Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Imagination


I just read Stephen King’s introduction to Nightmares & Dreamscapes and he had something to say about imagination that really resonated with me. He was talking about his childhood, and here are his words:

“I knew even then, you see, that there were 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 color-blindness. I always felt sorry for them, never dreaming (at last then) that many of these unimaginative types either pitied me or held me in contempt…”

I wasn’t quite as observant as King when I was a kid. It never occurred to me then that anyone could lack imagination. My own imagination kept me company 24 hours a day. Every moment was magic. The sky filled itself with battleships and pirate galleons; the woods were populated with living shadows, both human and inhuman. Even at night my imagination never slept. There were nightmares sometimes, but always my dreams were vivid, intense, otherworldly. I couldn’t understand why others laughed at such “fancies.” Didn’t they have the same experiences?

What I did know, though, was that I was laughed at, pitied, and held in contempt by many when I shared the thoughts and ideas that excited me. I was told many times that I read too much, that I needed to get my head out of the clouds, that I needed to pay attention to the ground instead of the sky, that I was wasting my life away daydreaming. When I was little, it hurt. I began to develop an inferiority complex. When everyone is telling you that you’re going about life all wrong, you often begin to believe them. Fortunately, I realized in time that they were the ones who were doing it all wrong.

I can’t imagine what my life would have been like if I’d given in to the criticisms. I may not be a great success by any stretch of the ‘imagination,’ but I never have to suffer from boredom. And I often think that I’ve actually lived many lives instead of just the one. I’ve lived in the Old West, lived on other planets. I’ve known heroes and villains, monstrous aliens and gentle ones. I’ve explored across time. All of that inside a couple of pounds of spongy pinkish matter.

When Josh was little I actively tried to cultivate his imagination. Yes, it meant he had a few bad dreams. But I hope he’ll realize over time what a true gift a good imagination is. I think he does. Whenever a child's imagination is stifled, the human race comes a little closer to extinction.

Now I think I’m going to go daydream. The sky is blue, the woods are dark. And there are worlds within worlds.

Art copywrite (c) The incomparable Lana Gramlich, whose imagination I greatly admire.
-----
-----

51 comments:

ivan said...

I have thoughts on this, but they are a little inchoate. Need imagination, I guess.

David J. West said...

Great piece Charles. I'm right there with you. Doesn't matter that I'm grown with kids of my own, everything is alive around me, always a story to tell and another world to explore. I really enjoy being able to share that with my kids more than my Dad could with me.

Charles Gramlich said...

Ivan, I'm sure you have it, my friend.

David J. West, yes, it keeps the old noggin working.

Randy Johnson said...

You are a success in doing what you love, both in teaching and the writing. No one can ever take that away. Some think(my stepfather for one) that success is measured in how much money you make.

Yes, my mother and he worked hard for everything they have today. But life is about dong what one loves and since I started following your blog, I've come to realize, despite your infrequent complaints about things your students do, you love helping develop young minds. It shows in your attitude and probably your writings as well.

Randy Johnson said...

And I daresay you've helped this old "geezer's" brain a bit as well.

Sidney said...

In my day job, we just did an exercise on creativity in which my boss noted info he'd picked up at the Disney Institute on customer service. He noted some people say: "I'm not creative." I guess some of those would e the ones who pitied King. Interesting thoughts. The people with the box of eight crayons think the ones with the boxes of 64 are the limited ones.

the walking man said...

It is good that imagination can't be quantified in a formula using numbers and equations. words barely do it justice and I for one am glad that I haven't got the right words to tell others whit or how to turn on the imaginative being.

laughingwolf said...

well said, charles...

i had my artistic talents literally pounded out of me for a long time, when in a high school math classroom [long before class began] i was at my desk showing off cartoons... the teacher came in, kids scattered... he went thru all my drawings, chuckled, then put my glasses on my desk, wound up and smacked in the back of the head so hard my forehead bounced off the the desk... he then walked away, saying nothing

today, it'd be grounds for assault

laughingwolf said...

make that 'assault charges'... rarely done back in the day :(

much later, i went on to graduate from an animation college... among other things

Laurie said...

I gave into the criticisms when I was a kid, and wasted twenty years as an adult being miserable. It's a crime. Thanks for the beautiful post, Charles.

Gabby said...

Charles, I love this post. Thankfully, I was never discouraged in my imagination as a child. I think it helped that I had several siblings, and we did all the fun things kids do -- build forts, run around with blankets tied around our necks (for capes), have car races in piles of dirt in the empty lot next door, etc.

