The unbounded imagination, according to the French philosopher Paul Ricoeur, is a powerful tool that we must utilise properly in order to produce new realities. This means that we, the human species, gots to start thinking out of the box in order to improve the world.
I’m pleased to tell you, that from a Ricoeurian perspective, being in a relationship is very much thinking inside the box.
When you are part of a couple, you’re essentially using your imagination to play out a prototype that you’ve absorbed somewhere in the process of socialisation. Maybe you’re recreating your parent’s happy marriage, or trying the Johnny Cash and June Carter music, fame, drugs, friendship, heartbreak route to love (actually, that sounds a bit fun). Perhaps you’re living out a real-life horror version of the little Mo and Trev EastEnders’ storyline from the early 2000s (in which case, fast-forward to that episode where she smacked him over the head with an iron). This playing out of existing models of behaviour is an example of how Ricoeur’s ‘reproductive imagination’ operates. And he’s not too keen on its long-term potential. Basically he says, the copy (i.e.: your relationship) is always a shitter version of the original (i.e. June and Johnny’s rollercoaster romance). You will never be June and Johnny. You will probably die of a drugs overdose before the pretty, spunky, single mother realises that you’re the one. It is only when we imagine new things, rather than recreating prototypes, says Ricoeur – this is called ‘productive imagination’ – that we can change the world.
I agree with the man. Who wants to spend the infinitesimal amount of time we have on the Earth slopping about recreating social norms? Vive la revolution! Let’s do something else. And this is where you can trade your time most usefully: IN YOUR MIND… yes you can have hours of fun working with magical ideas that might alter the course of your life. With the added bonus that spending time in your mind costs nothing.
And thus I introduce Fantasy Lives. A game that’s fun to play when you run out of money, and all the social norms seem like they are hiding from you, laughing, while you sob into your pillow. Fantasy Lives is a fairly straightforward activity. In fact, it’s really just that thing where you imagine what would happen if you took on a new persona and moved away or got a new career, hobby or skill. Except with Fantasy Lives, you go a few steps further. Actually taking the initial action towards a change that might begin to turn you into the you of your imagination.
Let’s picture the scene. You’re at home on a Sunday afternoon, it is cold. It’s raining. The sound of the rain hitting the steel bars of the Juliet balcony – a reminder of the fact that you’re trapped in unglamorous northern English town, with no immediate means of escape. What to do?
First you need to engage in some idle daydreaming.
What could you be doing now that would be more glamorous? Well, you’ve always seen yourself as a kind of 16th century buxom wench with 21st-century styling. Oooh, yes! You could be serving beer to… James Gandolfini…on a beachside bar… in Mexico! Wearing a low cut top that reveals your cleavage. Smoking illegally imported Cuban cigars. Laughing throatily and spilling whiskey onto the exposed skin of your breasts. That sounds preferable. Now: can you make it into reality? The answer is yes, probably. And that’s the next step in creating a Fantasy Life. Start planning. Use the Internet to search for bar jobs in Mexico (look! There is a vacancy for a female bartender in San Miguel de Allende) and suitably low-cut tops (the ‘metallic body contour’ on ASOS is only £22!).
At some point in your fantasy planning you are likely to realise that there is a flaw in the plan. For example: there are no direct flights from Leeds Bradford to Guanajuato, and the cheapest one-way ticket costs £1057. You don’t have £1057. Your overdraft limit has been exceeded. You have a single pound coin on your bedroom floor, 28p in your purse, and about 35 euro left over from your Italian holiday last April. Fuck.
But there are more fantasies to be indulged. For example, what about setting up a business and buying a little pet to love? You could be a hard-nosed entrepreneur with a ferret called Sadie! You could make enough money to move back to London and buy a townhouse on the Kings Road! Ah, but you don’t have any ideas for a business. And you’re so bad with money that you frequently have to eat frozen soup at the end of the month because you pissed all your wages away on slightly different shades of red lipstick and OPI nail varnish. What about becoming a foster parent! You could read Adrian Mole to underprivileged pre-teens at bedtime.
The world is full of endless possibilities and one day researching your idle daydreams will pay off. Trust me, this is how I ended up packing in a well-paid job in London and studying council estate theatre in a dreary northern city, marking undergraduate papers to the sound of the rain. You too could be living the dream. It’s like R Kelly said: ‘if you can see it, then you can be it’. Enjoy.