Imagined lives (and how to make them real)

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – October 7, 2018 – 12:00am

I was a daydreamer as a young boy. I could be in a classroom or anywhere and whenever anything caught my fancy, I would imagine myself in made-up situations and scenarios. An open window in a classroom with a view of green space would make me feel I was running around carefree or riding a horse at great speed. Seeing a fire truck pass by while looking out the window of a car, I would become a fireman riding on it. Being a fireman — someone who knew how to deal with dangerous situations like houses on fire — was one of my ambitions then. I would imagine extinguishing blazes and rescuing people.

Sometimes, while walking in school I would be in a daze because I would imagine seeing the animals and wildlife roaming the campus before it was built. I remember being in second grade, walking along the corridors of the Ateneo, imagining what the area was like before the mortar, brick and cement structures came into being. Was this a wild forest once? Were there lots of tall trees with vines? I imagined swinging from one tree to another. 

I still daydream to this day. The only difference is I do not get so lost that I have to be called back to reality. I love playtime. The habit of allowing my imagination to run where it wants to go is something I still regularly engage in. I am glad I have not lost that habit.

I like turning things around, upside down, right side up in my head. I like mixing letters to find other words and placing commas and periods in sentences to create new meanings. I enjoy matching things that don’t naturally go together; making scenarios in which random things that were never before connected suddenly fit or co-exist in a new order. I like puns a lot. On certain days, I try to find humor or irony in everything. I imagine the kind of lives strangers live with the little info I know about them.

Daydreaming is creative pursuit. Essentially, it is making something out of nothing. As an exercise, I can be having dinner in a restaurant and I try to imagine who cooked the fish I am eating. And I can go deeper and ask whom the supplier was who brought it to this resto and who the fisherman was who caught it. What were they like? Do they have families? Where was the fish caught? All this can be going through my mind while I am eating. And I know I am just scratching the surface here. It makes dinner a more engaging experience.

In a creative class that I run, I ask my students to come up with a list of imaginary lives they would have wanted to live but cannot due to age, gender, race or any other circumstances. The list of imaginary lives usually includes astronaut, princess, king, spy, rock star, very rich people, superhero, etc.

I then ask them the reasons why they wanted to be those people. Most people who choose “astronaut” say it is because they wish to travel to space and explore new worlds. I then ask them to think of an activity they could do now that would give them a chance to literally explore a world unknown to them. Many mention scuba diving. The idea is to get the essence of what it is you fancy and look for a similar but doable experience that can give you the thrill you are looking for. Basically, you look for its substitute or parallel. It is a very empowering exercise. Many of my students end up pursuing new hobbies that make them feel more alive.

This is one of my favorite modules in the workshop. It forces people to escape from literalism, from the cut-and-dried packaged experiences that the world offers. It makes them imagine and explore wildly. In the process, they get to know themselves more and come up with creatively doable alternatives.

At 67, I still imagine lives I want to live. I still wish to be an explorer, a world teacher, an author of at least 10 books, a hiker, a cook, a philanthropist, an ambassador, an influence for good — among other things.

I am at present engaged in some activities that make me feel and experience the essence of my ambitions above. An explorer likes to venture into unknown territory. I fulfill that impulse by going to destinations unknown to me, going native, eating different types of food and immersing myself in the culture of the place.  I may not traverse big mountains or wild forests but I have the same mindset of one who does all those things.  Come to think of it, this also parallels some of the things that an ambassador or a hiker would be doing.

When I say yes to invitations to talk to varied groups of people, I get a kick — even if on a smaller scale — similar to what a world teacher must experience. I get out of my small world and share myself with new pockets of humanity. I touch people in ways that give both my audience and I something to learn from.

I still have to do more about my wish to become a cook. I have to go beyond just cooking adobo and other easy dishes. It is not enough to simply know how to fry things. With ambitions like these, you can’t live it in your head. You literally have to do work.

A philanthropist wants to help people by giving money to help others live better lives. Someone who wants to be a force of good in the world can actually be doing the same thing. I often give a chunk of my time and attention to those who are in need. I have sent random kids to school. I try and lend an ear to strangers I encounter when I feel they need someone to talk to at that moment. I have initiated dialogues with strangers whom I sense really needed someone to talk to but are too lost in their pain. I may have prevented two possible suicides by doing this.

 I may be doing philanthropic work in a very small scale right now but I feel I am on the right track. Someday, who knows, I may suddenly come across a large fortune. I will be ready to help in a bigger scale when it happens.

So when somebody belittles your ambitions and mockingly tells you to “dream on,” think of it as good advice. Keep dreaming and embark on doable parallel activities that will nourish your soul. It starts with dreaming and imagining. But acting on it must follow. And then before you know it, the dream has become real!AMBITIONSDREAMS

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