“I have you now!” Through the hidden wavelengths of the force, I could hear the dark lord menacing through stertorous breath. A cold sweat streamed down my pallid face as I stared up at the screaming Imperial behemoth, its blaster-scored armor glinting red in the Felucian sun. With a tremulous hand, I loosed my lightsaber from a tattered belt. There would be no more running from my former Jedi brother. As Vader’s TIE fighter dove from the blood orange skies, I activated my blade for what I knew would be the last time. I am one with the force. And the force is with me.
TIE Fighters, Sith Lords, duels of fate- just another day of quarantine in the Wells household. Believe it or not, this epic standoff took place not on some distant jungle planet, but on my wood-paneled bedroom floor in Clermont, Florida. You see, near the top of the gabled ceiling there’s a fanlight that looks a lot like the windscreen of a Darth Vader’s TIE fighter from the Star Wars films. The shadows cast in the warm light of the Florida evening create a menacing effect that, in the eye of the imagination, makes appear as though the Sith lord himself is hovering above me.
Everybody has the ability to play pretend. Anyone who ever brandished a cap pistol in a game of Cowboys and Indians or chauffeured Barbie to the mall in a pink convertible already has their Bachelor of Arts in Make Believe. When we’re young and lack the agency to have our own real-world adventures, we employ imagination to turn our bedrooms, backyards, and any other accessible space into fantasy worlds. As we grow up and more and more of life’s experiences open up to us, we find less time and use for playing pretend. Our imaginations are repurposed from fabricating fictional realms to ideating social outings with our friends.
Today, we find ourselves in a world that at times feels more like make-believe than reality. Bars and restaurants are closed; vacations are cancelled; offices are shuttered; parks and beaches operate under martial scrutiny. Those experiences that we once enjoyed so freely are no longer an option, and we are once again confined to the domain of our own home. The results can range from boring to downright depressing. But we all have a secret weapon against the ennui (and I’m not talking about Netflix). Let’s say it together…
You might be thinking, “I’m damn near (insert age here)! I don’t have any imagination left!” And you’d be wrong. Like any muscle, the imagination can lose its strength when it falls into to disuse. Fortunately, it can also be strengthened through exercise. And believe me, it’s a lot more fun than those 50 crunches a day you’ve been promising to do for two months!
Now, I understand that many of you are probably cooped up with your spouse and/or little ones and they might be a little concerned if they see Mom or Dad digging for buried treasure in the backyard or prancing in two-sizes-too-small tutus on their own (not that I would discourage you!). But sparking your imagination doesn’t necessarily mean putting on motley and playing a role. There are simple changes you can make to your everyday routines that can help kindle the playfulness that we all possess.
Many of us are ruled by routine that exposes us to the same sights and spaces day-in and day-out. When that daily routine is suddenly restricted beneath one roof, the monotony can be maddening. However, you can shake up the tedium simply by sitting in a different spot than normal!
We all have our favorite couch or easy chair but parking your posterior in the same place every day means you are always looking at the same things from the same perspective. In fact, you probably go spans of days without visiting certain rooms in your house. As inconsequential as this might seem, the old saying that “familiarity breeds contempt” can have vengeful pertinence when you can’t leave your house. Exploring different rooms, working from different spots, or even just changing the direction your preferred chair faces will help you see your home in a new light.
Simply adjusting the sightlines you encounter on a daily basis can spark the imagination! Who knows what unseen vistas are waiting for discovery? Seeing your home from a different perspective might inspire your next remodel, new landscaping ideas, or simply reveal unheralded charms about where you live. If you really want to switch things up, try laying upside down on your bed or couch. You’ll be amazed at what undiscovered worlds are waiting to be found! But more on that in a minute.
There are facets of the natural world that can so powerfully catalyze emotion than light. As the sun takes its daily journey from horizon to horizon, it performs a dynamic, emotional drama on the world below. While you may never have thought about it before, the sun’s histrionics play themselves out in your house every day.
