At 5:30 this morning, on my way to the bus station, I saw two racoons. One stayed in the trees, but the other dashed across an open area and took cover – impossibly – in a dead-end surrounded by chain link fence. I stopped to try to see where it had gone, because the only hiding place I could see was the ventilation system of the Community Centre swimming pool. (Someone’s not going to be happy.)
As I stood there, I caught the scent of chlorine from the pool, and immediately I was transported back to childhood and the wonderful summers spent at the three pools on the local university campus. The indoor pool where you had to wear their issued swimsuits made of some black stretchy material that sagged when it got wet. The outdoor pool at Helaman Halls where you could always smell a barbecue going somewhere. And the one at Deseret Towers, where they played the radio. I’ll always remember swimming to “I can’t see me lovin’ nobody but you…” (which, when you consider that double negative, isn’t actually a very complimentary song!).
My cousin Janice and I would commandeer a set of the pool concrete steps and pretend it was a reef and we were mermaids (back before mer-ism was fashionable). Somehow, without really even discussing it, we formed a make-believe world in high detail, and each assumed (correctly) that the other saw what we imagined.
When I was probably 6 or 7, I once sat before the open doors of a living room cabinet, where my parents kept LPs, and pretended that it was a kitchen. I spent hours “cooking” and entertaining guests, lost in play. But when I went back to it days later, I couldn’t seem to recapture the magic. No matter how I tried to recreate it, the cabinet remained boringly a cabinet. Even at that age, I feared I was “growing up” and losing the ability to imagine. I knew someday I’d be too old to pretend. I realized that imagination wasn’t real.
I was wrong, of course. As a writer, I’ve learned that you never get too old to pretend. That’s all fiction writers do. We enter imagined worlds and take dictation from what happens around us. I don’t know how it is for other writers, but sometimes that imagined world is more real to me than my real life. My characters become my friends or alter-egos. I look at the street and see it as it was in 1880, and I'm startled by the passing of motorcycles. Bits of imagination trickle over into my real world, and I find myself using words from past centuries, like “forsooth” and “alas” and “hence.” I carry on conversations with people who aren’t there (and yes, I know they aren’t there, but that’s irrelevant).
I suspect all writers are a little bit mad.