Friday, August 31, 2007

A Bit Schizo...But Its All Good

I think all children are blessed with a touch of schizophrenia. At least in the beginning, until we exhaust ourselves trying to turn them into clones of what society tells us responsible adults should be. We then churn out these cookie-cutter largely homogenised people who have had every ounce of creativity and individuality wrung out of them and send them out into the world to wreak mediocrity on humanity. This is understandable; schizophrenia is just so damn scary.

I was definitely a schizophrenic child. In fact, quite a few elderly Nigerians would have also classified me as a pathological liar. Let’s just say that I much preferred living in my head to living in reality. Not because there was anything wrong with my reality, on the contrary, I had a fantastic childhood. I was simply one of those children given to wild flights of fancy. I also had a knack for making it believable, in other words I knew just how far to push it, and when to reel it in.

I used to sit for hours making up entire worlds in my head. These places were very intricate with specific mythologies, legacies and multiple friends who I sometimes brought back with me to the real world. After a long day of traversing the complex webs I had woven, I would sit down to dinner with my family and often carry on these unfinished conversations with an imaginary friend or two. Even in my fantasies my childhood friendships were often as fickle as can be expected from a 7-year old. My mother would look on, utterly perplexed by the odd child who insisted on carrying on conversations with people who did not exist.

When I was 9, I mastered the art of embellishment. I would take a seemingly mundane scenario and put my own spin on it, recalling the events with such dramatic flair, I defy anyone to be less than fully absorbed. All Africans have storytelling woven into their DNA, and I was no exception. The difference however, was that I began to put pen to paper and record these masterpieces. I wrote my first novella at 11, a habit that was to stay with me for most of my teenage years. Somewhere along the way though, one by one all my friends deserted me. I cannot pinpoint the exact moment when it happened, but I woke up one day and realised that I was normal. Existing on this plane solely, just like everyone ordinary person. Perhaps it was going to a Science & Technology focused school that did the trick, or maybe I just got tired of explaining constantly that I wasn't psychotic, either way something or the other caused me to throw in the towel and close off the gateway to my imagination. The more likely explanation is that I simply grew up, but lately I have realised one profound thing...reality is completely overrated.

Maybe we all grow up and our imaginary friends desert us. These days, my flights of fancy seem limited to winning the lottery and being whisked of into the sunset by Mr. Tall, Dark & Handsome. But occasionally, when I am lying in the park on a glorious summer day, I hear a whisper in my ear. A smile stretches across my face as I say hello to my friends of yore. More often than not, we engage in full-scale banter for a minute or two before I look round and realise that everyone around thinks I am crazy. I return to earth with a thud, ignoring the look of hurt and disdain on the faces of my imaginary friends. I know what they are thinking; “Why are you ashamed of us? You should be revelling in the glories of a world entirely of your own making.” These are the pitfalls of being a grown-up, saying goodbye to the friends who have kept me company for as long as I can remember. Suppressing the urge to leap out of Brooklyn and into the gossamer-filled world just yonder. I can’t help but think that some of my favourite authors never said goodbye to these friends, they speak to them everyday and the results are breathtaking. Roald Dahl, J.K. Rowling, Phillip Pullman, Khaled Hosseni…..the list goes on and on.

I had an epiphany the other day, life is too short to spend all my time worrying about what other people think of me. As epiphanies go, I know it is rather simplistic and perhaps should have been more obvious to me a bit sooner, but better late than never. I have decided to wallow in the joys of my imaginary friends and all the characters that live in my head. I will give them free reign and let them grow, and then when they are mature enough I will share them with the world via my pen (or keyboard). Welcome back imaginary friends, I've really missed you.