Friday, November 28, 2003


The apparatchiks who are assigned to think of such things tend generally to think of imagination the same way they thought of ketchup as a vegetable: just another box to be ticked on the form, another quotidian quota to be filled, one more lesson to be learned on Wednesdays in fourth grade, another certificate on the way to graduation, when you can get on with your REAL life.

In other words, to the disimagined, imagination is not essential to living or to life, may even be detrimental if practiced in excess. We have Hollywood to do it for us. That's like saying if you pay us to breathe, you don't have to. Never before in history has imagination been so threatened in the young.

We lament the loss of the rainforests and the whales, bemoan the disappearance of the wild, but say nothing about the loss of imagination, which may be the greater loss, for it has made all the other losses possible; who could kill a thousand whales or cut down a rainforest but a person without imagination? The disimagined children of today will own the world tomorrow. To be without imagination is to be without intrinsic power, and powerlessness worships powerful things. The future begins right now.

Imagination is not greatly encouraged by human systems of organization because it is by nature free; it is beyond established control, inimical to chains, can't be enslaved, organized or taxed, depends upon no institution. It is the source of change, pure and simple, of new ideas. Imagining is anarchic; it is not at home in classrooms or file cabinets. And though wild, it is inherently benevolent. Imagination is the habitat of the spirit. Those who have been deprived of imagination will hunger for that freedom all their lives. What food it is and limitless, when you are the source!

Every consciously and responsibly caring parent and grandparent has seen the light that lights up in the eyes of still new children at the slightest spark of their own mind's imagining. One recent rainy day while Kaya (nearly 3 years old) was visiting us and looking imagination hungry, I took a tiny ceramic owl I have, the size of a pinky tip, put it in a tablespoon and called it the owl's magic airplane, and began to fly the magic airplane way up high in the big blue sky that was now above the kitchen table, and then all at once the magic airplane became the magic boat, floating the tiny owl perilously upon the vast and turbulent ocean a kitchen table can so swiftly become, and Kaya's eyes lit up like christmas trees at the spark that took fire in her mind.

The whole idea of imagining was perfectly at home in her, as native in her as the seeds of myth have always been in ourselves: she saw how it all worked, how to tell her own stories and it was ok, it was a part of her, that big doorway in her mind that she could open anytime to anywhere, and so she did and passed on through and back again, all that rainy day.

I will do everything I can to ensure that she never loses that spark, or the key to that door. And so we should with all our children. This fire of the spirit that is the imagination, that can so warm and quicken our lives and lead us to new places, should be praised and nurtured, made the key to every entire life so as to enrich us all, not taken away, homogenized and sold back to us as cookie-cutter commodities that stifle all imagining and leave us hungry and incomplete; else tomorrow will have no dream of its own.

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