Necessary Monsters

There is a website I take great joy in. I visit it periodically when I need a little creative nudge  and want to dip my toe in a rabbit hole of the absurd. On their “About” page, they have a quote from Jorge Luis Borges about how the dragon was imagined by man as a way to test our limits. From the depths of our creative mind we created an idea of something so evil and foreign that it takes great courage–and likely teamwork–to face. Borges calls dragons “a necessary monster.”

The site I go to is called the Museum of Imaginary Musical Instruments. It is exactly as it sounds. It is a lovely dive into instruments that don’t exist yet have been created–somehow. What draws me to this site is that it is an archive entirely concerned with what could be not with what is or was. In a way you could call it a museum of optimism.

 In reading of these instruments – the sound machine, the cat piano, the torture tron, Euphonia or the ocular Harpsichord to name a few – they become real. I create their non-existent sounds in my head. It forces me to conjure sounds I’ve never heard before, an impressive and difficult feat. Because imaginary sounds aren’t just louder versions of what you already know, they’re not discordant mash-ups of what already exists…but something else entirely. You have to imagine something you’ve never known, something you’ll likely never encounter.

I feel like it’s this push that relates to Borges’ necessary monster…it forces us to confront ourselves, acknowledge boundaries and, perhaps most importantly, conjure what lies beyond them.

I turned 30 earlier this month. It’s not a big deal but it’s also a big deal. Perhaps that’s why I’ve found myself contemplating imaginary boundaries made real quite a bit as of late.  Like many of these instruments, the importance of this birthday is no more than any other birthday but by naming it, it becomes something else we create something else. 30 signifies an entrance into real adulthood, it’s a nod to youth’s demise and a milestone by which many people feel they should have “it” figured out.

Now I’m wondering if these imagined milestones are also a necessary monster. They force us to confront ourselves and acknowledge our boundaries–we take critical inventory of our lives and what we’ve built. But it also forces us to conjure what was expected of ourselves, to look beyond. In my imaginary things logic, a milestone should result in concocting all the possibilities of what could be.

My life as a 30-year-old with a house and a perfect job doesn’t exist any more than the ocular harpsichord. But in imagining it, my mind is required to define it. And to think beyond it.

In imagining a dragon, you must also imagine its weaknesses. You imagine the whole thing. We don’t realize how hard at work we are when creating a dragon. It’s peculiar how much man reflects the most vulnerable parts of our mortality in the image of a dragon: fire, size, flight, crazy teeth, living in dark caves, etc…all very real threats to human capability. We concoct a literal mortal enemy. It shows us what we’re afraid of, but it exists only in our heads. Where we fight it–tooth and nail, flaming torches and fearless princes–until we overcome.

If the fear of facing this new era is also what makes me work harder, better, smarter towards living my imagined joy, then I kind of like it.