After 20 years of research and writing, my book, In Their Right Minds: The Lives and Shared Practices of Poetic Geniuses (2015) Exeter, UK: Imprint Academic, is available from the publisher in a very well-made paperback edition. Initially a #1 Hot New Release in Neuropsychology and Poetry/Literary Criticism on Amazon.com, it can also be acquired on Amazon in most countries, either in print, a Kindle edition, or both. If you are interested in consciousness, creativity, poetry, psychology, and/or the paranormal, I think you will find it an illuminating read. You can read the first chapter for free on Amazon!
Imaginary friends exist for real in the minds of some children. My oldest sister shared two friends, Mike and Ike, with my brother. Both siblings saw them, talked to them and played with them. A folie à deux ("shared madness") as they say in French. An avid reader of fairy tales in my youth, I imagined a circle of elves dancing on my tummy when I was sick, healing me with Elvin needles. In retrospect, my bad diet (I stubbornly refused eating anything healthy), probably accounted for the pains that I interpreted in an upbeat, albeit fantasy-based way.
Imaginary friends are conjured when needed to combat loneliness, for consolation, for healing or for an excuse for wrongdoing. The Gorilla did it!
Creating imaginary friends is not that far afield from the creative process of exceptional writers, many of whom suffered tragic childhoods, but gained access to an imaginary realm that fed their fantasies and their notebooks. Charles Dickens said he could hear every word his characters said—a beneficent power showed it all to him and he just wrote it down. Robert Louis Stevenson said “the other fellow” inside his head commanded him and “little people” in his dreams suggested ideas for his novels and dictated many details of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
Nineteenth-century French writer Chateaubriand conversed with an invisible female companion. In childhood, the novelist George Sand had visions and a dream character, Corambé, who spilled over into her waking life. (Think Chocolat and the daughter’s imaginary kangaroo.) Gustave Flaubert created a character who claimed he couldn’t distinguish dream from waking, a mental state which may well have resembled his own. He admitted that he always confused his artistic hallucinations with reality. When he wrote the passage in which Mme Bovary poisons herself, he could actually taste the arsenic in his mouth and threw up his dinner. Balzac, strongly stoked on coffee, also hallucinated, watching his creations develop on their own. He claimed to merge with people on the street and actually feel their sensations, making his characters seem so much more real as a result.
But poets, who use mellifluous sounds and metaphors, are particularly prone to hearing the dissociative words. Homer, Dante, Milton, Blake, Rilke all said they received “divine” dictation, even if the words were really self-generated. Others poets, along with spirit mediums, get the words through séances, automatic writing and Ouija boards with their friends and loved ones. The odysseys of Hugo, Yeats and Merrill took them to distant galaxies in the mind, and back and forward in time, with their feet still planted under the table.
If we consider that when we dream at night, we truly believe what’s happening is real, we can understand how delicate the membrane is between fantasy and reality, waking and dream. Dissociative states can come unheralded with information to take note of, like Rousseau walking along the road and “receiving” the Social Contract in one blinding flash; or they can be pursued with onerous techniques, like Hugo and Merrill spelling out their messages letter by letter with a tipping table or a Ouija board.
Lest you think you’ll receive your flash of inspiration in one delirious starburst, keep in mind that there must be input to have output: hard prior thought and practice, plus reading, reading, reading, produce the raw materials that the marvelous mind then constellates into its novel vision or poetic language, gracious messages from the inner self that must be meticulously wrought into final form.