Monday, September 17, 2007

Imaginary Friends

Etain mentioned imaginary friends in her comments on my last post and I started thinking about this issue, and whether it has any relationship to the development of writing interest and skills. First, though, I've always been confused by one issue related to imaginary friends. That is, how real do people's imaginary friends seem to them when they are kids? I grew up in the country with no other children around, and didn't attend school until first grade. I had quite a few imaginary friends. There was Red Spot and Barefoot, two youths from a savage tribe on Jupiter, and there was McCallister, a war weary WW II vet who carried a BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle). These were not characters that I played. They were companions to the characters I played. However, though I often conversed with them, and even argued with them, during play, I never actually "thought" they were real. They didn't go in the house with me, or sleep in the same room with me. When I was finished playing I put them back on the shelf, so to speak, and took them out again next time I played that game.

Let me ask, how many of you had imaginary friends? And if you did, how real were they to you? Were they one or were they legion? Did they talk to you when you weren't "playing?" Lest you fear to reveal such information because you think it makes you look psychotic, I suspect that all children are a little psychotic from the adult standpoint. I certainly was.

And for those of you who "still" have imaginary friends, remember that I'm a psychologist. Tell me all about it. I might be able to get you some help. ;)


Ello - Ellen Oh said...

I find this a fascinating question because I never had imaginary friends as a child, but all three of my children have them. And while it is clear to me that they know their imaginary friends are not real, they are, comforting to them. I like your analogy best, they are like toys you play with and put away on the shelf when you are done.

I've never had imaginary friends. I think that explains why I am not a "create whole words from my imagination" type writer. I'm more of a research and then write writer.

Heather said...

I remember when I was 4 or 5 (before my sister was born) I had an imaginary boyfriend. He would hold my hand during car trips. I never spoke aloud to him because I didn't want to explain him to my parents. They would have told me I was too young for a boyfriend.

Steve Malley said...

Like most folks, I can't remember anything before I was twelve. (Sorry, not really. Just one of my favorite lines from Shallow Hal!)

Ah, the joys of make-believe. Psychotics don't know they're playing, children play pretend as far and hard as they want to, and too many adults decided somewhere in there to be ashamed of make-believe.

Me, I'm planning a make-believe event for National Talk Like a Pirate Day, complete with (imaginary) galleons and naval battles and a (real) treasure map to a buried (chocolate) treasure. The Tiny Dynamo won't know what hit her!

And on a writerly note, your account of playing with your imaginary friends sounds *very* much like my own writing process.

My characters and I play together, sometimes arguing strenuously over how the game should go. Hell, some days one or more might storm off in a huff! But I don't worry that my characters are watching me pee or anything...

'Real' is such a very odd concept.

Angie said...

I had various imaginary friends when I was a kid but I always knew they weren't real, even when I was little. I think adults don't give kids nearly enough credit for knowing the difference between fantasy and reality.

I still talk to imaginary people, either in my head (when there are other people around) or out loud (when I'm alone and won't get snickered at). Usually I'm trying to work out an argument or an explanation for something, talking through a snarled plotline, something like that. It's just easier to focus if I can do it out loud. I'm alone at home all day, though, so that helps. :)


RK Sterling said...

Charles, I'm puzzled. You make that sound like our invisible friends aren't real - like they go away when we grow up.

However, I've promised my nebulous friends that I won't embarrass them by speaking of them publicly.

Unknown said...

I worked with a psychologist at Johns Hopkins Univ. who studied children and their imaginary friends.

Her name was Camille ______ (it was awhile ago, and I don't remember, alas).

But one of the things she said is that the imaginary friends have adventures, such as jungle safaris, with their creators, but after awhile the imaginary friends meet unfortunate and untimely demises. Often they're run over by cars or eaten by tigers.

My brother's imaginary friend, Mr. Instance, met with an accident and stopped living in the walls of our house.

Emily Toth

Travis Cody said...

Death scenes during war games were no fun if you didn't leave your buddies behind to soldier on in your name. I had imaginary characters that I could hop back and forth between during my games when I had to play alone.

