Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Slapped: "You have an Overactive Imagination"

“You have an overactive imagination.”

This is a judgment people with less imagination slap onto those with more imagination—usually adults to children. Here is what these adults are really saying: "I don’t understand your imagination. I can’t contain it. Having so much imagination isn't normal. So STOP! Squash your imagination. Turn it off. Because it FRIGHTENS me."

In our over-rational world, an abundant imagination is not only considered to be of little value, but also considered to be dangerous.

Children hearing such messages can become frightened of their own imaginations. This fills me with sadness, and a sense of waste. We think the problems of our world will be solved solely by technology. By the exercise of our rational minds. Look around! Can you honestly say that our single-minded reliance on one function of our brain hasn’t led us to the brink of social and ecological disaster?

We need imagination so desperately now. We need it in abundance, streaming out from us like stars to create paths forward we cannot yet see. We need to encourage imagination, not only in children, but in everyone. So turn on imagination everywhere you find it. Fan it into a flame.

But the most important thing we need to do is look into ourselves and ask: Why does imagination frighten me? Why do the imaginations of children frighten me? And more pointedly, how does my own imagination frighten me?

Then we will have a place to begin.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

My October Wish

May I leave
     this world more alive
                 than when I came.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Lament of the Images

The makers of images
Dwell with us still
We must listen
To their speech
Re-learn their
Recharge the psychic
Of our dying
Or live dumb
And blind
Devoid of old
Divorced from
The great dreams
Of the magical and fearful

--Lament of the Images
  An African Elegy
  Ben Okri

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Intimations of Imagination

As a creative person, I’m often asked how to increase our imaginative ability. One way is to learn to pay attention to moments when you’re surprised, startled, or captured by something. Perhaps an image, event or idea. A moment of beauty or repulsion. Such moments mean something is resonating in you. These are “intimations of imagination.” Intimation is the act of making something known. These moments are seeds of imaginative potential and carry tremendous energy.

Often we are too busy or distracted to attend them. A creative person needs to tune herself to catch these energies. Hence the pencil stub and bit of paper always in the pocket.

Here’s an example. During an acupuncture session, a vivid image flashed in my mind. A poem wanting to be. But, being a human porcupine, I couldn’t grab a pencil. Afterward, I considered jotting it down, but rush hour traffic was increasing by the minute. So I didn’t. That night, I was distracted by life’s unending necessaries. When I at last opened my notebook the next morning, the poem was gone. Oh, I still had the image, but it was as bland as egg whites. All the energy it carried had fled.

A week later, shortly after I went to bed, an image and a phrase came. So did the energy. But I was already late to bed. However, recalling the lost poem, I thought, this is my job as a creative person. And that job comes with irregular hours and starting bells that ring at odd times. So I stumbled into the kitchen and opened my notebook. A poem flurried onto the page. With work, that poem may be a good one. It contains a possible picture book story, too.

Joseph Campbell wrote, “the goal is to live with godlike composure on the divine rush of energy.” Writing is the same. If you show up for the intimations of your imagination, that rush of energy will do most of the work for you.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The Library is Haunted!

I am pleased to celebrate publication of The Haunted Library: The Underground Ghosts, a new book by my fellow author and friend, Dori Hillestad Butler. And #10 in the series! I asked her: If you could haunt any library as a ghost, what library would you haunt and why? 

Dori Hillestad Butler replied:
If I ever do come back as a ghost, it probably will be to a library! Haha! The question is which one? At first I thought it was a toss up between the Library of Congress and the Central Branch of the Seattle Public Library, but the more I think about it the more the scale tips in favor of the Seattle Public Library. 

Sure, the Library of Congress is beautiful and it's got 32 million cataloged books. But the Seattle Public Library is one of "my" libraries. I'm there fairly often, working in the writer's room. It's also a really interesting building and I don't think I'd run out of reading material there. 

I think my haunting would entail entertaining children as the resident ghost (entertaining, not scaring!), freaking out (okay, scaring!) people who are rude to librarians, and helping aspiring writers who use the writer's room. I think I could be very happy spending eternity haunting the Seattle Public Library as the resident ghost. And as I established in my Haunted Library #10, it's POSSIBLE there's more beneath that building than people know. Only the ghosts know what's really beneath the Seattle Public Library . . . .

Dori Hillestad Butler lives up to her 2011 Edgar Award for Best Juvenile Mystery. I love that this book is linked to Underground Seattle, a very spooky place!

Friday, August 18, 2017

Kiss Your Inspiration Goodbye

Inspiration is an important, but ultimately small part of writing a novel. Story blossoms are everywhere—in the lines of a book I’ve read, the shape of a tree I’ve seen, the experiences I’ve had, and the lifelong sojourning of my imagination. Inspiration is the wind that comes and sprinkles pollen onto one particular blossom. Then the capricious wind flits away, leaving me with the job of growing that blossom into a lush piece of fruit. I have to water the tree. Protect the blossom from frost. Keep the insects away. I have to stop the birds from pecking the fruit. Pray that the hail will not come, and that the well will not run dry. This has little to do with inspiration and everything to do with steadfast work.

What keeps me writing after the initial inspiration is the great glory of revelation— those flashes of insight where I suddenly see what the story is really about, suddenly see who the character really is, suddenly see what that character should really be doing. Such revelations mean that my story has come alive and is now running on ahead of me. If I’m lucky, if the work is a true one, the revelations come again and again as I chase after the true story.

Often this coming alive of the story means I have to abandon my initial inspiration. Perhaps I thought the blossom would become an apple, only to find it is really a peach. It can be gut-wrenching to abandon my inspiration. But I must, in order to see what is actually in front of me now, to see what the story has become and wants to become, rather than what I thought it was going to be. As a result of my own work and care, the story declares its independence. Like any parent, I must help it become what it was born to be, and must fight my reluctance to let it go,

If a writer honors the wonder and glory and kicking life of what she has miraculously created, then, with a kiss of blessing and thanks, she can let the capricious wind of inspiration blow away over another hill, and get on with the work at hand.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

7:30 BELLS: Traffic Jam Bells

Stuck in a traffic jam on the freeway, I inched through the winter night. I didn’t want to be there. I was tired after a long day and just wanted to get home. Where are the bells now? I wondered. Was there any way to feel vibrantly alive in this situation?

A red river of brake lights stretched ahead as far as I could see. Across the freeway, a white river of headlights rushed toward me. All those lights glistened on the wet road and danced in the rain, as luminous and atmospheric as a Turner painting. All these people in all these cars were coming and going like the endless river of life.

None of them wanted to be stuck in this traffic jam. They all wanted to be somewhere else. Or did they? Maybe in one of these cars, two people soon to part were blessed with an extra hour together. Maybe a man listening to music would think of some wonderful new idea. Or a woman listening to an audio book had an insight that would change her life.

The traffic jam turned beautiful. And suddenly, I didn’t want to be anywhere else but in that shining red and white river of life.