You see that goofy movie poster over there on your left side? It's from the movie, The Colossus of New York, an obscure but not-that-bad black-and-white SF/horror film from the late ‘50’s. I keep that poster not only stored on my computer, but printed out and framed on my wall.
I’d better explain.
When I was barely five years old, my parents took my sister and me to the movies. Colossus was playing, although it took me a few decades and some people at the Internet Movie Database to identify the film.
I remember absolutely nothing about the movie except one thing. As I sat in the darkness of the movie theater, my feet dangling Robert-Reich-like above the floor, the Colossus appeared on a balcony on the right side of the screen.
Being five years old, I was probably less than three-feet-tall. Adults six-feet-tall appeared to me to be 12-feet-tall. The Colossus would have been, in real life, about seven-feet-tall, so, to me, he probably would have appeared to be about 14-feet-tall. On screen, he was roughly eight-feet-tall, making him, to me, about 16-feet-tall. As you can see, he was big, and added to that, a monster! A rather interesting and cool-looking monster, but still a monster.
After the camera showed the Colossus on the balcony on the right side of the screen, it panned to the screen's center. There was a cop standing there, pointing a revolver at the Colossus.
To this day, I remember everything just as vividly as is possible. The cop was wearing a double-breasted uniform, with a garrison cap. The revolver was one of the older .38s with a tapered barrel. His badge was on the left side of his chest. I even remember that.
The officer made a mistake pointing his revolver at the Colossus. As I watched, what I can only describe as Intergalactic Death Rays leaped from the Colossus' eyes, reached out to the cop, touched him. There was the electric sound of a very large June bug hitting the bug zapper. BZZZZT.
The cop glowed white and disappeared. Gone. Not pulverized, not vaporized, but atomized! Disintegrated into his component atoms, to waft away silently on the celluloid breeze. There was nothing left of the cop, not his cap lying pathetically on the floor, not his brave revolver waiting for another hero to grab it, not a pair of shoes with smoke coming out of them. Nothing.
My mouth dropped open. If I had had a box of Milk Duds and a Coke in my mitts, I would have dropped them. My eyebrows shot up. My eyes widened. I was speechless. I was fixated in brainlock, much like a paralyzed rabbit seeing a VW Bug coming at him and knowing he is going to put a dent in the hood and then sail in front of the windshield and disappear over the top of the car (that did happen to me and my Bug when I was 19).
I was awe-struck, the kind of awe you supposed to feel standing in front of God. At five years old, I had seen a man disintegrated by a 16-foot-tall monster who shot rays out of his eyes! What I saw was not within the experience of a five-year-old – it orbited somewhere out near Pluto! If you think such a scene won't permanently stamp your brain, imagine what it would do to you if you saw it in real life. And when you're five years old, it is difficult if not impossible to tell the difference between fantasy and reality.
A five-year-old will believe anything. Tell him he'll break his mother's back if he steps on a crack, or that the inside of golfballs are poison, or a tooth or a nail will dissolve in Coke, and he will believe it. I once told my four-and-five-year-old nephews the reason a guy I worked with didn't have a leg is because he was hunting bears, until all the bears got together and sent out the meanest one to fix the problem. Next thing I know, my nephews are telling all their friends bears can talk.
The next thing I remember about seeing the movie is the drive home. My parents were teasing my sister and me about the film, claiming the monster was from the moon and made of cheese. That is why, to this day, my sister and I refer to him as the Cheesemonster. All I have to do is say, "Cheesemonster" and she smiles.
That night, lying in bed, I happened to look in my doorway – and guess who was standing there? The Cheesemonster. He stood there, just as clear as he was on the screen (although a lot smaller), staring silently at me.
I wasn't particularly scared, although I certainly wanted him to stay in the doorway and not come any closer. Actually, I wanted him to go away. It wasn't as if I was going to leap out of bed, grab my hollow plastic sword and smack him upside the head. Not with those Death Rays of his. My parents would wonder why nothing was left of me, not even my Tony the Tiger pajamas.
As I lay there in bed, staring silently at this apparition staring silently at me, my four-year-old sister, in bed in her room, started screaming. She was shrieking, "CHEESEMONSTER! CHEESEMONSTER! CHEESEMONSTER!"
Hey, now wait just a minute here! Was my sister seeing him, too? This caused a perturbation in my five-year-old brain, much worse than merely seeing the Colossus in my doorway. This was one helluva glitch in the Matrix! I remember saying, "Dawn, do you see him too?" and getting the shrill answer, "My room! My room!"
At this time my father appeared in my doorway, wanting to know what the heck was going on!? (Unfortunately he wasn’t wearing anything, so he had one of his hands cupped over the frank and beans. Later, I always wanted to go into his room, pull the covers off of him, and say, "Wakey, wakey, hands off snakey!")
I found out something that mildly surprised me – the Cheesemonster was transparent, like one of those Honey Bear squirters without any honey in it. My dad was standing right where the Cheesemonster was, and I could see my dad through him. Just as surprising, the Cheesemonster took no notice of my dad. Or my dad of the Cheesemonster.
