“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers. It would be terrible if we just skipped from September to November, wouldn’t it?” -Anne Shirley, Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery
When I was a girl, I adored Anne Shirley. I hadn’t her tragic background nor her dramatic flair, but I loved the exuberant way she expressed herself. Those monologues, when an enraptured Anne would go on and on about something she loved, charmed my socks off. That was how I talked, too — inside my head.
I remember worrying from a very young age that the monologues and scenarios I imagined in my head were an indicator of a mental health problem. (Back then, before I learned that ‘crazy’ is a pejorative, I would’ve put it like this: “I talk to imaginary people a lot. Does that mean I’m crazy?”) When I was around 10 or 11, I picked up on the notion that what separates the mentally ill from the mentally healthy is that the latter may have an imaginary friend, but the former talks to imaginary friends and they talk back. That was probably supposed to make me feel better. I was supposed to think, “Well, golly, I’m 100% sure that this is all in my own imagination. It doesn’t feel like a separate entity no one else can perceive is speaking to me, so I’m fine.” Instead, my little brain warped it so that I thought, “Hmm, sometimes when I engage in these long conversations in my head, I really do imagine what the other people say back. Maybe that means I AM crazy.”
So you see, it felt like it was only a matter of time before my parents and the rest of the world figured out I was insane. I was sure that the clock was ticking and when they discovered my secret, I’d be in trouble at best – or at worst, hauled off to an asylum for some good old-fashioned shock therapy. (I was a weird kid and had read some admittedly unhelpful books on the subject of mental health.)
I wish I could remember having a moment of epiphany, but instead my late teens and early twenties simply gave me a gradual slide to a state of comfort with the way my mind worked. I stopped fretting about a clinical diagnosis (and I learned not to throw around the word ‘crazy,’ even in my own mind about my own self) and accepted the fact that I have an active imagination.
I eventually realized that the way I’m wired keeps my sense of wonder and laughter close to the surface – which is definitely part of what makes me a great teacher of young kids. I realized that my imagination sometimes works against me, when it manifests as generalized anxiety, and that I can control that part with medication, therapy, and mindful practices. (So: interestingly enough, I do have a mental health diagnosis, just not the one I feared when I was a kid.) I realized that my imagination is like a puppy with a lot of energy, and if I set it to the task of writing –dreaming up an entire novel-sized world of people and places and situations– it’s a lot less likely to bother me by misdirecting that energy*.
So. Like the effusive Anne Shirley, I’m glad to live in a world where we get to enjoy Octobers. This time of year is beautiful here in western Kentucky, and autumn always seems to renew my energies. I’m thankful for what I’ve learned about imagination, because embracing mine opened up the path for me to explore writing. Even if my novels never hit bookshelves, the act of writing them has been wonderful in and of itself.
Because, as Anne Shirley would say, “when you are imagining, you might as well imagine something worthwhile.”
*for more on that notion, I highly recommend Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. Her analogy about creativity as an overactive dog sparked an instant sense of “hey me too!” in my heart and you might enjoy it, also.