I am also thankful that my dreams are also very vivid and memorable. I have been a soldier on a battlefield, lived in a supposed perfect society, which didn't allow music (or imagination), and I therefore led a revolt ... and I have even surfed among the stars of galaxies unknown.

I sometimes feel a little sad at those whose dreams are a little more ... grounded in reality, or those who don't remember their dreams!

And ... I think it's good to remember to pass that on to children. I work with kids at church, and when presented with drawings of pink suns, or teal-colored flesh, who am I to say that isn't right? I tell them I love their choice of colors, because I do.

Thanks for this post! ^_^

David Cranmer said...

I always enjoy King's intros because they are spot on. I told a friend recently that I felt like most people were like the folks in the Keanu Reeves film and plugged into the Matrix. No imagination and being controlled. Someone overhearing the conversation said "yeah, I'd hate to wake up."

Sherri said...

When I was a kid, my babysitter told me imagination was of the devil, and I would go to hell if I used it too much. I don't know if she was trying to deter me from telling lies, but it sure scared me.

X. Dell said...

(1) Lana, cool image. Impressive.

(2) I sometimes find the lack of imagination among others to be somewhat frustrating. Deep down, I believe that everyone has some type of imagination, from general creativity to intuition. But most people are socialized out of it. Perhaps the ridicule and pity represents thte scorn of the outsider, or "the other"--the person who just can't get with the program.

ArtSparker said...

It's as if people who are very literal are speaking a different language, I think I suspect them of deliberate obtuseness, whereas they suspect me of immorality for my defaulting to intuition/imagination.

Natasha Fondren said...

Love this post! Yeah, I was an airhead, too. I had ADD on top of it, but really teachers just complained that I stared out the window all the time. By third grade, I learned to mask it.

Yesterday, I sat in a classroom for the first time in 15 years. Never again. Ever. I realized (now) that in a classroom, I spend 100% of the time trying to politely appear as if I'm paying attention, and 0% of the time learning.

Charles Gramlich said...

Randy Johnson, thanks for the kind words. It really does something nice for me when students get it and get that light going off. I had a very good student last semester who really pushed me to be better and I much appreciated him. We are going to work on a project together this spring. And you’re still a good ways from geezerhood.


Sidney, yes exactly. I’ve always been fascinated at why this happens. I wonder if there could be some jealousy there, but it doesn’t seem that way. It seems they genuinely think they are better.

Mark, Yes, I don’t think words can do it. I’m not sure anything can do it every time, although imaginative play in childhood can help a lot, I believe. And just encouraging imagination when it shows up.

laughingwolf, what in the world do the teachers get out of doing that to a kid? I just don’t get it.

Laurie, it’s so hard to resist. I think many, many kids give in and may never discover what they’re missing or have lost. Being isolated in the country to some extent probably helped me. I didn’t have any friends living close by so I had to make my own fun.

Gabby, I’m glad you encourage them. I knew you would be the type of person to do so. And yes, dreams are just so incredibly fun. Can’t beat ‘em.

David Cranmer, Lana and I have talked about that too, about how we ‘do’ live in a kind of matrix. Amazing, yeah, who’d want to wake up to the more amazing reality.

Sherri, I was told some things pretty similarly to that. I remember hearing that imagination was a gift from God but that it had to be carefully carefully controlled or it could lead you into the devil’s hands.

X. Dell, Once when I was at Josh’s day care when he was little bitty, I was playing with the kids and was pretending to fix hot dogs. Josh got right on board and we pretended to fix our dogs and eat. One little kid, though, looked at us like we were crazy. He had no idea what to do to play along, even after we showed him. I felt pretty bad for him.

ArtSparker, I suspect deliberate obtuseness of them myself sometime. How could certain things not be gotten?

Natasha Fondren, so much of childhood education is about control rather than learning. It’s very sad. Although there are, of course, some amazing teachers out there who really do wonderful work.

Steve Malley said...

Your post made me happy! :D

RichardS said...

Excellent article, Charles. I've always had a vivid imagination and never, ever been bored. I have met a lot of people who are always complaining of boredom though.

One of my great delights is that my son seems to have inherited my imagination too. He comes up with some quite astonishingly vivid stories and I can't wait to see how he develops this as he gets older

Lauren said...

Maybe it is a girl vs boy thing but I never got anything but praise for my imagination (unless it was a lie, but that was always very differentiated in my world). I think in science imagination is very important and my parents always wanted me to go into science so perhaps that helped to. My parents always complained about "uncreative" people. I did have a couple teachers who fit that category, but for the most part was pretty lucky.

I just can't imagine someone trying to stifle a kid's imagination which directly leads to their creativity. I think that in the business world coming up with out of the box ideas leads most quickly to promotion and that stems from creative thinking and training as a child--so even if someone doesn't understand the reasons for the arts, they should at least understand the benefits of creativity and imagination. I'm glad you kept up with yours!

