When Imaginations Die
When was the last time you looked at the sky with wonder? Or when was the last time you imagined going deep under the sea and imagining what is beneath the deep blue sea? Do you remember when the last time you imagined doing something so incredible just because you had just finished watching a movie at the cinema was? The likely answer would be no, and even if you do remember when was the last time you did it, it certainly would not be “yesterday”. What has happened to us, we who are now reduced to the daily monotony of life even though we used to dream as high as the sky? Maybe it did not end so abruptly. It is unlikely that one day, we just decided to never do that again. Instead, it usually died slowly, as you did it less and less frequently, until one day, you either lost the capacity for prolonged imaginative daydreaming or just now think that it is just a silly activity. “That’s not what adults do”, you might think to yourself. Adults do adults stuff, while children run around imagining that he is superman with a blanket on his back.
As we grow older, it seems to be the norm for most of us to just live life as we currently do. Excluding those working in the creative industry (how I envy them, probably), life after college soon devolves into doing whatever opportunity offers us. Mind you, this is not due to some faults in our minds. We are bound by the economic, social, and geographic situations, and most of all, by the era we live in. But ideally speaking, this slow monotonous routine should not automatically result in the slow death of our imagination. After all, the future as it will be is still totally unknown to us. We cannot guess what will happen in the next decade. For all we know, a certain billionaire from a certain company might successfully put a person for the first time on Mars. Furthermore, equipped with all the latest — albeit imperfect — knowledge on how to do things, our old dreams of going to Italy should be less hazy and thus seems more attainable. So why is it harder now to imagine a purple-colored tree or what it is like to fly between the stars?
It all starts with making our dreams more realistic. Now that we are older and wiser, we set more realistic expectations. We plan things and do some research before we set about doing something. Our dream ceases to be “I want to be an astronaut and be the first person to set foot on Mars” and become “I want to go to Italy”. So why do we stop dreaming of going to Mars? Because it is not realistic. It is impossible, even, for normal people like us to go to Mars. We know more of how the world works, so why even bother dreaming of going to Mars?
Some say that it is beneficial to set achievable expectations and achievable dreams. If you know how to achieve your dream of going to Italy, you might know what to do afterward. Maybe you could start by saving some money, researching the tourist spots in Italy, and so forth. In short, by planning for the future, we will not just flail around in the dark. It ceases to be just a dream, it is now a plan, and I will go to Italy. In short, we stop wasting time on what is unreachable and therefore maximise our enjoyment of what is possible for us. At least, this is what is ideal.
Contrary to what is usually said, knowing how to achieve one’s dreams may not make the dreams in any way more achievable. Maybe it is exactly the opposite of that: knowing how to achieve the dream itself might become a burden. Once you know how to go to Italy, the fact that you might need some money, some paperwork to fill, and not to mention the daily grind required to collect the money in the first place, the dream itself becomes less of a dream and more like a chore. It ceases to be “I want to go because the place is beautiful”, but has become “going there will cost me a few hundred dollars”. Granted, this does not apply to all destinations and endeavours, but the fact is every beautiful place is thought first and foremost in terms of the monetary cost (and not to mention the time and effort to collect that money in the first place) it will incur.
This problem with money (and other resources, since in order to get some money, we will have to trade in our energy, time, and else) forces us to an extent to be realistic. Ironically speaking, knowing how to achieve certain dreams becomes exactly what makes it so unreachable. I will not be able to go to Italy because I am too poor, but even if I have the money, I am unwilling to spend a few hundred dollars on a one-week only tour. This realism then makes it seem senseless and pointless to dream so high. After all, life is already full of misery; why should I add more misery by imagining what could be, only to realise that it is not meant to be? Live as you live; that is the motto.
The third obvious reason is the fact that we are just constantly exhausted with things. We work from nine to five every day (sometimes more), not to mention the time and energy spent on the daily commute to and from work. By the time we get home, we are nothing but a limp mess that immediately slumps on the couch. No longer do we have the power to think, nor to do anything else. And even if we still have some energy left to think, our thoughts are preoccupied with the targets at work, how to meet deadlines, and so on and so forth. In short, not only do our body and mind wither away due to work, what little energy we have left is immediately sucked into our work.
