One of my soapbox moments in teaching, especially early on, I tell new writers, you must travel the world like a writer. Similar to a photographer, who sees everything in a frame, you should see the details in life as they are and as you imagine them. What writers need to do is push their eye near and far like a zoom lens and grab detail in juxtaposition and independently. Build an armory of images and ideas, carry a notebook to jot it down, write on your hand if you need to.
I love those ideas although I don't practice them much. That we are scanning the world constantly for bits and pieces that will maybe surface in a character's pocket or in her mannerisms feels enchanting and old-fashioned. Of course, still the necessary work of the writer, we are spoiled by the constancy of images coming toward us. In 1973, Tomas Transtromer was reading in Pittsburgh. I was thrilled to see a poet from another country. I wanted to know everything. In the middle of reading, he stopped and railed about Sesame Street. Horrible, he said, the way it provides children with the imaginative images rather than letting them create their own version. The sensory overload didn't give them the opportunity to make up their world.
So in this age of music videos, forensics shows, you tube, we shift the role of the imagination a bit. Some people can't release themselves from what has been supplied for them. Often in writing, when you ask a young person to imagine, a variation on Twilight characters is presented. You can push really hard and they have so much detail at their disposal, getting through to what they can uncover as a result of who they are, is often difficult.
Our minds are busy. Imagination takes clarity, meditation, rumination. I walk in the hills everyday with Brewster. Around me right now are fields of flowers, blankets of yellow poppies and purple somethings. The dog runs ahead chasing and just climbing. I wait for my mind to empty, to allow some space to open so i can soak the surroundings, go off on flights of fancy. But that means getting rid of listing my things to do for the day, the people I need to call, and what to shop for. If the walk is long enough, i can sink into the scene and into my own revelry, but when does that happen?
At home, whenever I sit, I slide the laptop onto my legs. Instead of breathing deeply, considering my character, living her life in my head, i write, i scan, i edit, i look at other's works, I write blogs (ahem). Writing of course is another state. But the failure is for me to wait until that writing moment to live like a writer. I need to do it all the time, to see my world as a constant feed to my imagination.
My imagination deserves more attention. I want to look at the world again in that frame, call on the lives in the shadows, play with the universes that rotate in every step of my walk. The enormous and the miniscule--my lenses going in and out, capturing, what? The straw sitting in the empty glass on my coffee table that my character will take hold of during a tense phone conversation, that she will twirl, then twist and finally throw back into the glass.
It can be done. I am my own camera and as i go on this upcoming journey, click, click click. The imagination will get its ammunition. I can learn to see this way again.
Causes Elmaz Abinader Supports