IMAGINATION & the Snake


“Everything you can imagine is real.”

Pablo Picasso

Somewhere between a myriad of flippantly scrawled school reports, skeptically reprimanding my vividly quixotic nature, some nauseatingly traumatic teenage years, and the laborious mundanity* of adult life, I appear to have entirely lost my imagination. Of course, I was completely oblivious to this until it was handed back to me quite deliciously, via text message from a Hollywood producer. The James Bond type. He would dispute that. But I stand firm. He quite literally uncoiled the suffocating snake wrapped around my chest, spun me around, and opened up a whole new world. Imagination and our engagement with it, is arguably one of the most powerful and uniquely human tools we have, and to clarify, it's not so much that I lost it, more that I had been misusing it. At the opposite end of the imagination spectrum is 'anxiety.' Anxious people tend to have exceptionally brilliant imaginations, only instead of creating a fantastical world and sensuously experiencing it, we tend to focus on the catastrophic destruction of it and a million and one potential imminent threats that need to be dealt with IMMEDIATELY lest the obliteration of the entire world ensues. James Bond clearly arrived, bang on schedule.


The first time I encountered a snake, I was seven. Curled up safely on a bright blue bean bag in the reading room attached to Classroom 2. It was Mrs. Currier, an energetic older lady with a 6 ft frame, Jet black Cabaret bob, fuchsia leggings, prone to launch into vocal operatic's with the veracity of a pouncing tiger, and a terrifying propensity to flirt flamboyantly and might I add extremely inappropriately with my Grandfather (who brought me to school each morning with Bonnie, our golden retriever pup,) who opened that particular hunting cage! As was customary in most quintessential English primary schools, on Friday afternoons, a story would be read to us. Now apart from playtime, spent running between the old oaks, cartwheeling across the country lawns, racing to beat the clock squealing Acky Acky [1] One Two Three, scrambling to reach the Fir tree first and claim universal victory, swinging the quick cricket bat or playing 'Mother' at home with the babies whilst my husband is away at war - being read to on a Friday afternoon was my absolute hands down favorite school memory. Mrs. Currier held up a beautiful pale green book depicting British countryside, familiar perennial evergreens and a tiny rusty fox to the class, The Animals of Farthing Wood [2], and asked each of us in turn to select a folded piece of paper from the jar. Each child was going to become a character from the book. I unfolded the delicate white scroll and read the word: Adder. The teacher asked us one by one if we knew what our animal was, what it looked like, what its nature was, likes and dislikes etc. Excruciatingly shy, my cheeks flushed with color. My eyes sparkled with embarrassment, as I shook my head, I had no idea what an Adder was, but just as I was about to collapse in shame, a little boy, who I knew loved fishing in the river, was ridiculously talented at arithmetic, with wild curly hair and a mischievous smile, touched my shoulder, and said, "I do" as he smiled at me reassuringly and announced proudly, "it's a snake."


The panic set in.


"But there aren't any snakes in England!" I vehemently protested, staring deeply into the boy with the curly hair's, hazel eyes. "Of course there are," he said, "and it's poisonous." Sensing my fear, and smiling sweetly, he added, "just the one type though, the Adder." Mrs. Currier's sadistic Cheshire cat grin confirmed my worst nightmare. "Yessssss, Nicola," she hissed at me like a slithering snake, "and you're it! You will be our very own viciously sarcastic, sharp witted Adder who fights tooth and nail against all odds not to eat the other delicious animals in our story." She snapped her teeth together and laughed like a hyena whilst the rest of the class followed suit. My jaw dropped, frozen in my tracks, as big water droplets formed in the corners of my big blue eyes. The boy with curly hair stifled his giggles and shoved his little screwed up scroll into my hand, "do you want to swap? I'll be the snake, you can be the bunny rabbit?". "Yes," I beamed, "oh yes, I would much rather be the bunny rabbit" and quick as you like, I snatched the tiny little scroll from his hand and gripped it tight to my chest. I quickly thanked God for the little boy who liked fishing and was good at arithmetic, before my brain embarked on the far more serious matter, of how to tell my Grandpa - WHO HAD LIED TO ME - that the days of our daily walks though the churchyard, across the lakes and corn fields, along the canal, were OVER. It wasn't safe. Even tucked away in the rolling hills of an idyllic English countryside, far, far away from the violent anti-Thatcherite [3] demonstrations and the explosive IRA [4] car bombs setting fire all over the city, England. Was. Not. Safe.


