Fantasy vs. Reality
I've always been told I have an overactive imagination. To me, that's certainly better than an underactive imagination, but I've sometimes suffered the consequences of letting my fantasy life take over.
Once, when I was in elementary school--probably around
third or fourth grade--I spent a lovely afternoon at the house of a girl I
knew from school. I didn't know her well, and I'd never visited her home before
or met her parents. We sat for hours at the kitchen table with her mother,
and I was in rare form: I told story after story, and had an enthusiastic
audience. They laughed, gasped, and grew sad at all the right moments. They
were putty in my hands, and I remember walking home in a cloud of elation.
Well, a cloud of elation tinged--ever so slightly--with guilt, since basically nothing of what I had recounted was true. I had started out merely embellishing a few real-life anecdotes for dramatic effect, but once I ran out of good material I began making things up out of whole cloth. I can't remember a thing of what I told them, but by their reaction I think I can safely say that I hit just the right balance of absurdity and realism to make my stories believable. Spurred on by my listeners' encouragement, my life became a smorgasbord of fun and excitement and tragedy and silliness, all of which I was willing to serve up to them for their enjoyment. My friend's mother hugged me as I left, thoroughly charmed.
Of course, it all came to an unpleasant end a few days later. Once it emerged, as it was bound to do, that I had fabricated most of what I had recounted that golden afternoon, sentiment turned sharply against me. The mother, in particular, was bitter about having been taken in by my spiel, and forbade her daughter to spend any time with me at all. I was a "bad influence". A "pathological liar".
I was confused. If they had so much fun listening
to me, what did it matter whether the stories were true? Would it have been
so very different if I'd prefaced each tale with, "I know someone who..."?
Would they even have bothered listening, or listened with the same rapt attention,
if I had announced, "Now I'm going to tell you a made-up story?"
To me, even at 9 or 10, presenting my tales as "true" was nothing more than a literary device. Reality was inconsequential.
Once upon a time, whenever I traveled alone, I would
become someone else. I would change my accent, my walk; I would make up elaborate
backgrounds for myself, and interact with strangers as though I was that other
I was a girl resolutely heading for California to try her fortune in show business, a young woman from Switzerland doing research (I forget on what) in the US, a single mother fretting about having to leave her child behind while she traveled to another city for a job interview, in the hope of making a better life for both of them. I was a journalist, a student, a dropout, a call girl, a thief, a spy.
I never considered this play-acting as deceit. It was a chance to test some boundaries, break away from my own uncertain (and often unwelcome) identity, immerse myself in another reality and try to see what it felt like from the inside. Every single time, by the end of the trip it was an effort to tear myself away from the fantasy I had created, and return to "real life".
Once, I confessed this habit to someone: not in the
manner of a person owning up to a guilty act, but as a fun, personal quirk.
I never could have imagined the vehemently negative reaction my confession
"But that's lying!" she said in shock.
Flashback to my elementary school experience as confusion set in once again. I didn't pretend with my friends or even casual acquaintances, only with total strangers, in situations that ensured temporary contact. Traveling was the ideal setting for these experiments, I thought, because then there would be no backlash. No one would ever know the difference, or care... I was free to be anyone at all during those few hours of the trip. Yes, I suppose I was technically lying, but it seemed such a harmless, inconsequential way to pass the long hours on a train or airplane. Was it really so terrible?
I haven't done much traveling alone in recent years, and what I have done has been short, work-related trips that don't really give me much freedom. Or maybe I simply haven't been inspired, I don't know.
I just realized this all sounds as though I'm leading up to some major revelation, like that this journal is a work of fiction and I'm actually a 68-year-old retiree living in a Winnebago in the Ozarks. Nothing of the sort--for one thing, the entries would tend to be a lot more interesting if I were making it up. Who would blather on endlessly about work in a fantasy world? At the very least, the work itself would be something more exciting, like safari guide or biotech researcher or professional spelunker.
Dario likes to recount how, after we first started
dating (and he'd only known me a few months), I confessed to him in tears,
"I deceive everybody!".
"Oh, terrific," he thought to himself. "What have I gotten myself into?"
At the time I was referring to my own chronic case
of impostor syndrome, how I'm certain I'll be found out at any time as a fake
and a charlatan, someone who doesn't know her hind end from a cinnamon bun,
a person who certainly doesn't deserve <insert any form of recognition
or esteem here>.
Now that I think about it, though, I've certainly spent a fair amount of my time deliberately deceiving other people, by playing with the confines of fantasy and reality. Apparently what I consider "playing" is not taken so lightly by everyone else, however.
Am I a deviant? A "pathological liar,"
as I was called as a child? Is my inability to see the harm in occasionally
letting my imagination take over nothing more or less than a sign of some
dangerous form of sociopathy?
My reality never seems to be quite as real as everyone else's, and my fantasy life is considered too realistic to be safe. Somewhere I've apparently fallen off the straight and narrow.
I think the reason all of this is on my mind is that
I don't have many outlets for my storytelling and playacting side these days.
The writing I do is either here, where--let me repeat--I don't give
myself over to fabrication (although at least I am free from the more annoying
constraints of grammar and word choice), or nothing but reports and project
outlines and other dull documents of the kind that fuel the business world.
Then there are my papers for class, which tend to be hastily thrown-together
scraps of research gleaned from various sources, with not enough time or word
count to give them much spark.
My friends are not the storytelling type, either too grounded or too pedantic to find much joy in simply playing make-believe.
The Game used to be a good annual exercise of my "dark side," and an excuse for others to do the same (I suppose its formal structure released them from what they consider the requirements of everyday life), but after last year's fiasco, I must regretfully resign myself to the idea that it has died a natural death. What I need now is to find another way to recapture that feeling of freedom that my overactive imagination has always provided for me. Preferably without scandalizing the "normal" segment of society.