Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Imaginary as Real

“A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within it the image of a cathedral.”
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

When DS was in fourth grade, we were warned about his teacher from parents of a student who had had her the year before. She had castigated the student for relaying an experience he imagined as real, when the homework assignment clearly said, “tell of something that really happened to you last summer.”

The parents of the other boy, both literary and well educated, felt journeys of the imagination were “something that really happened.” Possibly, they also felt the insult of embarrassing their child in front of the class. But their son was not embarrassed. Instead, he reasoned his case well, though the teacher would not relent.
“She is small minded,” they told me. “That is the worst kind of teacher for young people.”
At that time, I was of two minds about this. There were a lot of nuanced matters in this kerfuffle, and I could see both sides.
Some years later, when concerns of respect for authority, teaching youngsters to follow directions, and the matter of how public a correction should be, were behind me, I could think of the issue itself.

I've come to think as that boy’s parents did. Experiences of the mind are real experiences, and they really happen to us. Anyone who likes to read knows what I mean.

I think Saint-Exupéry said it well, though today he might have replaced the word “man” with “person.”


  1. Creativity and imagination are great things. And the fact that the boy shared his experience in using those is definitely real.

  2. Love the quotes and the story of the boy, whose parents had the presence of mind to know that the teacher was small minded. I hope the boy continues to exercise his imagination. It is such a gift.

  3. My son's imagination is very real to him. It causes him trouble sometimes, but I'm glad he has it. It will serve him well if he can learn to focus it instead of being subject to it.

  4. What would kids do without an active imagination?!?

  5. Nice meeting you virtually through your blog and website. I suppose we, as writers, all strive to create those imaginary worlds that become real to readers - a lofty but worthy goal:)

  6. I'm a Keirsey temperament nerd. As such, I've learned that elementary-level teachers are often folks who are concrete, orderly, feet-on-the-ground types, and I'd say my experience with most of them bears this out. The classroom can actually be a hard place for any BUT this type, at least from time to time, and in certain ways.

  7. I forgot which age I was when I learned (or was taught) that the imaginary is just the imaginary. And that believing the imaginary to be real is childish. Oh how we all secretly trembled at being accused of being childish. That was the worst thing ever. Yet on a deeper level, I've always borne an illuminating layer of awe and faith and trust in the imaginary. If the imaginary isn't real in its way, then what good is 'real?'

  8. I love that quote, was introduced to it in college, studying to be at teacher. Now as writers we can help foster our kids' imaginations!