Let's Get Real But in Whose Reality?
It was an autumn night, with rain sprinkling down like cool petals of water. Headlights danced on the pavement.
I was tucked inside a warm, semi-posh restaurant, at an event celebrating a film that a friend of mine had just directed. I was talking to a young woman in white. Her outfit proclaimed "cute," but her world-weary eyes informed me that "cute" was over years ago.
"I hate fantasy movies," she pronounced in a self-congratulatory manner, as if fantasy equaled stuck in adolescence, which equaled, in her mind, living your life in an emotional trailer park.
She punctuated her distaste for fantasy films with a list: Lord of the Rings, Shrek, Groundhog Day, Toy Story….
As I listened to her condemn all fantasy, I wished I was a time-cop. I wanted to journey back to the childhood of this woman and arrest whomever had applied a 10,000 watt stun-gun to her ability to dream.
I didn't tell Cute But Weary the truth: That of course she believed in fantasy just fantasies that had been created by others; fantasies that had been around long enough, and with which enough people agreed, that they had been relabeled as "reality."
Consider a few cases in point.
Our notion of romantic love is a fantasy, a cultural construction. It has its original small seeds in ancient Greece, and then the notion reemerged and was fully created by the Troubadours, who developed it over the course of 200 years, starting at the end of the eleventh century. The idea of love received further elaboration and development in the Renaissance, wrangled a home run out of Shakespeare, and now love is here to stay.
I lived in Ghana (West Africa) for year. There was no notion of romantic love there. Men and women hooked up and married, of course, but it was principally about economic survival, biology, and tradition. Why no romantic love? Because no one had created the fantasy there.
Christmas was a small scratch of a holiday until Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol in 1843. His idea of Christmas as a time of charity, of family, of gift-giving, and of celebration swept through England. Audiences there clamored to have Dickens read the story aloud at one gathering after another. Eight stage adaptations were in production within two months of the book's publication.
The book's popularity spread like wildfire across the Atlantic and quickly transformed America as well. Eventually the rest of the world completely embraced Dickens' fantasy as well and enshrined it as the living reality we call Christmas.
Houses skewed toward the dark and claustrophobic until Frank Lloyd Wright had a fantasy of a new kind of open architecture that made music out of space and sunlight. His fantasy became today's reality.
In saying that she liked only "reality," Cute But Weary had simply chickened out, letting others create her fantasies. Actually, the diagnosis was even worse. She was a closet quasi-zombie, living out the fantasies of dead people.
Traipsing through the world with an outward sparkle but a zombified inner core, recycling the faded life-blood of those who are long gone, is no way to forge life into an adventure.
We all live out fantasies. They're either our own, or ones borrowed from or imposed upon us by someone else. Who will create tomorrow's fantasies? What about you, my friend? What visions are you waiting to unfurl?
Time is ticking. As soon as you can, please find a way to splash your universe in front of us all. Maybe the tools in this book will be of help. If not, perhaps you've got a strategy of your own.
I'm being completely sincere here. Do you really think you have the right not to treat me and everyone else who's interested to your imagination and your insights? Don't you think we hunger to have our world replenished, reinvented, expanded, and enriched? For all of us, time on Earth passes too quickly. Please don't deny us your gifts.
And so, the first kind of magic is creating new worlds for us to inhabit, or expanding or enriching our existing world. This magic is your ability to paint new worlds for us to live within, or your bringing us new insights into life's breadth, depth, complexity, and sometimes humor.
The politicians aren't going to do these things for us. The newscasters aren't going to do them either. Only artists can. And that means you.