Last year, my friend Jesús passed away after being hit by a car while riding his bike. He was a year older than me. We had both been university professors in Venezuela, where we developed a friendship thanks to our shared geeks focused on the humanities. Jesus was also the only other person he knew at the time who had built a world inside his mind as a hobby. When Jesus was buried, his coffin was covered with the blue, white, and green flag of his fictional country. As far as I know, what remains of the story of his imagined kingdom is contained within some private Facebook conversations that I haven’t had the strength to get past.
I recently learned that the world-creating activity that Jesus and I share is known as paracosm. According to a study cited by the Wall Street JournalAbout 17% of children tend to develop a detailed personal universe that they outgrow later in life, not unlike an imaginary friend. However, while an imaginary friend can be a companion, the imaginary world is more about the joy of discovery and curiosity, from conjuring up a forest in your mind and wondering what creatures will lurk on the next hill to dreaming of a long-lost city. more exciting than the one you live in and you wonder who lives there, what drives their lives, if they love someone or if they are happy. Before you know it, you’re doodling wondrous beasts and crude maps, trying to make sense of the world inside your head.
Interestingly, the children who developed a paracosm did not outperform their peers in terms of intelligence, vocabulary, memory, or creativity. The only major difference reported with other children was that those who created paracosms showed more trouble filtering out irrelevant thoughts.
Some famous writers who have mentioned making paracosms in their youth are Stanislaw Lem, Oxford don CS Lewis, with the help of his brother Warren, and Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë (with the help of their brother Branwell). Some of these unreal realms, unsurprisingly, were influenced by children’s perspectives on the adult world around them. In a 1984 essay, Lem points out the irony of how he amused himself as a child in interwar Poland by creating fictitious passports, permits, and government memorandums only for his family to survive the Nazi takeover with the help of documents. forged. He wonders if these games were a reflection of “some unconscious sense of danger.”
Meanwhile, the imaginary worlds of the two sets of brothers reflect the British culture, politics, attitudes, and imperialism of the time: Brontë’s world of Glass Town was set in an imaginary West Africa (later moved to the Pacific Ocean ) with characters based on the British explorers, Napoleon and the Duke of Wellington. The first writings of the sisters are the extensive correspondence and poems of the inhabitants of Glass Town. Lewis’s world, Boxen, was born out of Warren’s tales of India and his brother’s love most famous for stories involving talking animals, such as the story of peter rabbit.
My own paracosm began as a weird, curious, and somewhat reclusive preteen growing up in Maracay, a mid-sized city in Venezuela, in the early 2000s. My source of fascination was not India or Africa, but the United States. Or at least a distorted version filled with everything I found fascinating about a place I only knew about through the media. The setting was not some hypothetical ancient era or idealized version of the Middle Ages, but vaguely reminiscent of the mid to late 20th century, the height of the American empire, so to speak. I called this nation Urbania.
While an imaginary friend can be a companion, the imaginary world is more about the joy of discovery and curiosity, from conjuring a forest in your mind and wondering what creatures will lurk on the next hill to dreaming of a city much more exciting than ever. where you live Before you know it, you’re doodling wondrous beasts and crude maps, trying to make sense of the world inside your head.
In Urbania there is a city equivalent to New York and places analogous to New Orleans, California and Texas. There are huge cities full of skyscrapers and subways, endless suburbs and prisons with electric chairs. There are wealthy industrial families united through fraternities and clubs, immigrants on packed ocean liners looking to start a new life, and reactionary militias simmering on the periphery. There is a colorful past that bears the sins of colonialism and endless foreign wars, which ultimately seal the fate of the country.
Characters and places, though imaginary, had names taken from all sorts of sources: Bertolt Brecht plays, classic black-and-white movies, Saturday Night Live cast members. When you were a middle-class preteen in Venezuela in the early 2000s, you studied a musical instrument, played sports, or learned English. I did the latter, and as soon as I could, I started working on my imaginary universe in the language in which I write these words because it seemed “right” to me.
The adults around me, while supportive, were upset that I didn’t try to write about something closer to my own culture and reality. On the one hand, I was a child of globalization. Like many millennials around the world, I had pre-made ideas from childhood upon seeing The Simpsons and playing Pokémon. The first book I read in its entirety was Harry potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. When I was seven years old, I knew who Bill Clinton was, but not the president of my own country.
On the other hand, I had a hard time connecting with other children, I did not have the best family situation and I tried to distance myself from a world that overwhelmed me. For me, Urbania offered me an escape. It started as a way to channel my creative impulses. I have always loved telling stories. Urbania began as a comic, then a movie script, and finally a series of books with no clear beginning or end that has been started, abandoned, or lost dozens of times over 20 years. Despite working in Urbania for so many years, I have never been able to finish even a short story set there.
However, I can’t say that all those years I spent developing a universe in my head were a waste of time. My protagonists were exploring their sexual orientation and gender performance long before I admitted that I was attracted to men. Trying to develop my little kingdom of the unreal had me researching history, geography, world cultures, mythology, religion, politics, and linguistics, essentially making it shorthand for trying to understand the real world.
In my case, I started writing thanks to my paracosm, which is what finally led me to become a journalist and publish stories from time to time. There was a time when I worried that I might perish, as Jesus did, and I worried that the snippets—first chapters of novels that never got sequels, drawings of maps and flags in yellowed notebooks in my mother’s apartment—might end up as puzzle pieces for a picture that was never fully completed. But now, if I never manage to get a word out about the little world in the back of my head, I wouldn’t mind.
Jesus also used his paracosm to relate to the world. He was not a writer, he was a political scientist, but his life was defined by working hard and passionately on small things, always hoping for something bigger and better to come along, and having an infinite love for humanity and what it has been capable of doing. achieve. That was one of the many things that made me relate to him. The imaginary country that was his own personal realm of the unreal was also an intellectual game in which he could design and apply the social and political ideas that appealed to him. The blue, white and green flag with which he was buried not only served as a symbol of his personal utopia, but also as a flag that a better world was possible.
Talking to some friends and colleagues about my hobby worldbuilding, I realize that it is a much more common activity than I suspected for people with a natural passion, admiration, and curiosity about why people do what they do. Many of them are not writers like the Brontë sisters or Lewis. They are journalists, economists, historians, and many of them are still dreaming. People may say this activity is for a novel they’re writing or a board game they’re playing, but in all of those cases I see the sign of the fellow traveler who most enjoys the never-ending journey to discover what’s on the other side of the screen. hill to rush to the supposed destination.
I can’t stop thinking about the study cited by the Wall Street Journal and I wonder: maybe all those so-called irrelevant details that we were meant to filter out as kids have really helped us get a different, broader view of the society we live in. Looking back, everything I have accomplished, at least career-wise, has stemmed indirectly from chronicling the rise and fall of Urbania, an imaginary land that has given me so much in real life.