My imaginary country or paracosm | Test
Last year, my friend Jesús died when he was hit by a car while riding his bike. He was a year older than me. We had both been university professors in Venezuela, where we developed a friendship around our common humanities-oriented geek. Jesús was also the only other person I knew at the time who had built a world in his mind as a hobby. When Jesús was buried, his coffin was draped in the blue, white and green of the flag of his imaginary country. As far as I know, what remains of the story of his imaginary kingdom are some private conversations on Facebook that I didn’t have the strength to go through.
I recently learned that the world-making activity that Jesús and I shared is known as the paracosm. According to a study cited by the the wall street journal, about 17% of children tend to develop a detailed personal universe that they will outgrow later in life, much like an imaginary friend. Nevertheless, although an imaginary friend can be a companion, the imaginary world is more about the joy of discovery and curiosity, conjuring up a forest in your mind and knowing what creatures lurk on the next hill to imagine a city much more exciting than the one you live in and wonder who lives there, what drives his life, if he loves someone or if he is happy. Before you know it, you’re scribbling wondrous beasts and rough maps, trying to make sense of the world in your head.
Interestingly, children who developed a paracosm did not perform better than their peers in terms of intelligence, vocabulary, memory, or creativity. The only major difference reported from other children was that those who created paracosms showed more problems filtering out irrelevant thoughts.
Some famous writers who mentioned making paracosms in their youth are Stanislaw Lem, Oxford don CS Lewis – with the help of his brother Warren – and Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë (with the help of their brother Branwell). Some of these surreal realms, unsurprisingly, were influenced by children’s perspectives on the adult world around them. In a 1984 essay, Lem points out the irony of how he amused himself as a child in interwar Poland by creating fictitious passports, permits and government notes just for his family to survive. to the Nazi takeover using false documents. He wonders if these games were a reflection of an “unconscious sense of danger”.
The imagined worlds of the two sets of siblings, meanwhile, reflect British culture, politics, attitudes and imperialism of the time: Brontë’s world of Glass Town was set in a West African imaginary (later moved to the Pacific Ocean) with characters based on British explorers, Napoleon and the Duke of Wellington. The first writings of the sisters are the copious correspondence and poems of the inhabitants of Glass Town. Lewis’s world, Boxen, was born out of Warren’s tales of India and his more famous brother’s love of stories involving talking animals, such as The Tale of Peter Rabbit.
My own paracosm began when I was a quirky, curious, and somewhat lonely teenager growing up in Maracay, a medium-sized city in Venezuela, in the early 2000s. My source of fascination was not India or India. Africa, but the United States. Or at least a distorted version filled with everything I found fascinating in a place I only knew about from the media. The setting was not a hypothetical ancient era or an idealized version of the Middle Ages, but was vaguely reminiscent of the mid to late 20th century – the height of the American empire, so to speak. I named this nation Urbania.
While an imaginary friend can be a companion, the fantasy world is more about the joy of discovery and curiosity, conjuring up a forest in your mind and wondering what creatures lurk above the next hill to imagine a city far more exciting than the one you live in. Before you know it, you’re scribbling wondrous beasts and crude maps, trying to make sense of the world in your head.
In Urbania, there is a city equivalent to New York and analogous places in New Orleans, California and Texas. There are huge cities filled with skyscrapers and subways, endless suburbs and prisons with electric chairs. There are wealthy industrial families linked by fraternities and clubs, immigrants on crowded ocean liners looking to start a new life, and reactionary militias boiling on the fringes. There is a colorful past that bears the sins of colonialism and endless foreign wars, which ultimately seal the fate of the country.
Characters and places, though imaginary, had names drawn from all sorts of sources: plays by Bertolt Brecht, classic black-and-white films, actors from Saturday Night Live. When you were a middle-class teenager in Venezuela in the early 2000s, you either studied a musical instrument, played sports, or learned English. I did the latter and, as soon as I could, I started working on my imaginary world in the language in which I write these words because it felt “right” to me.
The adults around me, while supportive, were irritated that I didn’t try to write about something closer to my own culture and reality. On the one hand, I was a child of globalization. Like many millennials around the world, I had prefabricated childhood ideas watching The simpsons and play Pokemon. The very first book I read in its entirety was Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. When I was seven years old, I knew who Bill Clinton was but not the president of my own country.
On the other hand, I struggled to connect with the other kids, didn’t have the best home situation, and tried to distance myself from a world that felt overwhelming. For me, Urbania offered an escape. It started as a way to channel my creative impulses. I have always loved telling stories. Urbania started as a comic book, then a movie script, and finally a book series with no clear beginning or end that has been started, abandoned, or lost dozens of times over 20 years. Despite so many years of work on Urbania, I’ve never even been able to finish a short story set there.
However, I can’t say that all those years I spent developing a universe in my head was a waste of time. My protagonists were exploring their sexual orientation and gender performance long before I admitted to myself that I was attracted to men. Trying to flesh out my little realm of the unreal has me researching history, geography, world cultures, mythology, religion, politics, and linguistics, essentially turning it into a shorthand for try to understand the real world.
In my case, I started writing thanks to my paracosm, which eventually led me to become a journalist and publish news from time to time. There was a time when I was afraid to move on, like Jesús, and I felt worried that the little scraps – the first chapters of novels that never got a sequel, drawings of maps and flags in notebooks yellowish in my mother’s apartment – could end up like jigsaw pieces for a picture that was never fully completed. But now, if I never managed to publish a single word about the little world inside my head, I wouldn’t be mad.
Jesus, too, used his paracosm to relate to the world. He wasn’t a writer, he was a political scientist, but his life was defined by hard, passionate work on small things, always hoping for something bigger and better to come, and having an endless love for the humanity and what it has been able to do. to achieve. It was one of the many things that made me identify with him. The fantasyland that was his personal realm of the unreal was also an intellectual game where he could conceive and apply social and political ideas that appealed to him. The blue, white and green flag with which he was buried not only served as a symbol of his personal utopia, but also as a banner that a better world was possible.
In talking with friends and colleagues about my creating worlds as a hobby, I realize that it is a much more common activity than I suspected for people with a natural passion, admiration and curiosity about why people do what they do. Many of them are not writers like the Brontë sisters or Lewis. They are journalists, economists, historians, and many of them are still dreaming. People might claim this activity is for a novel they’re writing or a board game they’re playing, but in all of these cases I see the sign of the fellow traveler who enjoys the endless journey to discover what’s more. ‘there is over the next hill than hurrying to the supposed destination.
I can’t help but think of the study cited by the the wall street journal and I wonder: Maybe all those supposedly irrelevant details that, as children, we were supposed to filter out, really helped us gain a different and broader view of the society we live in. Looking back, everything I’ve accomplished, at least career-wise, has been indirectly derived from chronicling the rise and fall of Urbania, an imaginary land that gave me so much in the real life.