Inner Countries

Do you have inner countries? I’ve always had them. I’ve always been able to go to other countries in my mind.

I remember the ways to reach them (because there is always a journey). Sometimes you have to climb over the mountain ridge before you see the valley. Sometimes you have to wait on the shore, until the boat shaped like a swan comes for you. It takes you to the island, and the castle. Sometimes all you have to do is step into the tapestry and find your way through the forest. (You will find your way, because you’ve been there before.)

I wonder if we are born imaginative, or become imaginative by circumstance? I think it’s a combination of both. It made a difference for me that I was a shy, dreamy child. When other children were playing kickball at recess, I was reading. My mind became populated by the things I was reading about, but there was also a consistency to my imagination, to the countries I had inside me. They were based on the fundamental premise that the world was alive, that animals and trees could communicate, that even rocks had things to say. That the true things were the old things: cottages made of stone, and ancient books — mountains, seas, and the great sky above. And that the world was filled with magic: shoes that took you wherever you wanted to go, mirrors that showed you whatever you wanted to see. I think J.R.R. Tolkien would say that my countries exist in Faerie, which he describes as the state in which magic can happen.

Of course, they still exist: I still have those countries inside me. Nowadays, I don’t visit as often as I used to. I have work to do, and there’s not as much time for dreaming as there used to be. But because I have them inside me, I’ve never accepted a simulacrum, a false country of the imagination. I don’t play video games. I barely watch television, and when I do, it’s because a show reminds me of the true countries of my imagination. They’re created by people who have true countries inside them as well, or so I believe. I would rather live in this world, and find in it places that remind me of those countries: I would rather have reality, and glimpse in it pieces of the countries I’ve known since a child. (I see pieces of them quite often: a stream running under a bridge, a horse standing in a field, a tangle of wild roses . . .) And since I am an adult, and a writer, I have the power to bring parts of those inner countries into this one — to write about them, or make them manifest in other ways.

I think that’s part of the writer’s, and more generally the artist’s, task. To bring his or her inner countries into reality, whether by showing where they exist in our world or describing and therefore creating them. Art changes our perceptions, which changes our reality (because our experience of reality is so fundamentally determined by our perceptions). The way an artist describes a copse of birches can change those birches for us.

Stonecoast 3

When I see a copse of birches in winter, I can see the women sleeping inside them . . .

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8 thoughts on “Inner Countries

  1. Theodora, that post describes EXACTLY what I believe – the importance of fantasy, the imagination and particularly the joy of discovering the true inner world. Whenever I write fiction, I am always trying to truthfully describe my inner world, and I find constant inspiration there by “wandering” around; entering the forests, following the tree-shaded stream, even crawling beneath the tangled briars…

    Thank you for this post. Ever single word resonates.

  2. This is beautiful, and so true. As a child I used to leap across a small creek in the paddock and on the other side was where I had adventures of all sorts. A little later in life I could go to other countries by climbing my favourite tree and sneaking into the swamp on the back of my best friends property.
    Another author who beautifully spoke(wrote?) about this is Kate Forsyth in her book The Bitter Greens, where one of her leading ladies, Charlotte Rose De La Force(the original writer of the Rapunzel fairy tale), told the young prince of France about how he could open a door in his imagination and go anywhere. The second I read this passage I KNEW that this was something Kate herself must have done many a time before.

  3. Oh yes, this, definitely! Honestly, the amount of countries I carry around in my head, you would think they’d have come spilling out by now. I suppose technically they have, in poetry, stories, song, interior design, stencils and all the other creative stuff that I do. All of it is my way of expressing that sense of beauty and mystery. I love this post, Dora – thank you so much for it!

  4. I have inner countries as well, but mine are set in the fantastical. Maybe it has to do with being a Pisces and being a dreamer but I don’t think so.
    And I don’t think I can ever get enough of the voice behind your writing.
    Thanks for sharing. Sometimes, your blog is also one of my inner countries. But it does exist. On my computer screen, at least ;)

  5. Another wonderful post to read – thank you. The inner countries I travel in are inviting, no matter what the season. Sometimes, something as simple as a bird’s song will take me there or the dance of a leaf on the wind.

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