The threat of explosions and forceful demonstrations were a reality in Britain's violently turbulent late 1970's, through the1980's and early 1990's. It instigated an underlying and all too familiar fear across the nation but also a familiar roll up your sleeves find the light at the end of the tunnel, resilience. I remember as a very young child watching the blur of angry faces, riot police, and explosions pour across the television screen. But also Geldof's Live Aid, E.T. and the Milkybar Kid. I remember seeking reassurance in my parents eyes, without really listening to or understanding their words, having a beautifully pure and innocent belief that someone somewhere must have an answer to all the horrible things that happen in our world. That it could be made better. Solutions could be found. A worrying feeling of responsibility, a demand to stand up for the things you believe in, to take action, essentially. Worry caused by actual danger is an essential survival mechanism that engages our brains to protect us, to aid us in making the safest choices and intelligent decisions that keep us alive. It breeds and supports individual independence, nurtures our perception and awareness. J. M. Barry created both the adventurous boy who never grows up, the beautifully sassy Tinkerbell, AND the menacing Hook and feisty Crocodile which amputated his arm! (Incidentally in 2006, a 13 ft Burmese Python in the Florida Everglades burst its gut right open, after a tasty dinner consisting of a 6 ft long American Alligator,[5] but i digress.) Voldemort AND Harry Potter were created. (1000% Gryffindor-just in case you were wondering...). Our love, faith and desperate 'need' for Golding's Ralph, in The Lord of the Flies is demanded, empowered, and escalated BECAUSE of the creation of a nasty little Jack and a cruelly sadistic Roger. Is it even possible for the sheer, creative brilliance of a sparkling imagination to exist without the darkest corners of our minds weighing it down? Will the little girl, who spends hours, weeks, months, years, swinging amid the rose bushes in her very own fantastical world of Slipper and the Rose[5a], dreaming of the prince that would rescue her, eventually, always wake up to the nightmare of a potentially lethal Adder, lurking in the grass, and take action lest fear itself swallows her whole?

The second time I encountered a snake, was in 2005. Huddled in the corner of The Flask [6], Highgate, approximately two bottles of St Emilion[7] in, Zoe, a brilliantly talented singer songwriter, and my friend's little sister sweeps in flustered with excitement, "you're not going to believe what happened to this girl at Uni!" She pulled up a pew, and as Ali poured her a glass, we all leaned a little closer. Zoe lowered her voice to almost a whisper and so the tale began. Emma, was a UCL [8] student with the luxury of her own London apartment. She had always been into reptiles as a child and on her sixteenth birthday, her parents had bought for her a ball python [9] whom she lovingly named 'Eddie'. Naturally Emma brought her "best friend" with her to Uni and happily let him roam freely around her London apartment, leaving water and pre-killed rodents from the pet shop in his cage for him to devour at leisure. "Is that legal?" I interjected, anxiously pouring myself another glass of wine as that familiar childhood feeling of fear and dread called to me from the pit of my stomach. When 'Eddie' missed his second meal, and 'Emma' found herself disposing of said pre-killed rodent herself, she concluded Eddie was sick and called the vet. "Just make sure there is plenty food available and if he hasn't eaten in the next 10-14 days, give us a call back." Emma carried on as usual but on the fourteenth day when Eddie still hadn't eaten, she decided it was time to take him to the vet, first thing in the morning. That night, Emma felt the snake slither onto the bed towards her body. He stretched out his body and lay against his best friend, Emma. Sleepy Ems thought her much loved buddy was so sick, he was going to die, and had come to find her for his final hours, but when the morning alarm sounded, and Emma woke with a start, the first thing she saw -was the snake release his stiff rigor mortis, relax and a happy and contented Eddie slither his way off the duvet and back to the living room. Just to play it safe, Emma, called the vet, told him what had happened, but before she could ask about bringing him in, the Vet stopped her in her tracks-

"I need you to do exactly what i say. Are your house keys near by? and a coat? I need you to leave the apartment immediately" he told her.

