Living With A Hyperactive Imagination – Kate Paulk
A while back Sarah dropped an aside into one of her posts about the “joys” of living with an active imagination, and that maybe I’d write more about it because not only do I have one, it’s kind of… er… interesting to live with. So yes, this is that post.
Feel free to move on if you wish. You don’t have to live with it, after all.
I’ll start with a bit of an overview of the whole deal: I wouldn’t call myself terribly empathetic, but I can get to the equivalent by imagining how I’d be in an equivalent situation and going from there. I’ve done this so many times now it’s damn near automatic and looks like empathy. I’m also perfectly capable of mentally sliding myself into another world in tiny time-slices.
This makes me a very effective tester because I can put myself in the shoes of multiple kinds of user, and a very evil tester because I can think of all manner of ways to do things to software that the programmer never thought anyone would try (if I had a buck for every time a programmer has asked me “But why did you do that?”I’d have a lot more cash than I do now).
The thing about having an active imagination, though, is that most people don’t get it. They don’t get close enough to realize they don’t get it. The reaction to something completely different usually isn’t “Wow! That’s so different!”, it’s “WTF?” on a good day. On a bad day, you stand a good chance of someone calling for an exorcist, or the modern equivalent, a psychiatrist.
What most people consider “new” is usually “an uncommon perspective on something I’m used to”, so someone who can twist things sideways and find something that looks completely new is going to get hell because it’s just too different, too strange, and too much. Me, I don’t even realize I’ve done it, so I’m left wondering why I’m getting the “WTF are you on?” looks. And that’s when I’m trying to be normal.
When I’m relaxing and being myself, it goes beyond that.
My personal theory here is that a really active imagination is in line with controlled schizophrenia – you hear voices and see things but instead of treating them as if they’re real, you treat them as something to make stories from. Of course, I could be completely wrong here, but it seems close enough to work for me.
So, yes. The more lively aspects of my imagination talk to me. They show me things. So much so that I had to make the conscious decision to pay attention to the world my physical body is even though it was much less interesting (which doesn’t always translate to enjoyable) than the worlds inside my head.
I can – and have, when I’ve had bad times – lose myself for days in my imagination, just daydreaming in the form of narrative. I try to avoid that for obvious reasons. Life doesn’t happen when I do that. Bills don’t get paid, cats start getting irritated over not getting fed on time, and things fall apart. It’s not exactly pleasant.
So how do you live with it?
Start with Gandalf’s advice to Frodo about the Ring: “Keep it secret. Keep it safe.” Until you know someone is going to be able to follow your imagination without freaking out, they’re better off not knowing it exists, because in my experience, recovering from freaking out a friend just doesn’t happen. There’s always that lingering question on my end of whether I’ve gone too far, which always buggers up my judgment.
Pay attention to the world that your feet are in. This is the one that can hurt you. You need to learn to live in it or it will hurt you (something highly intelligent, extremely imaginative small children really don’t like to hear and don’t want to understand… if my experience is any guide). You also need to learn to interact with “normal” people (yes, yes, I know there’s no such thing. I mean people who aren’t like me, because the closest I get to normal is when I plank on a sphere – and yes that is a really crappy geometry joke. So kill me) without scaring the living daylights out of them.
Find a more or less socially acceptable way to let the imagination out. It could be fanfic. It could be original fiction. Or role-playing. Whatever, as long as it works, it’s good. Because – again, from my experience – if someone bottles this up for too long, the best option is that it dies.
The worst is that it twists. And when that happens… That’s a completely different post, and a much less pleasant one.
So those who have an imaginative child, don’t try to squash it, but do try to direct it in ways that won’t scare the mundanes and teach the child how to live with this world as well. Those who have the imagination themselves, if you’re still fighting it, try a few of the things I’ve suggested.
And remember, ordinary people really don’t get it, no matter how much they think they do.