|Sketch from my original draft of Mayfly Requiem|
It's 2am, so hopefully I make a little bit of sense.
My son has his first imaginary friend. Its name is Pretzel, but we aren't quite sure what it is because toddlers are hard to understand. I think Pretzel may be a dog, but Turbotot is afraid of dogs and panics when he hears them barking.
Imaginary friends are really an essential part of a creative childhood. They are a mechanism for working through fears, anxieties, and new skills, and they can aid language acquisition, social skills, and creative problem solving. When the fear or skill is conquered, the imaginary friend is often discarded and replaced by a new one. I suspect Pretzel is Turbotot's way of coping with his fear of dogs. Now, if only Pretzel helps him with his fear of running water...
I encourage my son's imagination. He can have as many or as few imaginary friends as he wishes. I occasionally give him a gentle reminder that Pretzel isn't real, but I think he knows that. He spends much of his day engaged in pretend play, so he already has a good grip on reality versus fantasy. He pretends his bread crusts are cars, dragons, and airplanes, and races them around his plate. He makes up stories while he's playing with his toys and fake calls his grandparents on a plastic rotary telephone. Imaginary friends are just another level of play. I feel a little guilty sometimes that we don't get out to see his real friends more often, but it is hard to leave the house most days due to the baby's reflux.
I had a whole cast of imaginary friends when I was little. I didn't have a whole lot of friends and I had a telephone anxiety problem which still lingers now. My imaginary friends were the root of my early storytelling. Some were based on real people, some were purely figments. They helped me learn to empathize with other people because I could see the world from a different perspective.
I still have imaginary friends.
I am not delusional, I am creative. I can imagine my characters in front of me. I know they are not real, but invoking my imagination in such a way helps me flesh out my narratives. I mumble to myself, sometimes in public, because I am working out lines of dialogue and realistic reactions to fantastical situations. I sometimes sit on a park bench and work through a scene by "talking" to the character involved. I always have a notebook with me, so perhaps I don't look too much like a mumbling fool. Writers can easily get caught up in their imaginations and the real world looks a little bland, but as long as they recognize the fiction is not the reality, everything is fine.
If I ever leave rationality behind, we can start worrying about my imaginary friends. For now, if you ever see someone in public who doesn't appear homeless and is not wearing a bluetooth, but is still talking to herself, assume she is a writer and move on. She's probably writing a book, so please don't interrupt her conversation or the inspiration may evaporate. She'll be angry with you for the rest of the day over that.
I even diagram my imaginary friends on occasion. Here is another page from Mayfly Requiem, showing my hierarchy of Web deities. See what talking to myself does? I'm left alone for a while and I create my own mythology system.