Fairies at the bottom of the garden. Sticks as swords to slay dragons. Bedtime stories to help you sleep. If it hasn’t already been sold on eBay, chances are your imagination has taken a back seat. As we age, our ideas of fantasy – where our mind wanders, the scenes we’d like to see – change, or are even left behind completely. It’s hard to daydream about being a superhero when your mind is occupied with deciding how you’re going to approach your passive-aggressive flat mate. But our imagination, the fuel of our childhoods, is surely the crux of all nostalgia. We look back to those days of dens made from blankets and cardboard boxes becoming pirate ships, and we are remembering not just our childhood, but our imagination. I can remember hours of entertainment with a simple stick: a wand, a sword, a lightsaber. I walk in the park and see children doing the same; it makes me wonder when I stopped imagining, and started only seeing. Perhaps, with the stresses of reality, as students staring into the abyss of impending adulthood, it’s time to use our imaginations again?
With essays, friendships, relationships, to name but a few, we are surrounded by reality – the physical, the immediate and, quite frankly, the stressful. It’s no wonder we take any opportunity to escape. And as much relief a pint or glass can bring, it can cause more trouble than it relieves. ‘How did we do it before?’ we wonder. We imagined – we escaped into our own little world, castle, spaceship, Wild West saloon. No one’s ever heard of a stressed out knight. If we could bottle nostalgia, keep it in a hipflask, then the make-believe would have the same buzz as a pint of Fun. Our imagination is crucial, and like nostalgia, it is a medicine for those times when everything seems too much. Charming Princes and fairy princesses may seem ridiculous, but they brought comfort to us before, why not now? Because we know they’re not real? When did that stop anyone? Think back to those days, drink in that nostalgia of duels, fantastical missions, and gold at the end of the rainbow. And before you know it, stress will be a dragon you’ve slayed. Before we abandon those once-upon-a-times to the attic, try remembering, try imagining.
Granted trying to imagine yourself as your childhood mermaid alter ego is difficult once you know the impossibilities of such a hybrid, but does that mean we should and have outgrown this imagining endeavour? Like our minds, bodies, tastes, our imagination has grown and matured too. Whilst mermaids and aliens may be the imaginings found only with the comfort of nostalgia, that’s not to say we don’t still fantasise. Fairies at the bottom of the garden have evolved into the image of the perfect job come graduation. The spaceship made from boxes and paint is the ideal flat in the right location and at the preferred price. We add a ‘boy-’ or a ‘girl-’ to our imaginary friend. So if we can’t escape to Narnia or Neverland, maybe imagining our future can hold that same warmth as elves, dwarves, and little green men. Save the nostalgia for family memoires and photo albums; let your imagination run wild like the child we all used to be. Perhaps your blind date has been aboard a pirate ship in their back garden too.
Imagination and nostalgia seem to be two sides of the same coin, the marshmallow and the biscuit in the teacake: the perfect combination. Comforting when stressed, they are a great escape route from reality. To rip of your top to see your superhero costume underneath is no crime, and to wander around your flat shouting ‘Expelliarmus!’ is no sin; if anything, waving that take-out chopstick might bring back those childhood times that we thought we’d outgrown. And what was less stressful than our childhood? Even if we can’t conjure those friendly ghosts, and a stick no longer holds a myriad of possibilities, to imagine is to escape from the stresses of the world. Imagine eating pizza without the weight gain; imagine the perfect person; imagine that round the world trip you’ve been saving for. Imagining doesn’t have to be all Disney films and fairy tales, but it is the original escapism, something we all need sometimes. Now go find that perfect job at the bottom of the garden.
Article by James Reynolds
Illustration by Imogen Whiteley