Tag Archives: imagination


There are two rows of kids’ chairs, six long each, in the school library. But they’re not just chairs. These are bus seats from the 1950’s, and this is Rosa Parks’ bus. That there is Rosa Parks’ seat. That seat, ladies and gents, is mine.

I’m too young to see much of a difference between the real and imagined. To me, real is imaginary, and imaginary is real. I’m seven years old, and I take to the stage like duct tape to my hair. There’s no difference at all between playing the part and playing little old me. The world’s my stage, and the stage is my world.

Will you get out of your seat?” the policeman asks me, Rosa Parks.

No!” I tell him with dignity. And that is that.

Nine years later I’m back in a classroom. Three judges are staring me down from behind a table, so close I can almost feel them breathing. The timer, all six years of her, is staring at me as well. My stomach knots as I ask if they’re ready. And I begin to speak to them.

I’m not Rosa Parks anymore. I stutter, I stall, I shiver. I don’t throw up, like some newbies do. A hundred speeches later I learn that the judges stay behind the table. I’m safe. Only then do I throw all caution to the wind and share the depths of my heart with strangers, because this is what makes a good speech. Being comfortable with vulnerability. For me, that’s building an invisible wall.

Join a conversation with a real human being. There is no stage. There is no fourth wall. No screen between writer and reader, no table for judges to sit behind. This is face to face. Having outgrown the ability to work unshielded, I internalize the wall. It grows too close for anyone to pass through, except those who have the key.

On the inside of this wall is Rosa. Ready to take on the world.


The Illusion of Ordinary

Somewhere in an unimaginably vast vacuum, sparsely scattered with exploding fireballs, is one large rock in free fall. That’s your home.

Pale Blue Dot by Voyager 1, via Wikimedia Commons

Pale Blue Dot by Voyager 1, via Wikimedia Commons

You’re glued to this rock by a force called gravity that no one really understands. Inside your cells, molecules are pulled apart and forged together. Your heart remembers to beat all the time, pumping liquid inside you so that you can live. Inside your brain, electrons dance and allow your thoughts to become actions. And mystery of mysteries, you can comprehend all of this. You are sentient.

Every day, your heart beats, the Earth turns, and life goes on. You begin to feel at home in a strange world after a while, because your mind is just like the senses that feed into it—whatever doesn’t change goes unnoticed. Life feels less interesting and more ordinary.

Ordinary is an illusion.

Not only is it an illusion, it’s a harmful one. Only when we see objects and events for what they really are—strange and unusual—will we be interested enough to study them, to think about them, to write about them.

Here’s an exercise for your imagination. Remember when you were born? Neither do I. But you entered a new and strange world at that moment, and for all you knew, it could have been inconceivably unlike the world it turned out to be. Now, shut your eyes and try to pull yourself back to that moment before birth. You didn’t know about air, about language, about locomotion. All you knew was your mother’s heartbeat.

Once you’ve imagined all this, open your eyes and look at the world. Nothing is ordinary.

Making the Choice to Write: Imagining Worlds

What’s a guaranteed way to annoy a writer? Interrupt them while they are writing what was to be a spectacularly inspired sentence. Just distract them for a moment, and when the writer looks back at that page, they’ll find you’ve snatched their words away. That sentence will never be the same.

Why are practicing writers hermits? Why the threatening growl or dirty look when you interrupt tapping fingers or scribbling pen? It’s because you’ve just pulled the author out of their own imagined world, and they don’t like it. Not one bit.


Wikimedia Commons by Mark Chandler10smark

Inside that writer’s head, where you can’t see (not yet—when their story’s done, you will see), a magnificent story is unfurling inside a secret world. Characters are interacting, words are forming, lives are being acted out across the stage of the mind. All imaginary. Writers live their stories as the words pass from head to hand to text. And abruptly pulling the director from the scene can leave every character shocked into silence.

Silence. Until the author’s imagination can conjure up the unseen world again.

Evading distraction is a key challenge for writers. And even when you’re allowed to explore your imaginary world uninterrupted, immersing yourself in the intricacies of a story can be thoroughly exhausting. You’ve got to love it. Love shunning reality and dwelling Somewhere Else, love deep imagination, love the story. Love seeing through the mind’s eye.

Know that when you choose to write, you have the unique opportunity of acting as liaison from one world to another. You are the only link, and without you, the worlds will never meet. Welcome the challenges!