So I was reading this academic article from the late fifties. In it the author was discussing how, in literary studies, imagination was considered childish. It is something we’re expected to outgrow to participate in the adult world of cold, hard facts. (Making money and such nonsense.) And I came to think about the elderly I know. You see, I’m part of that sandwich generation where children take longer to grow up and need more care longer, and parents live longer, requiring care as they age. I know several elderly folk. One thing I can say is that as they age, they live more and more in their imagination. The cold, hard facts, in other words, are mere preoccupations of our “productive years.” I, for one, stand with childhood and advanced age. Imagination makes us human.
We’re all aging children. I’ve rebelled against the work world since I’ve been in it. My first job, at 14, was being a janitors’ assistant. That meant taking all the jobs the school janitors didn’t want. It often involved being left alone at a remote bus shelter with a Lord of the Flies-inspired group of tweens and being told, “Get that shelter painted by the time I get back” as the boss left. (Ironically, my boss was also my seventh-grade science teacher. The more I learn about everybody else’s school experience the more I realize just how extraordinary the Oil City School District was—Flu, may you rest in peace!) From that point to now being told “Bring in more money for the company,” my mind feels truly at home only in imagination. Perhaps I’ve grown up too soon, but we should still be listening to our elders.
There should be nothing but praise for those who manage to keep their imagination alive in the workaday world. It’s not easy. Faced with numbers, “metrics,” and “evidence-based” analytics, we’re expected to act like CEOs. Every time I open Quicken I’m reminded I should’ve been an accountant, a real “adult” job. My own evidence, however, comes in dreaminess. I’m a daydreamer—always have been. As a professor it was easy enough to get away with it. Less so in the business world. I still spend a couple hours every day in creative pursuits. It keeps me young, I think. Well, maybe it makes me old before my time. In either case, I can imagine no better use of any adult’s time.