Pay attention to the sunlight and take notice of how it acts on your house throughout the day. Ask yourself what kind of emotions it elicits. Cheerful and optimistic? Eerie and foreboding? Humorous and playful? Track this emotional arc throughout the day and see what kind of story the sun is telling. Since Earth’s orientation to the sun changes daily, you’ll never see the same story twice (which is more than I can say about the Young and the Restless).
To take this exercise of the imagination a step further, take notice of how the sunlight acts on the environment around you to create emotions. Identify the elements in the room that diffuse light, reflect it, and mottle it in different hues. Look at the fixtures that the light manipulates through shadows. Then, experiment with ways you can change light and alter the story it is telling. Changing the way light filters through your home can change the entire household experience. There are multitudinous ways this might be done, whether through the manipulation of blinds or curtains, the addition of more reflective elements like mirrors and framed photographs or other curiosities like colored mobiles and chandeliers. However you go about it, set a goal to achieve a specific impact that reflects an emotion or a setting (e.g. a tropical isle at sunset). You won’t find a more versatile lighting designer than the sun!
Your imagination takes input from every sense in your body, and sound is one of the most stimulating of all! While we might be inclined to put on music or a mindless television program to underscore our daily activities, the natural noises that come from your home can be an auditory experience in and of itself.
Turn off the televisions and laptops for a moment to achieve “silence.” Then, close your eyes and listen at the sounds your home produces. You’ll probably hear the dull roar of household facilities like the air conditioner, dish washer or laundry machine. Granted, at first listen they don’t sound all that exciting, but this is where your imagination comes in! Pretend that these sounds are of some strange origin. For instance, the moans and groans from the air vent might be the alien utterances of an extraterrestrial cephalopod. Perhaps the rhythmic rattling of your ceiling fan’s pull chain is instead the hurried gait of a peg-legged buccaneer with a pocket full of doubloons.
Once you’ve conjured up an imaginary source for this mundane noise, give it a little backstory! How did your space-travelling sea beast end up here on earth? How did that pirate come by his clangorous lucre? What’s his/her name? Where is he going to fritter it away? Questions like this can turn your seemingly random ideas into stories that transform your home into the setting for your own adventure epic or sci-fi thriller. Worst case scenario: you drift off into a nap.
No matter how much we love our kids, significant others, BFFs, or anyone else with whom we are quarantined, we all would love to see some different faces every now and then. Fortunately, your imagination can help you see some of the most different faces you can… well, imagine.
Remember how I said that looking at your house from different angles can help you see hidden worlds? By taking this exercise a step further, you have the ability to populate these worlds with any and all manner of resident. Choose an element in your home on which to concentrate. It could be anything from a window ledge to the underside of a coffee table. Next, find an interesting visual perspective for whatever object you’ve selected (e.g. at eye-level, a fish angle view, or even upside down). Then, ask yourself the question “who or what kind of people might live here?”
As you consider the variety of beings that might populate the nooks and crannies of your home, I challenge you to use the physical aspects and location of the setting you’ve selected as design cues. For example, denizens of a high windowsill might a society of abseiling mountaineers who harness the power of the sun to power a vertical cable car system that runs the length of the curtain cord. Use the parameters of the space to define what the day in the life of these imagined inhabitant might look like. What are the advantages and challenges their locale poses? The less arbitrary the details, the more you will find your imagination actively engaged.
These are just a few of my favorite ways to keep the imagination inspired when sensory stimulation is limited. Of course, there’s no boundary to your mind’s ability to shape the world around you into something exciting and novel. All it takes is an effort to look at the familiar through the lens of make believe. These exercises in pretend can revitalize the way you see your home and reveal some of the charms to which you’ve become inured. The world is great need for a little magic right now, and there’s no greater source than that master mental prestidigitator called the imagination- your secret weapon against the quarantine blues.