BernardL said...

I believe too many people assume they know what other people are thinking about them even when said person hasn't uttered a remark one way or another. I've read Stephen King's rants before. I always thought he should have used his gifted imagination to imagine other people thought the best of him. In pursuing his own path, it wouldn't matter whether he was right or wrong in letting his imagination assume the best rather than the worst.

Charles Gramlich said...

Steve Malley, happiness is good. It also dovetails fairly well with your lastest post.

RichardS, the only time I've ever been bored is when I've been trapped at the mercy of someone whose not very imaginative and man can it get pretty dull then. Left to my own devices, though, no bordeom ever.

Lauren, unfortunately, some of the stiffling comes from certain religious views. In which creativity is a two-edged sword at best.

BernardL, I don't know what specific examples King was thinking of. And probably many folks are guilty of imagining that other people are thinking things they aren't. In one sense, everyone wants to feel a bit of the martyr, like they've had it tough. On the other hand I was literally told many times that I read too much and that I needed to focus on the hear and now rather than daydreams. I imagine King probably had some similar experiences.

jodi said...

Dear Charles, first let me say to Lana, that that work is truly STUNNING and I have to go back for a second look. I also like to daydream and prefer to sometimes have my thoughts go where they will--away from harsh reality. That said, I could NEVER dream on the cool level you do, or express it so well. U and Lana ROCK!

SQT said...

What's sad is that we first learn to internalize our imagination you daydream too much and then we learn to mask it or deny it altogether. I was accused of daydreaming a lot as a kid. I'm one of those people who talks to themselves (more than I'd like to admit) and my brain can run all over the place. But when you're in school that's not a very useful trait. Fortunately my husband and kids also talk to themselves; so they don't tease me too much.

Travis said...

I needed stimuli for my imagination to really kick in...like my green plastic army guys or my Fort Apache or my Legos. But once I got started, it was a festival of made up games with full back story. If I was making a battle or building something or racing Hot Wheels, there had to be a reason...a story for everything involved.

I still find that I need a prompt. But if I'm well prompted, the festival returns.

Cloudia said...

Lana's painting

and especially the last words

filled me with deep emotion that fuels my wonder and writing.

Thank you both...and Mr. King too i suppose...


Aloha

Charles Gramlich said...

jodi, yes, Lana is amazing. I had a couple of pretty good dreams the other night.

SQT, I talk to myself a lot when I'm around the house, but I've learned not to do it much when I'm out in public. I used to practice my lectures while I walked but stopped after a couple of folks looked at me very strangely.

Travis, I think we all use prompts. That's one of the few reasons I do watch movies. Even if I don't like the movie it may provide a prompt or a jumping off point for my own imagination.

Cloudia, thank you for the kindness!

Barbara Martin said...

Perseverence in creativity is necessary, even in childhood where adults tend to quash their daydreaming. When I was younger it was frowned upon to daydream too much, and only certain books could be read until children's literature opened up. Good thoughts, Charles.

Erik Donald France said...

Amen, brother, glad you stick to your guns. And that's one cool painting by Lana.

Your post reminds me of "The Necromancer" (Harlan Ellison?), the one where dude tries to conjure the dead but they never had enough imagination to believe in such things and they remain -- dead. Have to admit, also resonates with me, a sadness about what my friend Bill calls "general indifference" to imagination, and to life. It still surprises me that so many people seem not more curious about -- anything.

Celeste Bergin said...

What a good essay. When I was a child I was told that "artists are crazy!" The statement was heightened even more so because we lived very close to an "insane asylum." (This is a long time ago!) The people who worked there wore all white. Every now and then an inmate would escape and the town siren would sound to alert us all to watch out for an escaped mental patient! No no...I didn't want to be an artist! lol. My position is that a person is what they are meant to be..and even though one may try hard to deny whatever their innate talents are--they really can't. they can try for all they are worth--but ultimately, you will be what you are. The real you wins out.
I like what you wrote. It made me realize that all those years I didn't "want" to be an artist --that was ok too.

Dave King said...

I really could relate to this. Your fourth para replicates my experience exactly. Great blog. I am impressed.

Bernita said...

Thought I posted but I must have screwed up.
I remember being surprised to learn that many people do not dream in techicolour.
Lana's art. So vital and warm. Like her.

Vesper said...

Charles, your wonderful post describes me entirely. I am like you. I was particularly moved when reading "I’ve actually lived many lives instead of just the one."
Thank you. You've made my day.

Vesper said...

And Lana's art is fantastic!