"yes, so should i bring him in?" she asked, still half asleep and scooping UP her bag, rummaging for her keys.

"Do you have your keys?"

"yes, but-"

"I need you to walk straight towards the door and leave the apartment, we are on our way."

"okay, but-"

"I need you to get out. IMMEDIATELY."

Turns out, Eddie wasn't ill. Darling Eddie had been saving himself for a much bigger meal. Darling Eddie had crawled onto Emma's bed, lay himself out against her so that he could measure to see if he had enough room to eat her whole. She thought he was seeking comfort and love beside his best-friend-human and in reality -he was planning on killing her. Now in all honesty, there is no way a ball python could eat or swallow an adult human. But, and its significant 'but' - it could coil itself around her, restrict her airways and suffocate her before realizing there is no way in hell he could consume her. Thus began a ten year rampant pounding debate in my head: Can a snake eat a human being? Of course my parents concluded a resounding 'no, darling of course not!'. But they were on the same team as my grandfather, and we've already established he lied. The next morning at 8:49 am GMT three bombs were detonated within 50 seconds of each other, the 7/7 bombings [10] engulfed London and my snake anxiety was buried under a much more horrifying man-made act of bloody devastation and murder.


That's the other thing our brains do, they find patterns. A human quest for illusory correlation to gain illusory control. Is it coincidence that, twice the appearance of a snake, even in my imagination, has been followed by the detonation of a very real bomb? Both represent attack. Both represent danger and both bring the concept of mortality to the forefront. In my mind, the introduction of a snake, fact or fiction, engages my expectation of a bomb being detonated. Even the word, puts me on high alert. Unfortunately, heuristics, the short cuts for thinking which our brains use to quickly form opinions, judgments and make decisions, are formulated by finding and seeing such patterns, but more often or not there is no pattern, we are seeing things that aren't there, drawing inaccurate, incorrect, unhelpful conclusions. "Worry is our imagination taking us to the worst possible places to envision the worst possible outcomes. While that still is our imagination, it is not the best possible use of it."[11] And more likely, a complete waste of time, or is it? Was this persistent Snake [12] harboring my imagination, in itself an omen?

The final hissing verdict was graphically delivered via The Washington Post [13] and youTube on June 16, 2018. Wa Tiba, a 54 yr old Indonesian woman on Muna island in Sulawesi province, Indonesia, was killed, then eaten whole by a 23 ft reticulated python. Armed with a machete, a single flashlight leading the way, mother of two, left her home on Thursday evening and walked the half mile, over the rocks to her corn field surrounded by cliff and caves. Eager to inspect her garden and protect it against the wild boars slowly demolishing it. When she had not returned home by sunrise, her sister set out to search for her. Footprints led her to the edge of the field, where she found the flashlight, machete, and her sister's slippers. On raising the alarm, a hundred villagers from Persiapan Lawela gathered to comb the field. It wasn't long before they stumbled across a large bulging python, so bloated it could barely move, approximately 30 meters from where Wa Tiba's belongings were located. The villagers beheaded the snake and embarked on a strategic dissection, first they cut through the beta, mesos and alpha layer of the scaled skin and pulled the snake gently apart before delicately slicing through the lacuna layer and clear tissue. There, in the large stomach cavity of the bursting 23 ft reticulated python, they found, missing only her slippers, the fully clothed corpse of Wa Tiba. But Wa Tiba is by no means alone in meeting such a horrific fate. Akbar Salubiro [14], a harvester who worked on a palm oil plantation on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi was also ambushed and consumed by a reticulated python on March 26, 2017. In 2009 [15] the parents of a three year old boy were charged with felony child abuse, after the toddler was rescued from the grips of a python in Las Vegas, Nevada. The mother used a kitchen knife to free the child, who luckily escaped with only minor injuries from the bites and constriction. The non-venomous constrictor is among the few snakes that actually preys on large mammals and humans. It was previously thought they killed their prey prior to its devouring by cutting off air supply and suffocating the victim. However research in 2015, led by herpetologist, Scott M. Broback[16] proved that circumferential compression as the snake coils itself around its prey, actually cuts off blood supply to the body and brain through extreme cardiac pressure, pressure that means a heart can not physically beat. The only positive to this is, it likely happens within seconds, so death is quick. It is not only possible for these snakes to kill a human being within minutes, at first securing its prey with its bite and then kill by constriction, it is also has the capacity to swallow it whole. Not only was the door to all my darkest fears thrown wide open, in the light of day they became a proven factual reality.