Finally, I suppose, my father got my sister calmed down, the Cheesemonster disappeared back to the moon or the reel of film he came from, and everyone went to sleep.
Years later, when my sister and I talked about that night, she swore she saw the Cheesemonster standing at the foot of her bed, whereas I saw him in my doorway. Oh boy. There were two of him? At least neither brought their Intergalactic Death Rays.
When I was about 19 I found out what my sister and I had that night were called "hypnagogic hallucinations." They tend to happen as people fall asleep. As to why my sister and I were sharing almost the exact same hallucination, I have no explanation. She swears she had them all the time when little, especially one about a man with a handlebar mustache walking down the hall toward her room. I tell her that if there had been three more, they could have sung her Barbershop Quartet songs.
The most famous hypnogogic hallucination is that of the German chemist Friedrich Kekule, who in 1890, saw, while falling asleep, a snake-like chain of atoms spinning in front of him. What he saw gave him the clue to the molecular structure of benzene, a problem which had stumped him.
Lesser known is the poet/artist William Blake seeing angels outside his window when he was five-years-old. He got paddled when he told his parents. Now either Blake was really seeing angels, or else was doing was I had been doing when I was five.
Mostly, when people imagine things, they see them inside their heads. Less often, they see them outside. Why do people sometimes see them outside? I don't know for sure, but I suspect when you cease to think, and outside sensory input is reduced, brainwaves change and some sort natural creativity pops up. Because of this, I do know that imagination, whether inside or outside your head, is so associated with creativity that the two cannot be disassociated. I guarantee you that 100 percent. And imagination, as Albert Einstein noted, is more important than knowledge.
Notice that Einstein didn't say that knowledge wasn't important, just that imagination comes first. Without imagination one does not know what to do with the knowledge. And Einstein certainly knew about the importance of imagination: he created the Theory of Relativity by imagining what it would be like to ride a beam of light.
Starting kindergarten pretty much put an end to imagination in any of us kids. It's one of the reasons I don't like public schools. Having an imagination, and using it correctly, is an indispensable part of an education. It's an indispensable part of the health of any society, because all societies are advanced by those who have both imagination and knowledge. However unwittingly they do it, I believe the sit/march/sit/march structure of the schools is not the proper way to deal with imaginative kids. If it was the right way, there would not be so many daydreaming kids in schools. Or drug use.
I occasionally run across people who have hypnagogic hallucinations. They always happen right as they fall asleep. I know of one man who uses them to write music. He said he could "hear voices saying things...could see images." I understand this, since even today, when falling asleep, I sometimes hear music. And they're not songs I've heard before; they are new ones, bubbling up out of my subconscious. They’re not very good, though – more like a drumming. There goes my career.)
I've decided the whole thing is a natural hallucinatory state, related to creativity. And I'll say this: who needs drugs when you've got something like this? Unfortunately, one of the main reasons people use drugs is to artificially create experiences which are already naturally within us.
The last time I had a hypnagogic hallucination was when I was 21. For about a year I had had sleep paralysis, which also happens when falling asleep. You're awake but can't move. The theory behind it is that when asleep people become paralyzed, otherwise they will sleepwalk.
Having had a girlfriend who once went into the kitchen and made six peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches, put them into Baggies, then stored them in the refrigerator, while talking the whole time, I understand why people shouldn't sleepwalk. I also knew a guy from high school who crawled out of his window and walked around on the roof.
One night, as I was about to fall asleep, I found myself paralyzed. I was so used to it I didn't even pay any attention. This time, though, I began to hallucinate. First, I heard a woman's highheels clicking on the sidewalk outside my window. Then, she began to speak in English, only I couldn't understand her. That's when I realized I was hallucinating.
You might think that under such circumstances, your mind might not be clear. On the contrary – I was as awake and lucid as I could be. Things felt as real as could be, even though I was fully aware that what was happening wasn't real.
Then things got even more interesting. I was lying on my stomach, with no shirt on. I suddenly heard a buzzing sound above me. It sounded like a football-sized bee. I even felt the wind from its wings blowing across my back. Not only an auditory, but a tactile hallucination.
Even though I knew the whole thing was imaginary, and that I was imagining it outside my head instead of inside, I decided I had had enough. Before, I had always been able to overcome this paralysis by trying to rock back and forth. It worked this time, too, and the bee and the wind faded away.
I sat up in bed, and I felt as awake and clear and alive as I had ever felt in my life. As I said, who needs drugs when you've got this?
You may find these experiences strange. Having had them, I know they're not. I also know that when an imaginative person has knowledge and control, that's when true creativity takes place. That's what advances societies.
Stephen King, who was said he lives mostly within his imagination, wrote in the introduction to Nightmares and Dreamscapes, that his imagination "made for more than a few sleepless nights, but it also filled the world I lived in with colors and textures I would not have traded for a lifetime of restful nights...there are people in the world – too many of them, actually – whose imaginative senses were either numb or completely deadened, and who lived in a mental state akin to colorblindness. I always felt sorry for them..."
I know what he means.