LAKE MACBRIDE— The allure of imagination is a writer’s arena. It can be a saving grace, enabling us to survive in a world gone mad. It can be a distraction from existential realities that beckon for attention. It is a blessing and a curse, perhaps the result of our too large brain combined with the relative security of life on the American plains. Perhaps it is simply a way to live.
Writers seek allure more than imagination, at least this one does. That moment when an idea rises on the horizon. A shiny object, not unlike a fashion photograph— each element prepared meticulously for our viewing, the scent of perfume imagined despite the reality of a two dimensional image on a screen. Allure is the well from which a writer dips a ladle and drinks.
Norman Mailer described the writer’s process:
You go in each morning, and there’s a blank page. Maybe it takes five minutes, maybe it takes an hour. Sooner or later you start writing, and then the words begin to flow. Where does that come from? You can’t pinpoint it. You always wonder, “Will it all stop tomorrow?” In that sense it’s spooky. In other words, you’re relying on a phenomenon that’s not necessarily dependable.
There is no shortage of things to occupy our attention. A recent story on the cable television business reported there are 10 million households in the U.S. that have an Internet connection, but no cable television. It’s enough people for Home Box Office to perceive a market and develop a direct sales, Internet delivered, bundle of subscription programs. Radio, then television, and now the Internet, have served to suppress imagination’s allure. Programming fills our attention capacity as we plug in to our favorite diversion. For a writer, this is a low level poison trickling into our veins, suppressing creativity. Allure vanishes leaving us feeling empty and used, yet craving more.
“No ideas but in things,” wrote William Carlos Williams. Would that it were so. His 20th Century produced a consumer culture in which people collected things without ideas. Certain die cast toys, boxes of pasta, tools, and my addiction— books and reading material. The result of someone’s ideas tangible and in our hands. Maybe Williams was warning us.
As we age, we become aware of our physical limitations and imagine more. Aging bodies become temples of memory to be filled by righteous and earthy memories. As our bones stiffen writers strive to avoid calcification of ideas. It takes work. We are not always successful.
“Memory believes before knowing remembers,” wrote William Faulkner. As we age, the hard drive of memory falls into disuse. We repeat old jeremiads in society, trying to get along. We can forget the allure of the imagination.
When a writer loses the ability to be drawn to the allure, one is no longer a writer. A scribbler maybe, a blogger definitely, a writer only in external artifacts and behavior.
We may be driven to package our awareness, like a gardener spending weeks in the kitchen canning and freezing produce for a winter of use. The jars on a shelf serve a purpose, the least of which is nourishment. They become another distraction from the allure of a life of imagination.