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