Imagination: the cost of realism
What does it have to do with our imaginations, then? Clearly, our dreams are a part of our imagination (dreams are after all imaginative thinking, to an extent), but our imagination is not all about dreams, is it? Well, our dreams more or less at times set a limit to what is appropriate to be imagined. If I cannot go to Mars, why bother imagining what Mars is like? If my boss wants me to finish this 1000-page long paperwork by Monday, what good would it do if I daydream for an hour? Expectations are limited by what kind of situation we are in, and right now, I just wish to be able to finish this report in time.
And thus, the slow daily grind steadily usurps our minds, dissolving our childhood wonder that we used to have regarding the stars. What is it that we now have, if not those that necessities impose on us? No longer do we look at anything with wonder; the realism of life slowly but surely takes away what it is that makes life interesting. Ledgers and stocks, those that used to be boring when we were little, now become something to be sought for. We need to live, after all.
Now, what do we have for ourselves? Daily talks with friends cease to be about what we like and what our hobbies are and become more about the current trends and our opinion of them. Mind you, this is nothing special; it is not something that just happens to come to be when we get older. This has been the case since we were young. Children talk about the latest games and the latest movies at times to measure how “up-to-date” they are. But the pressure becomes stronger as we get older. I am not saying that people now only talk about frivolous trends and gossip incessantly. People do still have hobbies and their own particular interests in life. However, I am saying that even these hobbies and interests cease to be seen as how they are in relation to the person but are now also seen in their relation to what makes a person be seen as a success or a failure.
To illustrate this point further, imagine that you are trying to make a habit of reading four Wikipedia articles every night before going to bed. When you are an adult, making that a routine while you are a multimillionaire will make you be seen as a “well-rounded” person. However, making a habit of reading Wikipedia when you have no source of income while still living in your mother’s basement will make you be seen as a loner and a burden in life. Now imagine if you make a habit of reading Wikipedia articles when you are still a child. At best, you will probably be seen as a smart kid, and at worse, probably just a nerd. In short, you will in no way be seen as an actual failure in life, nor will you be seen as a burden to someone else’s life. Our hobbies were ours, and our hobbies were our hobbies. Their consequences and what they were as hobbies were contained in what we were as a person. However, as we get older, we cease to be defined by what we choose to do in liberty but are instead defined by what we choose to do in chains. Our hobbies and interests are now nothing more than an addition, a footnote to be considered only after people compare us to the main points that define a well-functioning adult, let it be our economic resources or social connections. Life is defined not by what we are as a person but is instead defined by what we are in relation to what is appropriate as an adult. And this is not our fault, nor is it due to some vanity. After all, we do need to eat, and we do have to be realistic. Life cannot be lived only by optimism; dreams cannot satiate hunger. Life cannot turn without money, and we cannot get paid if we are not realistic. Realism is rewarded handsomely, while child-like wonder, while perhaps not exactly punished, might lead to destitution and pointlessness.
With this in mind, do we really have any other choice but to lose our imagination little by little? It is about time that we brace ourselves and clench our teeth, get our affairs in order, and finally lead an actual life. We do not have the time for any childhood frivolities, nor do we have the time for pointless daydreaming. Life is a race, and we have to act accordingly. Thus, is it such a surprise that, when we get older, we start to realise that our excitement stems not from our hobbies but instead from what is outside, from what is generally regarded as fitting for a person of our age? Is it such a surprise that we stop imagining ridiculous things?
As I sit here wondering what to do next, I cannot help but feel how weird it is to be an adult. At the very least, we now have much more freedom to do what we please than when we were still a child. However, it is also much more difficult to hate or to love. It is much more difficult to express ourselves and be ourselves in the way we want ourselves to be. No longer can we speak vulgarly nor act as if the world is ending (although, to be fair, the world will not end anytime soon). We are respectable people, and respectability means acting in a certain manner, being cultured, and being tasteful in our choices. But what do we gain from culture if not what is beautiful? And what have we lost because of it, if not what the beautiful hides from sight? The sensual, the vulgar, and the unrestrained — in short, the flesh, and with it, our honesty when it comes to ourselves — are hidden under layers of designer clothes and designed behaviours. To hold a teacup with the pinky finger sticking out. In the end, the loss of our imaginative thinking signifies not only the loss of our childhood, but also of our true selves, of that which makes life so meaningfully ours in the first place.