Ottawa Psychologist, and author, Roger Covin suspects "there have been many people with wonderful imaginations (think some of our best authors through history) who have benefited from and suffered terribly as a result of their mind - a mind that can easily produce a hyper-realistic nightmare that feels real but has no basis in fact or logic."[17] Plath's greatest fear [18] was the death of the imagination, an imagination that earned her a Pulitzer prize but also inspired her to put her head in the oven and terminate it with carbon monoxide poisoning. The fantastically vivid Mrs. Dalloway sprung from the imagination of one the most important British Modernists, Virginia Woolf. A pioneer in the stream of consciousness writing, enriched by her manic excitement; but also a mind, engulfed by severe depression, an obsession with death which ultimately culminated in her lining the pockets of her overcoat with rocks, walking steadfastly into the River Ouse and drowning herself with the very stones that "would outlive Shakespeare" and had plagued her mind- all her life. But we don't have to get lost in the darkness of things, we can actively choose to dance with our imaginations and be energized from it, and not deplete ourselves with the stress and pain of anxiety. An imagination that helps us soar and fly, and protects us from more earthly dangers is an enthralling characteristic of the human condition. Within it lies our capacity to experience infinite possibilities, it is the key to our artistic endeavors, our scientific breakthroughs. Were it not for spectacular imaginations, would Isaac Newton have discovered gravity? Or Edison the light bulb? Fleming did not set out to invent penicillin, he discovered it by accident when his imagination joined the dots. It was Michelangelo's imagination that painted the Sistine Chapel, Pericles' and Phidias' - that constructed the Parthenon. In our imaginations, all possibilities lie, unbound and limitless. "Yes we need to evaluate the worst case possibility but we don't have to presume they have already happened and exile ourselves to that place before it has even happened." [19]


Bond's arrival presented me with a choice. A choice to engage my imagination with fun, to remember the playful, fantastical world of my childhood, and all the good feelings and hope they inspired. A choice to acknowledge the sneaky and relentless underlying anxiety, but not be consumed by it or paralyzed because of it. "Adults may not imagine monsters under the bed but they do imagine a multitude of scenarios that would scare Freddy Krueger and its socially acceptable. A vivid imagination is never questioned if the name is changed from imagination to worry." But "worry is as useful for you as monsters under the bed were for your child. You make things up in your head, believe them, and scare yourself." [20 ] On hearing of Wa Tiba, obviously I ran straight to Bond, who promptly steered me to safety before jumping off a cliff and onto some other adventure. That's the thing about James Bond types - they perpetuate every fear, but in the end, they're the ones that save you, or at very least give you a good, hard shove in the right direction so you can save yourself. Then again, I have a sneaky suspicion my Mr. Bond has some of that anxiety too, an imagination, magical thinking and drive that cool, calm and collected isn't simply whipped up out of thin air, it grows from an imagination that knows both ends of the spectrum, and learns how to handle it. Vastly more fun to use this wonderful and powerful force to visualize a magnificent future, solving problems and flying as high as you possibly can; and if you do get lost in that foreboding dark side of your mind and friends or family or James Bond offer a hand to pull you out of it, -let him.


