Recently, I learned a new word. Paracosm. It was brought to my attention through a text from a friend.
Omg. This IS you. I read the new word and its meaning.
Omg. That. IS. Me.
A paracosm is a detailed fantasy-world inside one’s head; an intricate, deliberately drawn-out daydream.
I’ve always been addicted to daydreaming. When I was ten, I realized that my constant spacing out was not a weakness, but a skill; I began saving my favorite daydreams, and soon I was able to turn them on and off whenever I wanted. While I was bored in class or at the grocery store, I sharpened my expertise, existing in both this world and another, keeping my eyes open but not seeing anything in front of me. When I really let it run wild was at bedtime, when I was alone, and the real world fell away.
I began retreating into my own head and telling myself stories. Stories about hitting the winning homerun. Stories about being friends with girls whom I wasn’t cool enough to be friends with. Stories about my favorite characters from my favorite books that the original authors, for some reason, hadn’t written yet.
A little before I turned thirteen is when I first remember daydreaming about people that weren’t real or written by somebody else. They were my characters…except, when I sat down to write stories about them, I found I couldn’t. The thought of sharing my people with the real world made me squirm; it felt wrong. Something kind of like shame, kind of like possessiveness made me keep the people to myself. To this day, though I’ve told a few about my daydreaming habit, I’m still reluctant to talk about my characters. These people are my friends—imaginary ones, yes, but they’ve always felt more real than anyone I could touch.
The other night, as I lay down to sleep, my mind began to turn, as it always does. A scene blossomed in my head; I formulated a conversation from four different perspectives, an exhilarating game which gives my brain such a pleasurable rush that I’m convinced I’ll never feel the need to try drugs.
I was thinking about my character Alex: he is twenty-one, partying with some friends. Suddenly, I was looking at a different piece of the timeline: Alex is now forty-three, a father, and running for public office. Then, I was looking at his childhood: his first girlfriend; his first kiss.
This skipping around, I thought, was like turning a radio dial. I can skip from station to station; I can adjust these people’s lives however I want. I have complete control over their pasts, presents, and futures. I know them better than anyone: I know their mannerisms, their nervous laugh and their shy smile; I know who they hate and who they love; I know what decision they’ll make before they make it. Their lives are balls of warm clay between my fingers, and they can’t do anything about it.
At that late hour, as I lay in the dark, I realized just how many lives I’d created and left to the mercy of my imagination.
Suddenly overcome by guilt, my mind quieted, and I fell asleep.
My favorite teacher in middle school was Mr. Leopold. He taught history to eighth graders and was very good at it. I remember the lecture he gave on the first day of class:
“What is history?” he asked.
We stared at him blankly, clueless.
Mr. Leopold never minded a lack of reply. He smiled and turned to the board.
“I’ve got a formula for you math nerds—yes, math—though I, myself, can’t count past ten without taking my shoes off…” The class chuckled.
He scrawled something on the board. “Change/time”, it said, written as a fraction.
“Remember what happened five seconds ago?” he asked. “That’s now history. The sentence I spoke before this one: history.” He smiled at our bemusement. “Whatever happens in the past which creates the future. That is history.”
I think about that every day.
I am a busy kid: my week is a pill box, each day filled with supplements of homework, softball practice, etcetera. Lately, though, I’ve tried not to worry as much about Time. Because here’s the thing: though, yes, our Time is limited, I don’t think it’s nearly as rigid as most of us believe. Time is fluid: a single second can feel like eternity; a million moments can pass at the speed of one. Time is haughty, aloof, making us think we never have enough. But we can just as easily slide from the grip of Time as we can lose track of it.
Change is the special creature. Change is many things at once: it is everything we control as well as everything we can’t; it is microscopic and gargantuan; it is good, bad, both and neither. Where Time is the canvas, Change is the paint; Time is the universe, Change the cosmos. Time is a pill box filled with dose after dose of Change.
Every day is a new lesson on accepting Change. As I gradually accustom myself to more and more Change in my own life, I spend my free time writing and rewriting the lives of the people in my head. I throw curveballs of Change at them, seeing how they react, how they survive. How they swing and miss. I turn their dials mercilessly, not caring if they love or hate me for it. I am their creator; I decide what happens next. That’s what sort of disturbs me about my habit: I’m not sure if I have the right to affect so many lives at once, no matter their existential statuses.
Change over Time is history as well as the present. It is reality and it is make-believe. It is the equation for every life, real or written or imagined or undetermined.
Time is a flimsy, bendable thing.
Change is what we make of it.