There’s a weekly task in The Artist’s Way that starts in Week One and continues in Week Two: What would your alternate life be? What would you be doing if you could do anything?
I love the idea of imaginary lives, of letting myself for 10 minutes, an hour or even a day if possible imagine what life would be like as, say, an astronaut, an airline pilot or a sailor in the 17th Century. The last one, I have to confess, slightly inspired by Stuart Turton’s The Devil and The Dark Water, which I was living in the week before last.
Some of my favourite imaginary lives are inspired by books (backwoodswoman and Laura Ingalls Wilder, I’m looking at you) but others are the paths I chose not to tread, by which subjects I picked as options at school, which courses I was able to take because of grades or location or just because at a point I said “I will do this, and not that.” What would my life have been like if I’d become a physiotherapist and concentrated on sports science? How about if I’d been the runner for a small TV show in Manchester for the BBC? And, again, would I have written my (still unachieved) best selling book by now if I’d stayed a teacher, childfree and with weekends not spent as a taxi service?
I don’t regret any of my choices, but I do like to keep a passing acquaintance with them now and again. I like to feel that I would have been happy doing them, just as I’m happy now.
Julia Cameron asks us to imagine our imaginary lives because developing this faculty… the ability to imagine and create a life that is not and never will be… gives us more creative possibilities. It lets us explore emotions and settings that we may never actually see or be free to see. It lets us be creative just for the sake of creativity. For people who haven’t let themselves imagine in a long while, it’s a good lesson in using the process of imagination without having to fixate on the product.
And stepping into imaginary lives serves us in another way as well. Especially at the moment. It lets us, in a very small way, have a taste of what life might be like for our fellow human beings.
If we can imagine life in the Victorian slums fighting for every crumb, we can imagine life on the breadline in 21st Century Liverpool. Imagining floating through space, and the disconnect from everyone we know, leads to imagining what any isolated traveller or student abroad may be feeling. It creates an atmosphere coducive to empathy and caring. The ‘if we were there, who’d look after us…’ feeling. Imagining ourselves into different lives expands our minds and heart. And that lets us expand our compassion. We won’t know exactly what life is like for any other person… but we can imagine ever so slightly, and that will build compassion in us.
But enough seriousness! Although I don’t want to escape from my everyday life (I add hastily, in case the Husband reads my blog), it can sometimes add a healthy dose of fun to let my imagination run riot and live one of my thousand momentary fantasies. What am I doing this week to live my impossible, beautiful, imaginary lives? Well,….
- I’m indulging my inner French girl by watching Amelie (again) and eating confit de canard with a nice glass of red. It’s the small things, always, that make us happy and a film like Amelie will remind me that life is still beautiful. Also, the whole film is about people who have to live isolated lives until they find a way to connect.
- I’m imagining life as an astronaut with The Midnight Sky. Being stranded in space, or on a different planet must be the worst nightmare for any astronaut and watching films like this, or The Martian, make having to stay inside and safe seem less like a burden. If I had young children, I’d be playing Spacestations with my kids one day a week. Bounce on the bed to experience weightlessness, eat ice cream and sip soup upside down, and record a message for Grandparents down on Earth.
- I’m walking in the woods with a red coat on, and my hood up. The wolves are running, and I need to get home safely before dark. That’s my wilderness moments.
- I’ll be teaching in a boarding school in Cornwall, powered by Class by Jenny Colgan. There are three books in the series, and I have all three of them, thanks to Christmas. Basic food, good walks by the sea (well, the River Mersey at the least) and plenty of midnight snacks.
And there will be more, of course. Imaginary living takes seconds. Just standing doing the dishes or cooking a good meal is an imaginary life as Cook in a posh Stately Home. Working in the office, answering phones or typing is my imaginary life as Donna in Suits. I don’t particularly want to leave my real life, I love it, but that quick flash of something exotic or different can be the smile I need to make a routine day into a special experience.
How about you? Where do you stand on imaginary lives? Do you ever let your imagination have a moment? What would your favourite imaginary life be?
***Today’s header is Dream by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash. I chose this one because we all need to dream, and often with our eyes open. We need to use imagination to enhance our every day life, not as an escape from it.
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Happier: Probably my most personal book, it’s the story of how I used hygge and the little rhings in life to help boost my happiness. I still go back and reread to remind myself what I need to do to be a happy human.
Cosy Happy Hygge: Setting up a rhythm to life and rituals to enjoy it to make for a more balanced life that handles waves and storms better.
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