Gunny Hightower and Corporal Casey were my war characters. I had cowboy characters too, and cops & robbers.

But as for imaginary "friends" that spoke to me even when I wasn't playing, I don't think I did. I think I went the character route instead.

the walking man said...

I never had imaginary friends as a kid and very few if any at ll real friends but at about the age of 16 I began to hear, what I now recognize, as the voice of the One who created all.

We converse intelligently and when I listen and do I am good when I fuck up and go my own way i get totally fucked.

The day of the accident that was not my fault but cost me my DL and multiple injuries God told me very clearly to go somewhere else but I decided to go home instead because I had an errand I wanted to do and wound up with a 4x4 about 4 feet into my ass.

If I had just gone to the coffee shop like He said i would have been miles away from where the accident happened.

so Doc tell me am I crazy?

Lisa said...

I didn't have any imaginary friends who were people, but I did go through a phase for a while where I imagined I had tiny mouse-like critter friends like Stuart Little. I also imagined all the animals I came in contact with could communicate telepathically with me. I suppose that's not really the same as a wholly manufactured imaginary friend though.

Stacia said...

I never had imaginary friends, either, not really. My toys all had their own little personalities, but I also knew it wasn't entirely real. I played with them, but I knew their dialogue was coming from my head.

Funny, I always thought I was strange for not having them, because it's such a common device in fiction and you hear so many parents worrying about it.

the walking man said...

Charles would you hit me with an e-mail I have a personal question for you? Just put Charles in the subject line if you're willing.



Michelle's Spell said...

This one makes me laugh because although I didn't have imaginary friends, I did have an imaginary classroom of girls that I used to teach while waiting long hours for my dad to finish teaching flight lessons! What I didn't know then was that I'd kill for the time to read now. And I do imbue Baby Grouchie with personality -- the Budhist have a word for this phenomenon, but I can't remember it.

Charles Gramlich said...

Thanks everyone. This is about what I figured. Lots of folks had imaginary playmates or created playmates but they didn't seem so real to them that they treated the playmates as if they always existed.

I wonder if future writers are more likely to create such playmates. I'll have to give that some thought.

Bernita said...

Never had them.
Though I imagined stories and filled them with imaginary people.

Stewart Sternberg (half of L.P. Styles) said...

This is a fascinating topic. Imaginary friends. Yeah, I've had one..which was another facet of me. When I was a kid, I would change who I was and my name. I would introduce myself to some people as Steven not Stewart. Yep..damaged mind there.

Lana Gramlich said...

I had an imaginary friend named Laura. She was from England & told me much about it, to the surprise of my parents.

cs harris said...

I had an owl. He went away by the time I was five, so I honestly don't remember if I thought he was real or not. I suspect I wanted him to be real.

Charles Gramlich said...

Stewart, I thought you "were" an imaginary friend?

Lana, what about your imaginary friends Kainja and Revel?

Candice. An owl? Pretty cool.

Bernita, I had some of those too,

ello, I think you're right about how your kids feel about them.

h.e. imaginary boyfriends and girlfriends are much less irritating than the real ones eh?

Steve, man, I'd like to hang out with you for a week. I'm looking forward to Halloween myself.

Angie, I used to do that with characters some times, have debates with them about what they thought about stuff. Now I just talk to Imaginary Stewart.

Kate, I've already received some threatening thoughts from your....invisible friends suggesting I change the thread. Man, that one guy is loud, isn't he?

Emily, what I want to know is if you've ever had imaginary students?

Travis, I think you're guys would have gotten along well with McCallister.

Mark, let's just say you're flirting with the line. ;)

Lisa, I used to pretend I was a cat. I'm glad I didn't run into any of your imaginary mice friends.

December/Stacia, when my son was little I made up personalities for all his stuffed animals and we had so much fun interacting with them. I miss that.

Michelle, imaginary students? Now that's pretty cool. I wish I only had to give imaginary tests and imaginary grades. It would make the work load easier.

Sphinx Ink said...

I didn't have imaginary friends, but I was convinced my dolls came alive at night while I was sleeping.