Imaginary Friends

In the airport a couple weeks ago, I saw a boy carrying a Teddy Bear. I was envious. He carried it easily, clutching it close to his tummy. He clearly had a good friend there to see him through the chaos that is an airport.

He wasn’t a terribly young boy. I’d have guessed he was ten or so. Nor did he show any signs of being “special” or otherwise different in a way that would make it “okay” for him to carry a stuffed animal at his age. He had it, wasn’t embarrassed about it, and there really wasn’t anything else that needed to be said on the subject.

I envied him because I’d love to have a traveling companion like that for my trips. I actually do have two small stuffed animals who stow away in my luggage for longer trips. One is a Tasmanian Tiger I brought back from Tasmania. The other is a Scooby-Doo given to me by a friend’s children who figured I needed a Scooby-Doo.

Children are wise in this way. Having the wee beasties in a hotel room personalizes it. It gives me a sense of actually living in the room, not just being parked there for a bit. It might seem silly, but when you wake up in the middle of the night, in a strange hotel room, and you can’t remember where you are; it’s like being a kid again, waking up from a nightmare. That dislocation means you’re lost, and as a kid, if you’re lost, you’re doomed.

Seeing a couple of smiling faces means you’ve been found. Everything’s okay, and gonna get better.

But why not travel with a stuffed animal in full view, ready to be hugged, or to share a comment about something I see in my travels?

Well, most folks would consider that behavior psychotic. Despite what I do for a living, I actually do know the difference between real and make believe. Unlike the young man in the airport, however, I forget too easily that sometimes that difference really doesn’t matter much at all.

I saw the boy while on my way to a game convention (GameStorm), where I got to watch over 1000 attendees play all sorts of games. Some folks were in costume—and many more participated in the LARPing throughout the convention. In the little sliver of reality the convention carved out of the “real” world, people could wear what they wanted, pretend to be whomever they want to be, and do so with an abandon and freedom that most folks will never enjoy.

At conventions, I could wander around with a stuffed animal if I wanted to. But I don’t. At these shows I have other roles to play, and they constrain me. Not badly, mind you, but they do determine what I can and cannot do. If I’m talking about the religious right and their opposition to RPGs, or about Skeptical topics, or about the digital revolution in publishing; hauling around a stuffed animal would destroy my credibility.

Even at a convention, where folks would swear that the would never think less of someone for doing such a thing, they would. They couldn’t help it. We are simply and thoroughly conditioned to think that way by society.

Society—read the world of grown-ups—functions within a consensual reality that doesn’t allow for imaginary friends. It doesn’t accept that a Socratic dialogue conducted with a stuffed animal could be useful. It doesn’t even allow that such a thing could be sane. In fact, society dictates that it’s quite insane.

Maybe someday I will be brave enough not to care what others think, and haul a Teddy Bear around with me. Others will take a manifestation of that courage as a sign of senility. I think, however, it might be a sign of my actually have grown up enough to recapture the carefree joy of being a child, and the fearlessness that comes with it. And if society disagrees, so be it.

At least I’ll have a good friend with me, and we can laugh at society’s silliness all we want.

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9 Responses to “Imaginary Friends”

  1. Go for it! I carry a plush toy with me almost all the time, granted I am usually creating them with any spare moment I may have. Hubby and I go to dinner after work on Fridays (which we call Pintday) and have our British monkey (plush) Nigel with us. He enjoys eating and drinking his way around town every week. Some restaurants have even come to recognize Nigel and know his name without even knowing who the humans are. At to clear the image up more… we are in our late 30’s and no children with us. We do get a few strange looks outside of the College town, but to bad for them that they don’t get it.

  2. Mr. Stackpole, I have to agree with you. There are some things that society have constructed that do nothing more than destroy our inner child and our sense of freedom. I know for a long time I clung on to the old Toys ‘R’ Us song “I don’t want to grow up” in that I wanted to keep some of my old toys as keep sakes, reminders of my childhood. Nowadays there are a lot of toy collectors, so it’s an easy enough topic to skirt around. But I think in the end, the thing that is most precious is our imaginations. Too many adults let those powerful imaginations they had as kids die away.

  3. Great post, Mike. =)

    I agree completely. I think it’s a little sad that our social rules force this sort of thing on us. That said, back in my 20s when I was flying around the country playing the Magic pro tour circuit, I had a little stuffed dragon that went everywhere with me. Sat on the table while I played – my mascot. Still have him over here on my desk next to my writing computer, too. Funny about that. 😉

  4. Brilliant, Michael. And sadly, so true. We all need an imaginary friend. We also need to learn how to ignore this adult/child thing which is stifling.

    Thanks for making me smile.

    Cheers — Larry

  5. Last week, as I was approaching my 24th hour in travel home from Europe, I seriously considered buying this cute little stuffed animal in a store in the airport.

    At that point, I really needed something to hold on to. I was tired. I was anxious. I just wanted to get home.

    But then I had that little voice that said it would look too strange. So that adorable stuffed animal remained there and I sat miserably waiting for my flight.

    Up with teddy bears!

  6. “It doesn’t accept that a Socratic dialogue conducted with a stuffed animal could be useful.)

    Okay, now you need to write a story where the hero’s go-to guy is a teddy bear. Now THERE’S a useful foil!

  7. I have wondered why it’s socially acceptable to have a conversation in public but not to talk out loud to yourself — or to an imaginary friend, for that matter. Why is it any less acceptable or more disturbing to others to think out loud than to think silently?

  8. Anthony JP Miller 10. May, 2011 at 1:27 am

    Awesome post Mike.

    First: Always wanted a stuffed wolf as a kid. 22, driving home from Oregon with a friend, after three manly days of quadding on the dunes, we stop at Cabela’s, AKA Disneyland for outdoorsy guys. He had never been. We shot off their laser rifles, had supper, and saw everything, but before we left, I saw a stuffed husky that looked just a little wolf. Nice size too. Walked out with it. Friend agreed that he (now named Argus, after a favored fiction and the faithful hound of Oddyseus) was awesome, and totally worthy of carrying home to Canada. Still have him, and yeah, he does make a strange room home.

    Second, and this is perhaps a little more touchy. I have read novels where the main character had socratic dialogues with what should have been (or should it?) an inanimate object. If you ever read the old Italian stories of Don Camillo (they’re in English now) the priest of the little village with the communist mayor often speaks with the crucified Christ, who plays Socrates and gives the sort of advice you’d expect from a well-meaning and very wise old friend. Best dialogue? When the priest complains about the long-haired flower-children, and the Crucified Christ (in capitals, like that) muses that he was once considered a long-haired rebel too. Set the little pastor right on his heels. So the Socratic Dialogue/ inner turmoil thing can work for Ted & Co. too.


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