the killing of imagination

‘[T]he wild ones amongst us
are our only hope in calling us back
to our true nature.
Wild ones
who have not been turned to stone
by the far-reaching grasp of the empire
and its programme of consumer sedation,
the killing of imagination.*

‘This is one of the many paradoxes of happiness: we seek to control our lives, but the unfamiliar and the unexpected are important sources of happiness.’**

Imagination can grow and it can wither.

We have imagination to call a day into being, to fill it with what we want it to be about.

But we have TGI Fridays rather than TGI Monday because something’s gone wrong.

Here’s my own TGI Monday because I found myself reading Billy Collins’ poem Advice to Writers.

Collin’s advice includes cleaning up the place of writing (I include it all, below):

“Clean the place as if the Pope were on his way.
Spotlessness is the niece of inspiration.”^

Which I took to be about being ready.  Ready to begin.  Whatever our “desk” be, let it be ready for us to come to it.  But before we try to call the day into being, we must scour the unfamiliar, the unknown, the different:

“The more you clean, the more brilliant
your writing will be, so do not hesitate to take
to the open fields to scour the undersides
of rocks or swab in the dark forest
upper branches, nests full of eggs.”^

Returning with all our thoughts and images, ideas, we will find our place of creativity waiting, ready:

“When you find your way back home
and stow the sponges and brushes under the sink,
you will behold in the light of dawn
the immaculate altar of your desk,
a clean surface in the middle of a clean world.”^

Jacques Goldstyn’s young protagonist goes to his tree-friend Bertolt:

‘I am never alone in my tree …”^^

Here there are squirrels, all kinds of birds, cicadas, and bees, and then:

‘When I climb up high, I can see for miles around.’^^

Which asks of us: Where can we see to from where we have climbed at the beginning of our day?

Is imagination growing or withering?

Ursula Le Guin pictures a school I wish I had been able to go to, then an adolescence I would love to have had, but at least my imagination is recovering now:

‘Young human beings need exercises in imagination as they need exercise in all the basic skills of life, bodily and mental: for growth, for health, for competence for joy.  This need continues as long as the mind is alive.’*^

Preparing our desks – reading, doing, practicing, going, coming, speaking with others, breathing deeply … , then exploring the unfamiliar and unknown – are vital practices.  And even if some writing isn’t what we’re going to produce, putting down some “tiny sentences like long rows of devoted ants that followed you in from the woods.” is never a waste of time and effort and wet, black ink.

We are ready to call the day into being.

“ADVICE TO WRITERS
Even if it keeps you up all night,
wash down the walls and scrub the floor
of your study before composing a syllable.

Clean the place as if the Pope were on his way.
Spotlessness is the niece of inspiration.

The more you clean, the more brilliant
your writing will be, so do not hesitate to take
to the open fields to scour the undersides
of rocks or swab in the dark forest
upper branches, nests full of eggs.

When you find your way back home
and stow the sponges and brushes under the sink,
you will behold in the light of dawn
the immaculate altar of your desk,
a clean surface in the middle of a clean world.

From a small vase, sparkling blue, lift
a yellow pencil, the sharpest of the bouquet,
and cover pages with tiny sentences
like long rows of devoted ants
that followed you in from the woods.”

(*Joel McKerrow, quoted in the Northumbria Community‘s Morning Prayer.)
(**From Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project.)
(^From Billy Collins’ Advice to Writers, quoted in Maria Popova’s Brainpickings: Billy Collins’ Advice to Writers.)
(^^From Jacques Goldstyn’s Bertolt.)
(*^From Ursula Le Guin’s Words Are My Matter.)

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