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Head in the Clouds

In my teens, I noticed that family and friends had much crisper recollections of shared experiences.  Details about dates, sequences, and participants they seemed sure of were fuzzy to me.

Then, in my early 20s, after having accumulated 20 years of memories in several towns, schools, and jobs, with different groups of family and friends, I began to discover that whole events from my past – sometimes even entire persons – had ceased to exist for me.  To say that the memories were lost is not quite right.  Usually with some pondering I could remember whoever or whatever it was we were talking about.  Occasionally a detail triggered the sudden unfolding of something, and an experience would appear in tact, as I imagine it always did for everyone else.  More often, though, the salient details had to be supplied to me, and I pieced together a whole memory from those parts.  If I could imagine it happening that way, I accepted it.

I’m not entirely sure what my problem is, but I suspect that I just don’t store memories properly.  And that is likely because my mind is too busy with its own fantasy world.  My imagination is so fertile, my interior life so developed, sometimes I have difficulty distinguishing between things that happened in real life and things that happened only in my head.

I don’t simply talk to myself.  I’ve had hours and hours of conversations with other people who aren’t there.  Usually, this is just my way of communicating something I can’t communicate at that moment or experiencing something I can’t experience but want to.  Happy, sad, excited, angry – I’ll talk to whomever these feelings are directed toward and experience pleasure or feel relief, all on my own.  It becomes confusing when these fantasy talks and experiences come true, and they often do, at least in part.  Did that occur during the conversation in my head, or the conversation in real life, or both?

While I’ve never had any wholly imaginary friends (not yet, at least), to say that I’m the star of the movie in my head is an understatement.  When I was younger, I tried to keep this in check by imaging only what could plausibly come true.  My former students could one day gather on an Oprah special and tearfully express what a lasting influence I was on their lives – and Oprah will reward me with a new car.  That is possible.  It is not possible that I will one day perform a beautiful version of “Operator (That’s Not the Way It Feels)” to appreciative, tearful applause (in my fantasies, everything I do is so moving people are always crying).  I can’t sing, so that’s never going to happen, but I’ve stopped fighting the desire to imagine it.  That’s why they call them dreams, right?

My actual dreams are rich, too, and often very realistic.  That’s not helpful for someone who has a hard enough time distinguishing between reality and imagination.  To keep all of this straight can be exhausting, so I’ve more and more just stopped trying.  I do attempt to reign in my tendency to have imaginary conversations out loud in the restroom at work.  I’ve gotten a few funny looks.  But the rest of it … if people think I’m nutty because I can’t remember actual happenings and spend my time having fake conversations, they’ll change their minds when they tearfully watch Oprah honor me in a televised special dedicated to the ground-breaking novel I’ve written, universally hailed as a masterpiece …

Photo: Washington Monument, February 2011
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