On relaying all my newly learned discoveries, information, evidence, facts, and more than a little indignation that I had been lied to, SEVERAL TIMES, my mother's only response was this, "Well, yes, my darling, but that's just the Law of the Wild. No sense worrying about that." Jaw. On. Floor. "After all, the vast majority of snakes are completely and utterly harmless." And she's bloody right! ..........But if I did end up in Indonesia, or at some idiot's London apartment, or at a house party in the Hollywood Hills or on a hike up to the Griffith Observatory or "even" across the corn fields that line the river behind my parents house and an Adder, or a rattlesnake or a 23 FT HUNGRY AF RETICULATED PYTHON OR EEEEEEEEVEN A STAGGERING 30 FT BRAZILIAN RAIN FORREST ***ANACONDA*** - comes at me, I know what to do. :)


“Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life’s coming attractions.”

Albert Einstein

& I f***ing knew it.

* utterly ridiculous that this word is not in the Merriam Webster dictionary. It absolutely does count in scrabble and it is in the Oxford dictionary.

[1] A British Chldren's Game based on out doors Hide and Seek whereby the one person is at home, usually an oak tree, and the other children have to reach the tree without the person at Home seeing them.

[2] Colin Dann, The Animals of Farthing Wood, (Edgmont, 1979)

[3] "A supporter of the political and economic policies of the former British Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, particularly those involving the privatization of nationalized industries and trade union legislation." https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/thatcherite

[4] https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/ira/conflict/violence.html

[5] https://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2005/10/photo-in-the-news-python-bursts-after-eating-gator-update/

[5a] https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0075232/

[6] A GRADE II listed public house dating back to the 18th century and rumored to be a former haunt of the infamous Highwayman Dick Turpin who was hanged for disturbing the peace, murder and highway robbery in 1739.

[7] https://en.vins-saint-emilion.com/

[8] University College London

[9] http://www.reptilesmagazine.com/Care-Sheets/Snakes/Ball-Python/

[10] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/7_July_2005_London_bombings

[11] https://philosiblog.com/2016/06/06/worry-is-a-misuse-of-imagination

[12] Snake. Seeing a snake is a reminder that we humans hide very powerful forces inside of us as Mother Earth embraces all these powerful natural phenomena. However we have to master our passions and direct all this instinctive energy to something really creative. Snakes are symbols of great wisdom and power. / https://www.magicalrecipesonline.com/2017/06/animals-omens.html

[13] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2018/06/16/a-woman-went-to-check-her-corn-and-was-swallowed-by-a-python/?utm_term=.6a7a00c8532a

[14] https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/03/python-snake-swallows-man-whole-indonesia/

[15] https://lasvegassun.com/news/2009/mar/12/python/

[16] http://jeb.biologists.org/content/218/14/2279

[17] https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/roger-covin/imagination-anxiety_b_6517406.html

[18] Sylvia Plath, February 25, 1956, The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath: "What I fear most, I think, is the death of the imagination. When the sky outside is merely pink, and the rooftops merely black: that photographic mind which paradoxically tells the truth, but the worthless truth, about the world. It is that synthesizing spirit, that “shaping” force, which prolifically sprouts and makes up its own worlds with more inventiveness than God which I desire."

[19] https://philosiblog.com/2016/06/06/worry-is-a-misuse-of-imagination/

[20] https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/worry-fear-imagination-calm-0723124

Reference:-

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2659536/

http://launchyourgenius.com/2014/01/26/7-steps-unleashing-imagination/

https://www.recoverywarriors.com/why-you-need-to-replace-worry-with-wonder-and-imagination/

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