Is it just me, or is there, oh, I can barely explain it, it’s just one of those things that exist but you can’t express them because words are inadequate and in truth you’re not sure exactly what it is in the first place, only that it’s there, and awful, and ruining everything.
The gist of it is this: the anticipation of eating a cake, seeing all the lovely candles aglow, the tiered layers dripping with icing, is a thousand, trillion, bazillion times better than actually sitting in front of the cake and getting ready to eat it.
And it’s the same with, well, everything. Whatever experience you are having right now, in the moment, no matter how exciting it is, becomes banal by virtue of it existing in the present. And what is the present? The present is what people call “reality”, the thing that likes to stick its face in your face, with all its gnarly noses and overgrown eyes and gnashing teeth, impolite and awful and unforgiving. Reality is a beast, a monster, abhorrent. It is boring.
That’s the curse, I think, of having an overactive imagination: you become allergic to reality, repulsed by it as though it were a sickness, a dead corpse in the room’s corner you don’t want to touch. This sense of the eternal inadequacy of reality, and the present moment, has only really started to rear its head in recent years, as I have grown older, wiser, more jaded, seen through the spells and the illusions and the sparkles to the rot and dust.
It’s just awful, there’s such an awfulness to the limitations of reality, and the worst part is that awfulness can bleed into safe havens. Like books, and films, places where once you could lose yourself entirely, the magic unfolding across the page or screen as real to you as the smell of your own bed, or the taste of toothpaste in your mouth in the morning, all peppermint and chemicals. Somewhere along the line, something dies. That’s it, isn’t it? Something dies. Santa Claus is only magical when he is real; when he transforms into your parents, sneaking in presents under the tree at night, the show’s up, the magic is gone. You’ve seen the smoke and the mirrors, know the sleight of hands, dissected the chicanery. No longer is it pretty skin, and smiles, but skull-grins, the intestines and veins and guts pulsating beneath the skin. Game over.
Recently I re-read a worn children’s book that I’d adored and found to be the most delightful and magical piece of writing as a child. And I could not enjoy it, not one bit. I couldn’t fall into the magic anymore, as I used to. It’s like a witch losing her ability to fly, a singer losing her voice; it’s gone, age has stolen it, and very awful it was.
What we’re all searching for now, as mature teenagers, or adults, is a whiff of that old childhood magic, when everything was fresh and exciting. We want to be delighted, bathed in wonder. Problem is, the books and films on the market today don’t offer that. Perhaps it is because of the strange brand of quirky creativity that I possess, but most of the books scattered through literature, wonderful pieces of work they may be, are, well, boring. The level of escapism within them is not high enough; they’re just not imaginative enough, you still find reality smiling up at you slyly from the corners of the pages, when what you really want is for it to be banished entirely.
How much is enough? When is a work of art considered “imaginative” enough? I think when you feel yourself to be transported into another realm entirely, free of cliches, of banalities, tropes, a place that makes you feel like a child again. Books like Harry Potter don’t cut it: the link it has to the real world is still far, far too strong. An example of a piece of art that has come close to the strange and wondrous is the film “Spirited Away” by Miyazaki, which is gorgeously weird, and fun. A witch wraps a cloak around herself and turns into a great bird, her big nose acting as a beak; a bathhouse caters to spirits; a boilerman has several arms which lengthen and contract as needed, and scores of tiny lumps of soot working for him; enchanted flying paper birds; an odd and terrifying spirit who swallows people whole using a great big hole filled with gnashing and slavering teeth on its stomach. Something like that comes close, very close, but it’s still not enough, not for my tastes—and not for lots of other people, considering what an epidemic boredom is in modern society.
Maybe the kind of fantasy, wherein the real world is displaced entirely, and every page or scene is a blaze of surreal wonder, is unattainable. Maybe nothing, in the end, cannot be tarnished by awful hand of the present, of what already exists, already is, not even fantasy. I am trying to break free of a bubble that will not pop under my fingers. I am trying to search for a beyond beyond the beyond, an impossibility.
But that won’t stop me trying. So if anyone were to ask me why I write, what keeps me going, it is this: to inject my little bit of magic into the world. Proper magic. The more surreal and fantastic and strange, the better; when people one day read my books, I want them to forget themselves entirely, forget the world, caught up in a whirlwind of pure imagination, blossoming in a thousand colours and branching off in a hundred directions. Most of all, I’ll say, I write to escape reality. To live is to stare at a blank wall, and I want to paint over it, all over it, again and again, even if each time what I paint fades away and the blankness returns, until the day I die, and I won’t have to stare at it anymore.