When I was little, I had a very elaborate fantasy world or 'paracosm', as Marjorie Taylor calls it. It began when I was between four and six. The odd thing is, I can remember its coming into existence exactly – that was very much my own experience that I chronicled as Laura's when she met first Torgon – but I can't date it exactly as to how old I was. For a long time, I believed I was seven when it happened, but I also remember I had just come outdoors from watching TV and only latterly did I discover that the program I'd been watching went off the air when I was six. The woman who came to me that evening in the empty lot was, like Torgon, a priestess-cum-leader. She was 26 and it did feel so much like a real experience, as if I'd really seen her, as if she'd really been there, and yet, like Laura, I always knew it was my imagination. I never, ever felt it was something outside of me, something that wasn't mine.
This was the start of a remarkable experience that has ultimately created me as much as I created it. It was because of this phenomenon - this woman and her world - that I began to write at age 12, that I became a teacher, that I learned how to observe without judgement, to hold without grasping, and to let go of the concept of self as a unique entity. In the end, it has formed my understanding both of reality and of existence.
What was surreal was that no one knew this was going on for me. It was the largest single part of my life, but by eight or nine I'd learned to hide it, because it isn't socially acceptable in our culture to see people who aren't there nor to spend all your time in 'fantasy play'. Like Laura, I wasn't actually in this other world. I was just a spectator, as if there were this most amazing movie projector in my head, always playing this alluring, complex film. It often laid down over my ordinary world like a transparency, so that I could see both at once. It never particularly concerned me that other people didn't know about it or didn't want to know about. It was so fabulous, I never cared.
When I was in middle childhood, it was just play. I never thought about what it might actually be, because it didn't matter. When I reached my teens and was a bit more of an abstract thinker, it bothered me enormously that it wasn't "real" and, like Laura, I spent a lot of time trying to make it real through pictures, drawings, maps, histories and other records. I can remember, for example, writing down this huge dictionary and grammar book of the paracosm language. It extended well over 200 pages and was complete with a modern and archaic version of their writing.
Like Laura, I too was drawn into the New Age culture as I reached my early twenties. I think it happened simply because I was still wanting it to be real in a concrete way and New Age beliefs gave a kind of validity to what I was experiencing when everyone else just wrote it off as fantasy. Fortunately, I had never suffered Laura's loneliness or lack of social contact, so when the people around me started to get crazy for real, I was able to walk out intact. From that point on, my own experiences are different than Laura's (you will be happy to hear!) and what happens with Laura is just my imagining what might have been on the path not taken.
By my later 20s, I began to understand there are different kinds of "real". Even though it could not be accessed by the five senses, this alternate world had its own reality, not only in terms of itself but also in terms of the impact it had on my life here. This then led me to wonder what, exactly, this kind of alternate reality is. What is imagination? Or more specifically, what is creativity?
Creativity is often confused with originality, but they aren't quite the same. Originality is the ability to think up new ways of perceiving or using something that already exists. The familiar test of 'how many uses for a brick' is a test of originality, not creativity. Creativity is the act of bringing something that didn't exist before that moment into existence. We do it on two levels. 'Concrete' or 'physical' creativity is where we create new life by mixing certain special cells in our body with someone else's; and 'abstract' creativity is where images, sounds, ideas that have previously never existed come into our minds. What exactly is happening when creativity takes place? What exactly happened to me at age five or six on that path through the empty lot? I don't think it was in any way supernatural or paranormal, but I do think we often fail to recognize the very real magic happening around us every day. Because we are so accustomed to it, we don't see what an astonishing thing it is. And it is astonishing. Whatever caused me to see that young priestess in her white clothes and bare feet on a June evening in Livingston, Montana changed my life forever. And has left me pondering ever since.
I wrote OVERHEARD IN A DREAM to explore this. That's what writing has always been for me – a means of getting things out of my head and down in front of me, where I'm able to see it with that bit more objectivity. Torgon's world isn't an exact replica of my young priestess's world, any more than Laura's world is a replica of mine, but the flavour is very much there – this alluring experience of being and not being someone else, of knowing what is happening inside your head is of your own making and simultaneously is not.