Anndi said...

My daughter is a lot like you were... and she's been teased about her belief in dragons and the mystical creatures of lore. But she holds firm, and responds that there are many things that we allow for yet never see.
She makes me proud. Every day.

And I encourage her fancies at every turn.

I pity people who can't get lost in a story. It's sad, really.

I believe it's the dreamers that end up making the biggest difference in the world.

L.A. Mitchell said...

Well said, Charles. I'm sure those kids who picked on you when you were a kid wouldn't want to meet you in a dark alley--all black duster and chaps and whoop ass attitude ;)

Success can only be measured by your yardstick.

Charles Gramlich said...

Barbara Martin, the nature of humanity is to put limits on humanity, it seems

Erik, I have a student now who is insatiably curious about everything. It's so incredibly refreshing since I see such a lack of curioustiy in many.

Celeste Bergin, We all come to who we are by different routes. And as long as we get there it's OK. Thanks for visiting.

Dave King, thanks for the kind words, and for visiting.

Bernita, that's an amazing painting up close to. It's big!!!

Vesper, I think about that quite a bit and every night I live a little more.

Charles Gramlich said...

Anndi, I believe you are right. Without some dreaming, nothing gets done.

L.A. Mitchell, lol. Especially not if I had the pistol with me. :)

Ocean Girl said...

You found your bridge to Telebithia! What would life be without imaginations. I was full of them too, I was blonde and beautiful, a Charlie's angel always in distress.

Lana Gramlich said...

Thanks to everyone for the kind comments on the painting. It was a lot of fun to do! Thanks to Charles for including it in this post--you're always so supportive & sweet.

My imagination was nurtured & cultivated right up until age 10, when my Dad died. After that it became a great escape, although Mom did try to beat it out of me. Nice to know that she didn't succeed. Such is the power of imagination!

Voidwalker said...

Nice post. I also was the kid with my head in the clouds. I always made the world around me to be what I wanted it, rather than what it was. My mother often reminds me of a time when I was riding with her in the car and I put some colorful gum in a bottle of water, then shook it up and handed it to her. I said, "Here mom, try the perfume." I laugh now at that, but my imagination was also my companion.

Thanks for sharing this. It resonated with you and it does with me as well.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Funny. My imagination was rooted in reality but still there. I invented people like me, you invented people not like you.

Charles Gramlich said...

Ocean Girl, I really liked that movie, although it had such a sad part when the girl died.

Lana Gramlich, no you are sweet. And your mom certainly didn't get rid of your imagination. It's cool.

Voidwalker, I came onto the porch one day to find that my little boy had picked all our rose blooms and peeled them open. When I asked, "son, what are you doing?" He said, "I'm blooming flowers with my hands, daddy." I just smiled. It was worth it.

pattinase, you're right. I've always imagined worlds and people different from the one I was in. hum, maybe I should try to figure out why.

Greg Schwartz said...

nice post, Charles. it never fails to amaze me when adults tell children to stop dreaming.

Aimless Writer said...

People have always asked me how I can zone out and ignore what's going on around me. They never liked the answer that what's going on in my head is much more interesting. :)
I've always believed there is a story everywhere...you just have to look.
I used to play a game with my kids called Tell Me. We'd pick an object some where in the room and say Tell Me. Then the other person had to make up a story about the item. Things could get interesting1
I hope I fed my children's imagination too. Its too big a blessing to waste.

Charles Gramlich said...

Greg, I know, it amazes me too. Sad.

Aimless writer, exactly. The depth of imagination is so amazing.

Shauna Roberts said...

Yes, I heard similar criticisms as a child. Luckily, I had an aunt (a writer) who encouraged my curiosity about the world and a father who didn't put any restrictions on what books I could take out from the library as a child.

Shauna Roberts said...

Oh, and LANA, great painting!

cs harris said...

Huh. I need to ponder this. Maybe I went through my childhood in an uncommunicative fog, but I think I kept quiet about my imagination and assumed others were doing the same.

Charles Gramlich said...

Shauna Roberts, my parents didn't really give much thought to what I was reading. I know they would have disapproved of some of it had they understood what it was.

Candy, I was always chattering on about some amazing, to me at least, thing that had occurred to me. I was a talkative kid, not nearly so much of an adult.

JeannetteLS said...

Spent far too many years worrying about what I thought I was "supposed to" do or be. FEH. Right alongside not having imagination, I'd put being bored. When I was little and would say to my mother, "i'm BORED," she would pat me on the head or kiss me and say, "That's a shame, honey. I'm not." And she would walk away from me. Somehow I see the two as related. Found you through Jo. You make a body think and this is GOOD.