. From the very early, talking, anthropomorphic animals, to princesses and dragons and all the fairy tales, and on to the whole complex world of Santa Claus as well as the darker side of wonder—ghost stories and the supernatural. All great stuff.
Yet too often it's a grown-up trying to use the lure of wonder to sculpt a child into a certain picture of goodness. And instead of really grappling with life's issues, they sugarcoat it with false dichotomies and over-simplistic logic. Other times, it's well-intentioned adults trying to bring kids happiness and positive stimulation. And that's great, too, but unfortunately it's also a trap.
Because first we're heavily encouraged to believe in imagination and all kinds of things that don't exist. The fun never stops. It's all beautiful, and happy, and exciting, and well, wonderful. Bliss, bliss. Until...
[screeching of tires]
We're suddenly stupid and childish for believing in them. Then suddenly having anything to do with imagination becomes the worst thing you can do. Lie, steal, cheat, hit, curse. Those are supposed to be no-nos, but nothing compared to the flack you will get for exercising your imagination of the fantastic as a teen or an adult. A bad-boy or a bad girl is cool and looked up to; a geek or a nerd is a total loser. They are ostracized, harassed, beaten, humiliated. You can bully people. And that's okay. Get girls drunk to sleep with them. That's okay, too. But play D&D and oh. my. gods, you're the lowest of the low.
FCI—fantasy, creativity and imagination—are actually not crimes. They are an inherent part of every single human being on the planet.
They bring us joy and refreshment. They stretch our thinking and our picture of the world, keeping it limber and flexible. Keeping us more open-minded and tolerant. They help keep empathy and compassion flowing. They generate new ideas and fresh perspectives. And they are a tremendous amount of fun.
Does it really make sense to steer clear of experiencing wonder just because you're no longer a child?
Take them back.
Now that you're older and have more experience, you can strip out all the sugary badness (meaning the over-simplistic moralizing and the false promises) and see through the lies. And you can make wonder your own.
Take back the wonder, and return the shame.
Auburn Seal knows the value of taking things seriously and having fun while you do it.
She's a writer and mother, and applies this strategy liberally to both of them. On her new blog site, Indie Scribblers (which she started with fellow writer Amanda A. Allen), she welcomes people with:
We are crazy-Dr. Pepper-drinking-fiends that take our writing seriously, but ourselves…well…not so much. So, while we are dead set on producing good quality writing, that is edited professionally...and wrapped in a lovely, well-designed cover….it’s important that you know that really, at the heart of us, we are giant goofballs. Which is why this is SO much fun.
I love it.
And this is what Auburn has to say in response to my question, what play and fun other grown-up people have kept in their lives and why:
_ _ _ ____________________ _
One of the words I hear most when someone is asked to describe me is FUN. Sometimes I hear CRAZY but I ignore that. Over my adult life (I’m closer to 40 than I feel) I have struggled, as a lot of people do, to figure out who I am. To find a way to be more comfortable in my own skin.
I hate to cook. But I tried to force myself to enjoy it. Mistake. That was like trying to shove a square peg into a round hole. Not the best plan, that.
For years I resisted the idea that my main talent in life was being fun. But no more. I have spent enough time around people who are so FAR from fun that I realize it’s really not so bad to be a little fun. Even crazy.
By embracing what came naturally to me, I freed myself up to ENJOY life. I said farewell to the mold that others said I should fit into and just accepted that I am who I am. So instead of scrambling around trying to figure out what people thought I should be, I had all sorts of time to develop who I already was. I gave myself permission to explore my world, to be creative and experimental and to PLAY.
For example, I love change. In my circle of friends and family, that made me irresponsible and reckless. When I accepted that I am wired to thrive in ever-changing environments, I gained the freedom to explore new heights, new worlds. In my books. And in other places too.
As a writer, I can create a character to be whoever I want her to be. I can write about exotic places or made-up places. If I don’t like the law of gravity, fiction allows me to get rid of it. It’s not that useful anyway, right? For me, writing is my play time. It is how I indulge my whims and crazy plots. (Haha…accidental pun.)
Other ways I play…eating out. Trips, trips, trips. Short or long, near or far..it doesn’t matter. Just so long as I can change the scenery whenever I want/need to. When I can’t take trips in real life, I watch TV or movies that take me away. Or read books that allow me to escape.
We all need outlets. Healthy people (in my not-so-expert-opinion) must have a way to vent. To sluff off the stress of the world. We have bills to pay and mouths to feed. Cars to clean out and laundry to fold. (Unless we are lucky enough to have maidservants) As adults we stare down the barrel of responsibility constantly.
So it’s my theory that we MUST seek out opportunities to PLAY. Whatever your definition of playing is. And don’t let anyone tell you how it is that you should have fun. Takes the fun right out of it. And I’m nothing if not fun!
_ _ _ ____________________ _
Auburn's first book, Roanoke Vanishing, is coming later this year. It's a work of historical fiction with a supernatural element, in which a young woman discovers a living connection to the Roanoke, VA colony of mystery and legend. For more Auburn, here's her website.
I'm not just an advocate for play, but for FCI.
FCI, meaning fantasy, creativity and imagination.
And I'm not talking about the more passive uses of them – like being an observer to entertainment (watching TV or movies or other performances) – but active, playful use that engages your own FCI and the FCI of others.
We have this love-hate attitude toward fantasy, creativity and imagination, where it's practically been ground out of most people, but then a few others who practice it are as good as worshipped for it. The average person in a band or who writes or paints is seen as a wanna-be – as a *not* star, rather than understanding how good it is for people to use their FCI for no other reason but for themselves. For personal enrichment. For fun. To play. It's a quality of life thing, and so much more.
Below, one of the members of Monty Python speaks about creativity and part of why it gets so discouraged and stigmatized, and does it with charming wit and humor, as well as some sharp-edged insight. Thanks to Amy Woods, who shared this presentation by John Cleese:
Play isn't the same thing as FCI, but it definitely involves one or more of them. And like play, all of them do get discouraged pretty harshly as we grow up. While on the one hand we see teachers at school with signs that say things like creative minds are the ones that change the world, other people come down on us for showing almost any sign of FCI with anger, humiliation, and threats of being branded and isolated – until one by one we give up on most of the fantasy/creativity/imagination we loved and enjoyed. But not all.
I want to know what FCI you've kept in your life?
Childish. How did that ever come to be a dirty word? To be like a child isn't a bad thing.
Most adults would love to get back some of the enthusiasm, happiness and carefree feeling they had as a child.
But what children do, you're not supposed to: play.
You can be accused of playing, like it's a crime. And you're supposed to feel humiliated. Belittled. Less than. And you're supposed to stop doing it right away. Stop doing it for good. And then stop other people you see doing it from doing it. Only certain types of grown-up fun are acceptable now, and it's a pretty short list, many of which are things that are also – and actually – bad for you.
And then we wonder why we're so tired, and unhappy and bitter. Why so much of the joy has been sucked out of life and our days can feel so monotonous and unsatisfying. A lot of adult 'play' is really more about drowning out dissatisfaction than doing something we enjoy.
Play is one way we learn – by trying new things and experimenting, by using our imagination and being creative. Different parts of our mind are engaged and active, there's endless variety and change, we get a break from over-thinking and worries, and we get all this while doing something we like, smiling, laughing and having a good time.
What a horrendous crime you'd be committing by having some innocent fun!
Amber Michelle Cook's Blog
A call to all grown-ups everywhere: Play!