Imagination: it’s a department I haven’t exactly been lacking in over the years.
As a child, I spent hours in my room helping the Barbies ride up and down the escalator of their three-story palace, zooming across the mauve carpet in their hot pink Cadillac convertible. My My Little Ponies giddy-upped across the room at rip-roaring speeds, and I’m pretty sure I could have won a neighing competition, then or now.
There was, of course, the HOUSE period; after school, as a second grader, Maggie and Erin and I would walk up Delight Street, cutting through the backyard on Dearborn, and then down the hill to Ventura Avenue, arguing over who got to play Mother, and subsequently, whose turn it was to be named Tony.
[I’m not exactly sure why we were all obsessed with the name Tony, although I’d venture a guess that Who’s the Boss and Tony Toni Tone had something to do with it.]
And then under the canopy of the trees in the backyard, no matter the age or name of our character, we’d glamorously “smoke” our twiggy stick-cigarettes – which, if nothing else, offers further proof that the tobacco industry’s charm worked on a more varied audience than simply the over-18 crowd.
But I digress.
Even if I’m not playing with Rainbow Brite in the back room now, my own imagination can still run rampant, this time asking questions of the past and the future alike, lost in the reveries of a What if conversation of sorts:
What if I’d taken that pre-administrative counseling job back in 2005, and stayed in the education sector?
What if I’d continued dating that boy, and stayed with him, even if I knew I deserved better? (Side note: the HBH was the first man I ever dated. He won).
What if things don’t ultimately work out with writing and speaking? What if I made the biggest mistake leaving my job? What if, what if, what if…
Now at this point we can certainly ascertain the absolute unhealth in the grown-up conversations of imagination (and how they wholly detract from this mama’s journey of learning how to be…) – but we can also name the time and space appropriate for asking the Martha, Martha, Martha repetitive question of What if: in a fabulous piece of fiction.
I had a complete love-hate relationship with two fictional books I read this past month, neither of which I’d enthusiastically shove my two thumbs up for, but both tales of which asked their own What if question. What if back in the 1870’s the U.S. government really had promised the Cheyanne Nation 1000 brides in exchange for 1000 horses? (One Thousand White Women). What if a dead man and a two-month old baby washed up upon the shores of an isolated Australian lighthouse shore, and the couple living there took to parenting the baby? (The Light Between Oceans).
And that, I suppose, is what fiction does: it answers the question and tells the story of the What if.
You’d think the English teacher formerly known as myself would have already figured that out.
What makes the What if question good, though, is when the story captures your heart and – case in point – your imagination. You find yourself lost in the world of the characters, their own voices narrating their tale; you don’t question whether or not that would have or could have happened, because you just believe.
And that I suppose is what I want: I want to write like that, and I want to live like that and I want to create like that. So I guess I’ll continue to ask that What if question every once in awhile.
What about you? What’s your favorite tale of What if? …And would you like to borrow my supermodel outfit?0