“Concealed in the world we have is a world greater than we can imagine”- Mark Helprin from In Sunlight and in Shadow (here).
I thought I had been quite clever and come up with something original. Turns out my suspicions are correct and I am not as clever as I sometimes think I am. Imagineering is a term that has been in use apparently since the 40’s. It is used in connection with engineering theme park rides, which makes sense I suppose. I have been using it as a category of the home education of our kids. Anyone with kids knows that they can have vivid imaginations. You don’t necessarily have to tell a child to imagine; they do it naturally. They dream, create friends, explore lands, and tell stories often in such a way that the lines between what they have imagined and what we adults term “real” (often carelessly I might add) are blurry.
When we lived on the farm at BeathaFonn on top of the hill, Georgia and I would watch the fog roll over Jump-off Ridge, which loomed outside our window, and filled the valley below blotting out the houses and streets, the river and trees underneath us. For a long time Georgia knew this to be Dragon’s Breath. In the beginning she was content with knowing that the dragon was hidden behind the hills trying to make his way over the mountains into the valley. His breath spilled out from over the ridge in between the crags telling us and the inhabitants of our town that he was close. But then she wanted to know why he didn’t just fly over, “Can’t dragons fly?” she asked. “And why did he want to get over the mountains? Where did he come from? Why hasn’t he ever reached the other side? Why doesn’t he breath fire?” She wanted to know the story of the dragon. So I told her.
Imaginations are innate in children but like most anything are most productive and beneficial when they are cultivated intentionally. Imagineering is my attempt, as my children’s tutor and steward, to grow their imaginations and bring them to maturity. I suspect that most of us think of imaginations as something childish. There are certainly childish imaginations, but I happen to think that our imaginations are part of what makes us human. It is not good then to allow our imaginations to be left behind with our childhood. As my children grow, my desire is that their imaginations mature, not vanish.
I don’t think I’ll ever forget the day when Georgia finally asked me the question. We were in the car heading into town. The dragon was out that day trying to climb over the ridge. “Look!” she said, “Dragons Breath. Daddy can you tell me the story again?” So I did. There was a brief silence before she asked, “Daddy, is the dragon really real or just a story?” I literally gasped. I wasn’t ready for her to ask me that. Just a story! Just a story! I admit that I panicked a little bit, but instead of answering her question directly we talked about what stories were for. Why do we tell them and do they need to have happened in order to help us understand something real? We have since, of course, talked about fog and how it forms and why it moves about like that. But every once in a while I’ll catch her saying on a foggy day, “Look, the dragon is out.”
If I am to be the conductor of my little imagineerers then I also must have an imagination. It must be like theirs in some regard, but also unlike it in other ways in order to serve as a model for them to imitate and grow towards. To be the lead imagineerer I must believe what has been quoted from Helprin and assumed by every great storyteller and story-lover. Our imaginations are not there to be used as a means of escape from reality, but to put us in touch with a reality which (for us adults especially) is concealed without it. Children begin in this world knowing this. It is a sign of their need for remediation not of their maturity when, as they “grow up”, they forget it.